DAVIDCONNORS.COM
Piano | Percussion | Practise
DAVIDCONNORS.COM
Piano | Percussion | Practise
DAVIDCONNORS.COM
Piano | Percussion | Practise

Reflecting on 1,000 days of learning the piano

by David Connors

I set about to learn the piano on a whim on the 4th of April 2020, just over 1,000 days ago.

I’m writing this post as a recap of what I’ve done in the past 1,000 days and also as a bit of a goal setting exercise for 2023. I am more accountable to myself if I write things down for others to read. 😊

Learning the piano is a difficult enterprise and in all honesty I doubt I would have taken it up if I had a true appreciation for the instrument’s demands. Aside from the practical process of learning the piano, music theory is also a vast and at times a seemingly inpentrable area of study. 

As is probably the case with all beginners, I had no idea what to expect – or rather, I did have many ideas – it is just that they were all wrong. I roll my eyes when I think back to how I originally thought that sight reading music must be some sort of easy skill you learn first. The last 1,000 days has been a schooling for me in exactly how difficult sight reading is.

Doing something every day

I promised myself at the outset that I would do something every day for the first two years. I managed to form that habit and I have kept it up for the past 1,000 days. I am not going to lie – some days that ‘something every day’ might have been 8 minutes in a pitch training app rather than mindful and diligent practice on the keys however I have done something every day since I started.

I recommend setting this goal for anyone committed to learning any new skill. No one is so busy that they can’t afford five or ten minutes to whip out their phone and use an app to help develop some facet of the new skill they’re studying. 

What I achieved in 1000 days

In the past 1000 days I’ve managed to go from zero to a presumably competent grade 4 level. In terms of grading exercises I get around a bit with different exam boards. 🤣 I have settled on Trinity College London as for performance exams. I commenced grading during lock down and so I started with, and subsequently stuck with digital exams (more info: Digital & Classical Grade exams). I do feel like I am cheating a bit as you can obviously do multiple takes with a digital exam.

Trinity

GradeResultDateDay
InitialSkipped
Grade 1100 / 10010 July 2021463
Grade 2100 / 10014 November 2021590
Grade 393 / 10026 May 2022783
Grade 4Still studying. I’ve done 43% of the recommended total qualifying time. I had hoped to knock this over before the end of 2022 however I have not been putting in the recommended number of hours.

AMEB Theory

AMEB (The Australian Music Examination Board) is the default music examination board in Australia. I started studying with them for theory however the quality of their exam material wasn’t great. They pride themselves on being much more difficult than any other exam board. I am not sure that is a defining feature any student is looking for! I abandoned them after doing grade 1.

GradeResultDateDay
Grade 1 Music Theory99/1005 Sep 2020155

ABRSM Theory

I have formed a pretty strong opinion that Trinity is the best exam board in terms of pedagogy however they are quite antiquated with systems. Their theory exams are conducted twice per year and are in-person / paper based. I opted for ABRSM so I have the flexibility of being able to do the exams at a time that suits me.

I am still awaiting the release of the results and will update this post when I get them.

GradeResultDateDay
Grade 1 Music TheoryAwaiting release of results.21 December 2022992
Grade 2 Music TheoryAwaiting release of results.21 December 2022992
Grade 3 Music TheoryStill studying. No ETA.

How I spent my time 

In the past 1,000 days I have spent 1,796.55 hours study. I have had a downward trend in 2022 which I have only started recently arresting.

This breaks down as the following by category: 

I’ve had 119 piano lessons since I took up the piano and these spanned 103.72 hours.

I’ve spent almost all of my time in lessons and learning pieces.

Grading – Next Steps

My teacher has been saying I play at a grade 4 level for some time so the grading I have been doing has been to catch up. She is probably right as I have found grade 4 to be quite a slog compared to the other grades.

I’ve not got any specific timeframes planned for doing my grade 5 performance exam and will defer to that to my teacher to decide when I should undertake it (she isn’t a big fan of exams anyway). The exams take a non-trivial amount of time to properly prepare for and I have been doing them more or less back to back since the one year mark. 

Strengths and weaknesses

At this point in my journey I have definitely improved in interpretation, dynamics, and theoretical understanding. I am however very underdeveloped in rhythm and aural skills and I think I am probably naturally unskilled in these areas. This will definitely be something I need to focus on in 2023. 

Those weak areas should be of no surprise to me.

My records show that I have recorded no time before December 2022 on activities directed toward developing my rhythmic understanding. 

As for aural, I have had an on again/off again relationship with aural study (mostly off again). Again the numbers don’t lie:

It is little wonder that these areas are underdeveloped given how little care and attention I have given them.

YouTube

Starting a YouTube channel has been very beneficial in addressing performance jitters. Piano is a solo instrument and it is very tempting to hide inside a set of headphones and never perform or publish. I wish I had started on day one and I highly recommend creating a channel and publishing pieces as you complete them. The YouTube community is, by and large, very supportive and encouraging. 

2023 Goals

My goals for 2023 are:

  • To devote a minimum of 2 hours per day to musical studies.
  • Take up percussion to directly address my rhythm issues.
  • Do some aural training every day. 
  • Complete grade 4 performance and theory to as close to 100% as I can get it. 
  • Get my sight reading up to an Advanced level in Piano Marvel (21 day average SASR score of 565 or better). 

Let’s see how I go! In the meantime, keep on practicing!

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