How Long Does It Take To Learn Jazz Piano?
How long does it take to learn jazz piano?
This is quite a complex question.
Nevertheless, we’ll try our best to answer it in the most realistic way possible.
Let’s get started.
Do You Have 10,000 Hours Available?
One of the most often quoted numbers in terms of mastering any skill is 10,000 hours.
This is said to be the magic number to acquire in terms of practice time according to Malcolm Gladwell.
However, this claim appears to be an oversimplification.
While time and effort put into practice is very important and indisputable, what matters more is the quality by which we practice something.
This is the starting point where we try to answer how long does it take for any person to learn jazz piano.
Let’s dig deeper.
One Important Concept To Remember
This has always been at the heart of what we emphasize at FreeJazzLessons.com: Practice is the mother of skill.
Sure, everybody knows that.
However, two questions arise immediately:
- What should I practice?
- How much do I need to practice?
To answer question number 1 is easy: Simply dig through this site, and you’ll see that there are essential things you need to practice such as tunes, improvisation, ear training, and piano technique e.g. scales, chords, enclosure patterns, melodic lines, etc.
How much to practice is a more difficult question to answer. Let’s look at some research.
Another “Magic” Number To Consider
Research on motor learning among stroke patients states that 300 repetitions over 2 weeks lead to development or improvement of a specific skill (Birkenmeier, Prager, & Lang, 2010).
To learn how to play a song like Autumn Leaves, you need a bunch of different skills such as:
- Play the melody accurately.
- Comping using the song’s chord progression (view this piano chord progression exercise).
- Jazz rhythm consistency while playing at a consistent tempo using both hands.
- Improvising lines along the song’s chord progression on the piano.
Now let’s look at how much time is needed to accomplish each skill to tackle Autumn Leaves.
1. Playing The Autumn Leaves Melody Accurately
Assuming that the Autumn Leaves melody lasts 72 seconds when played at 84 bpm, 300 correct repetitions amounts to 21,600 seconds or 6 hours.
Again, this is assuming that you are correctly playing the melody every repetition.
Don’t worry as your ability to play the melody gets better with each time you practice.
2. Comping Using The Autumn Leaves Chord Progression
Under the assumption that one repetition of the chord progression amounts to 72 seconds as well, 300 repetitions also amount to 6 hours.
3. Rhythmic Consistency
Playing both the melody and the left hand comping also amounts to 72 seconds, and so it’s another 6 hours to develop jazz piano rhythm.
4. Improvising Lines Along a Song’s Chord Progression
The amount of time to learn jazz improvisation varies, but let’s try to derive a reasonable estimate.
In my opinion, here are things you need to learn (times are approximate):
- Playing chord tones of the Autumn Leaves chord progression = 6 hours
- Enclosure patterns = 1 to 2 hours
- Dorian, Mixolydian, Lydian, Locrian, Altered, and Jazz Melodic Minor scales over matching chords = 6 hours
- 32 bars worth of licks from legendary jazz pianists = at least 6 hours
- Putting them all together with good feel, rhythm, consistency, and phrasing = at least 6 hours
What’s The Total Number Of Hours You Need?
If we are to follow the above sequence (given the science), it would take you about 40 hours to learn how to play some decent jazz piano.
Take note that this means a total of 40 work hours of purely practicing all the requisite skills mentioned.
Practically speaking, nobody would go 40 hours straight. Nobody ever does, even the greats!
Realistically and given a reasonable amount of discipline, most persons can manage 1 hour a day.
Say, for example, you can squeeze 4 days a week for 1 hour of practice, this means that it will take you 10 weeks to play Autumn Leaves at a decent performing standard.
Take note, however, that this amount of time is only a reasonable approximate estimate.
Here are some factors that can affect how much time you need to build the skill:
- Familiarity – It is easier to learn how to play a more familiar tune than one you have no idea.
- Personal Significance and Importance – A song that is more significant to you on a personal level (e.g. your wedding song, etc.) would be easier to learn.
- Prior knowledge and skill – The more experience you have playing an instrument or a particular genre of music, the easier it is to learn.
In short, answering the question, “How long does it take?”, is dependent on the person who is about to learn.
It is reasonable (given the things stated above) that the average diligent individual may take about a total of 40 days (at one 1-hour practice session, 4 days a week) to learn jazz piano.
Do I Need 40 Days To Learn Each Jazz Song?
The good news is you don’t need to spend 40 days per song.
Here’s what I’m trying to say.
If, for instance, you have already spent a total of 40 practice hours to master Autumn Leaves, you have actually learned more than just playing the song.
You actually have built prerequisite skills to learn any jazz tune fast.
If you recognize that music is all about according to piano chord theory, Autumn Leaves (or Fly Me To The Moon) actually gives you a blueprint for learning jazz tunes.
For one thing, all of the skills mentioned apply to most jazz tunes.
The great thing about Autumn Leaves is that it clearly outlines both major and minor 2-5-1s.
If you manage to learn Autumn Leaves in all 12 keys, then it would be easier for you to learn any jazz tune given that you have already learned the necessary building blocks.
Now, how can you take advantage of this fact a bit more? Read on.
Ways To Organize Your Practice Time For More Efficient Learning
1. Start Listening
Before you even learn the tune on the piano, listen to it first a couple of times.
The more familiar you are with the tune, the easier it is for you to hear inside your mind, and then learning everything about playing it would be faster.
2. Use An Action Plan
Break down all of the things you need to learn, list them all down, chop them up into small but easy to accomplish steps, and then learn each step.
3. Be Patient With Yourself
Sometimes you will make mistakes. It’s part of the learning process. Don’t be to hard on yourself. Evaluate where you messed up and then practice that correct one accurately.
4. Take Breaks
Rest is essential to build the neural connections in your brain to develop the requisite skill.
Without rest, you may even fatigue yourself to the point that you won’t even learn a thing even if you’re practicing. Take time to pause and reflect.
5. Reward Yourself
Whenever you finish something in your action plan, make it a point to give yourself a reward.
Positive reinforcement promotes learning, so don’t be shy to give yourself a little something for completing a step.
What’s An Even Faster Way To Do All Of The Above?
I understand that the things mentioned above are also time consuming.
Even worse, maybe you’re not the best at organizing things such as piano practice time, and you might even make a mess of things beyond redemption.
Fortunately, here at FreeJazzLessons.com, we do have 2 great ways to maximize your practice time and focus on the essentials:
- Sign up for Premium Jazz Lessons where you can learn all the requisite skills for playing jazz including a massive songs library (with arrangements for beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels), licks library, chords library, improv drills, and jam tracks.
- For a more personalized coaching program with world-class professional jazz pianists, sign up for our Inner Circle.
Inside the Jazz Inner Circle, you’ll discover:
Slots for admission are limited though so act now and train with us 1-on-1 here.
We hope that we were able to answer the question, “How long does it really take to learn jazz piano?”
If you have questions, reactions, or suggestions regarding how to deal with this question, feel free to leave a note below.
Now, what are you waiting for? Start practicing.