This is one of the most common questions we get asked by potential students. This is almost impossible to answer, because there are so many variables. The question itself is vague, because there is no moment in which an instrument is learned or not, because it is a process more than a arrival point. For simplicity, to gain a reasonable proficiency playing an instrument, these are the key factors that will determine how long it will take to learn an instrument.
Practice Time/Quality of Practice
Quality of Instructor
There is such a variety here, some students are not happy until they have learned the hardest Chopin Etude, while others are satisfied with a simplistic breakdown of a pop song. Its very important that the prospective student understand their expectations, and consult with the school or their instructor to determine if these expectations need to be adjusted. Openness to adjust expectations, and embracing the learning process is a healthy mindset for the new student. Expectations can greatly affect the outcome, in both a positive or a negative way. Some students with high expectation can quit early, while for others it may push them to get the best results from themselves. Good instructors will help to manage the students expectations by creating achievable goals, which take into account the students personality, and reactions to challenge.
A student who starts to learn an instrument and hopes they will progress quickly without practice will be disappointed. The amount of practice time and frequency are very important, but more than these, is practice quality. Quality means really doing the exercises advised by the instructors, working in a deliberate and focused manner and often, patiently following the process rather than aiming for instant gratification. We have seen many students that believe they can learn an instrument by taking weekly lessons and not doing any homework. The results have been predictably unimpressive.
Can personality affect a students success in learning an instrument? Absolutely. To learn an instrument, it takes a lot of alone time, so students that are more introverted and need or enjoy alone time are more likely to gravitate towards practice. Also, students with a calm, focused temperament, contemplative and deliberate, may have more success. This is because practicing an instrument requires long periods of focus, often with multiple repetitions of a musical phrase. Some people find repetitive tasks calming and become more focused with each repetition. Others crave more variety, and repetition quickly creates an impatient distracted state of mind. A student that can become fascinated, even obsessed by exploring and investigating may have an advantage.
What is your learning style?
Which sense do you primarily rely on? We all have five senses, but most people have a sense they rely on more frequently. Auditory and kinesthetic learners may have an easier time studying an instrument.
It’s not that a visual learner cannot learn, it just that they may find more friction through the process. Learning an instrument still uses the visual system for sight-reading and other elements, but some of the most natural players are more heavily relying on their auditory and kinesthetic system.
The process of focused listening and evaluating may become tiring to some and not to others. Also, the kinesthetic element is crucial. Being physically coordinated and able to “just do” a physical motion, without overthinking. Awareness of the body and the ability to pay attention to the feelings and responses of the body during the practice process.
How a person feels about learning, and especially about learning an instrument is very important. Students must learn to reduce negative thinking if present, and temper frustration during the practice process. They must learn to accept the process, learn patience and enjoy small achievements. They must practice setting achievable intelligent goals to avoid boredom or frustration.
Quality of Instructor
This is important, but we want to emphasize here that without reasonable practice the quality of instruction has less of an impact. Many students expect that the instructors will give them results, but the instructors job should be to guide the student through the process to get results on their own. With this critical point aside, there is no doubt that the best teachers will have a huge positive impact on a students ability to learn an instrument. The instructors role is to reduce friction during the learning process. This is done by providing encouragement, breaking down information, setting realistic goals, and creating a clear set of homework instructions so the student can work independently.