Learning to identify your individual piano skill level can be a difficult task. There are many organizations providing classification, method books and manuals that are progressively graded, and of course, peers in the musical world that are more or less advanced than your piano playing level. If you are not following a structured piano method, how would you even know where your skill sit in the pantheon of piano playing level?
There are a few general terms used for classifying one’s piano skill level: early beginner, beginner, early intermediate, intermediate, late intermediate, and advanced. Knowing your piano skill level is important in order to make sure you are practicing correctly and enjoying your time with the piano!
Early beginners have most likely been practicing piano skills for six months or less. At early beginner piano playing level, students may not know any note names or be able to find them on the keyboard. They may have their keys labeled on the piano to make finding notes easier. They are limited in their reading abilities, primarily reading in treble clef with the right hand usually within one, five finger position.
Despite their apparent lack of reading skills, early beginners may be able to learn music effectively by ear. They may pick out pieces of melodies they enjoy, but do not yet have a cohesive selection of repertoire.
Beginning students have played piano for at least 6 months. They know the notes of the musical alphabet and can comfortably find them on the keyboard. They may still have labels on the keys, but may also be in the process of removing them. They are becoming comfortable reading notes in treble clef with the right hand and are beginning to dive into the bass clef notes with the left hand. They understand the different note values and can play some basic dynamics and tempo notations.
They may also be starting to study some basic major and minor scales, chord shapes, and arpeggio patterns. They will most likely be working on repertoire from a piano method book or some other basic material that their teacher has recommended.
Early intermediate pianists have been studying piano skills for about one year. They can read the grand staff, or the combination of treble and bass clef together. They can play in multiple positions and can play simple parts with independent hand movements.
Early intermediate pianists are beginning to learn more about music theory. They should understand how time signatures work and how to count rhythms. They may have some understanding for basic key signatures and may even understand how the circle of fifths works. They should know a handful of major and minor scales, hopefully in two octaves. They should feel comfortable playing basic major and minor triads, arpeggios and chord progressions.
For repertoire, they will be through the first book in a method series and probably starting to work on easier classical repertoire like Bach’s Minuet in G or simple rock, pop, or blues pieces.
Intermediate pianists have been playing piano for about 18 months. They can read treble and bass clef comfortably and understand how to count common rhythms. They are familiar with musical notation and can read more complicated and independent parts with both hands.
Intermediate pianists have a solid grip of all 12 major and minor scales in parallel motion. Their piano technique is starting to blossom. They are beginning to explore the harmonic and melodic minor scales and understand how the circle of fifths is constructed and used. They understand tempo markings and dynamics.
Intermediate pianists are well into their second method book if they are following a structured method series, or are playing reasonably challenging music given to them by a teacher. Examples of classical repertoire include Bach’s Two-Part Inventions, Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C major, or Beethoven’s Fur Elise.
Late intermediate pianists have been studying piano skills for close to two years. They can sight-read reasonably difficult piano scores with both hands and are at least looking at challenging and difficult repertoire. They are active listeners to a wide range of music, both that they study and also that they enjoy. They understand more complex rhythms like triplets and sixteenth notes and can play four octaves of every major and minor scale in parallel and contrary motion at a fast tempo.
They are beginning to improvise or compose original music if they feel so inclined and are well versed in most music terminology and notations. They are practicing some ear training skills such as interval recognition, chord quality recognition, and basic melodic dictation. They may also even be transcribing music that they enjoy and notating it on sheet music.
As far as repertoire, examples of late intermediate pieces in the classical realms include Debussy’s Arabesque, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F minor or Moonlight Sonata, or more advanced pieces from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.
Advanced pianists have been studying piano for 3 or more years. Advanced pianists have a clear idea of the role and history of piano in music. They are familiar with a handful of piano styles and can comfortably read challenging music. They have some experience performing either solo or with other musicians.
Advanced pianists can perform all major and minor scales in parallel and contrary motion at a fast tempo and at different intervals including the 3rd and 6th. They are potentially studying some extra technique exercises such as Hanon or Czerny as well. They are possibly exploring more advanced forms of improvisation or composition and are developing strong ears.
Examples of advanced repertoire in the classical realms includes most anything from Chopin such as Scherzo No. 2 in B minor op. 31, Johannes Brahms’s Interrmezzo No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 117, or the work of Franz Listz or Debussy.
What level of piano player am I?
You can use the guideposts here to measure your progress. Of course, there are many different ways to gauge your progress on the piano, but if you look around you will find that these criteria are fairly standard and common. It is important that you have a clear picture of where you want to go with the piano if you are going to start comparing your development in this way as well as a healthy balance in music.
Remember, learning piano is not a competition. The myth of talent is equally discouraging as it is encouraging. Comparing yourself to others is often a quick way to become disappointed or discouraged. The best way to develop is to compare yourself to where you were yesterday, last week, last month, or last year.
Becoming a great pianist takes time and dedication, especially if you are learning an instrument as an adult. The surest way to develop quickly is to practice in a structured and methodical way.
If your practice is scattered and disorganized, you will likely not progress as quickly as you desire and may begin to feel like giving up on music. Make sure that you have ways to engage socially with music such as performances or jam sessions. This way, you stay motivated to engage and you have a fun time! Count on Skoove to be there to help you along your piano journey!
Author of this blog post
Eddie Bond is a multi-instrumentalist performer, composer, and music instructor currently based in Seattle, Washington USA. He has performed extensively in the US, Canada, Argentina, and China, released over 40 albums, and has over a decade experience working with music students of all ages and ability levels.