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How Long Does It Take to Master A Musical Instrument?

In his book Outliers, an acclaimed Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell wrote that success stories would not come to fruition until after ten years of consistent practice and study. Compared to other study branches, the notion seems to apply the closest to classical musicians, surgeons, chess players, and other professions that define mastery with repeatable actions. In other words, if your little one starts learning the piano at the age of seven and consistently practice, they will play advanced-level pieces by the age of 17.

Interesting, right?

I receive this question quite often from a lot of parents of my students, however, wrapped differently. After the first few lessons, their parents mistakenly expect their children to be able to play a song well. In musical education, practice is clearly the (public) secret ingredient to success. I discussed it before, where I reemphasised the importance of consistent practice to be successful in your musical training. Regardless of how many times you or your child invests years of musical capability, the next time your little one plays the next symphony confidently, it is going to sound a little bit better.

Scientifically speaking, learning music is not like a medicine trial. My team in Ensiklomusika Music School and I can't build curriculums that condense all topics and practices for your child to master under one private music lesson. According to the years of experience in musical education, mastering a musical instrument is not possible without collaboration with the students themselves. The students, parents, and educators have to collaborate to distinct a musical learning experience uniquely. And, the result of this will not happen overnight, it will occur years after or even 10 as Gladwell said above.

Now, I also once wrote that early exposure to music can greatly help your little one to excel in their both emotional and intellectual quotients (EQ and IQ). It is relevant to the topic as early musical experience early in life affects lifelong neuroplasticity onto your child’s brain, which is only enabled by consistent musical exposure and practice. Playing music influences our ability to more than processing melodies and rhythms; it can trigger broader cognitive and sensory changes.

It has been proven by many successful musicians, who have dedicated their lives to a concentrated, disciplined, and most importantly, consistent practice. However, they still believe they have not mastered the instrument itself. For them, and to all of us, repeatedly playing the same instrument daily offers an unlimited capacity for the musicians’ surrounding growth environment. They will strive for improved techniques and better synchronization with their ensembles, and master their instrument a little bit better everyday. The interlink between musicianship and neuroplasticity will start to embolden over the years; violinists will have enlarged motor brain areas focused to hand movement, and more experienced musicians will make finer judgments on different instruments, timings, and pitches over the years.

What I mentioned above had been once proven in an observational study. In 2013, a group of researchers divided two groups of school-age students, in which one studied music theories and another received hands-on music lessons. After two years, the latter excelled better academically, where their brains leaped to maturity unexpectedly. Not only they were able to play a musical instrument by practice and doing, but their brains also responded to advanced skills of language processing and listening compared to the ones in the music theory class. The children here would have also been exposed to a holistic view of education. Consistent, early exposure to music education will sharpen your little ones’ socialisation skills and discipline. The intangible benefits of musical education are not proven in their report cards, but they will bring your child far in life and many have proven it so.

Now, if you ask me how long it takes to master a musical instrument, I can only pose a similar question to you; How much time are you and your child willing to invest in mastering one? Remember, with at least 20 minutes of practice every day, your little one will play that piano a little bit better each day! Imagine how amazing they will be in ten years!

Any questions for me? Ask away here!

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