What Does It Mean To Be a Classically Trained Pianist?

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Classical pianists are some of the most respected and highly paid musicians out there. With this in mind, what do we mean when we say a pianist is classically trained? 

A classically trained pianist is a pianist who has undergone systematic and consistent practice to master music theory, reading and playing sheet music, finger dexterity, and all the necessary skill required to play classical piano.

What Makes a Pianist Classically Trained?

Now that you know what it means to be a classically trained pianist, let’s look at the factors that go into the making of a classically trained pianist.

Studying and Practice

The pathway to being a classically trained pianist can be traced to lots of private piano lessons and masterclasses. 

Classically trained pianists study with and are usually taught by world-class pianists and musicians. What this means is that they receive high-quality training right from the onset.

As part of their training, classically trained pianists study music theory extensively. And they are taught how to play classical collections and how to read different periods and scores. 

Due to this, they have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the underlying rules that govern music composition. That is why classically trained pianists can play music in a way that has been written exactly on the score.

Other pieces of training they receive include targeted practice towards specific skills essential for playing the piano in different styles and levels of complexity. These skills help to shape their playing technique and rhythm. 

That is why classically trained pianists are capable of performing a chromatic run to perfection.

All of these training and practice amount to an accumulated and extensive piano playing experience. Due to these playing experiences, classically trained pianists can transition easily into either solo or ensemble performances.

Style of Playing

Due to the type of training they receive, classically trained pianists are capable of reading music seamlessly. In addition, they have great command over the key and time signatures and a great sense of rhythm. 

This is because they can quickly decipher a piece of music and break it down into harmonies, rhythms, and tempo. Due to this, they can play music in a way that has been written exactly on the score.

What this means is that classically trained pianists are able to perform advanced musical pieces with ease. That is why they are capable of playing a lot of classical collections and masterpieces such as Fur Elise, Bach inventions, etc.

Additionally, since classically trained pianists undergo rigorous training and preparation, the results of these intense piano and music lessons are evident in the evenness of tone and clear articulation produced when every finger strikes the keys. 

They also exhibit excellent control of piano dynamics and great sensitivity to phrasing.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Classically Trained Pianist?

One thing you should note is that the amount of time it takes to learn how to play the piano depends on the level of mastery you intend to achieve. Becoming a classically trained pianist is widely believed to be the peak of piano playing.

Thus, attaining the pedigree of being a classical pianist is hard work, hence is not an easy feat to achieve. 

Becoming a classically trained pianist requires you to practice for several hours to improve finger dexterity and mental fortitude that will enable you to stand out among others.

In general, it takes about 10 to 15 years of focused study under the training of specialized masters to become a classically trained pianist. Within those years, many hours must be dedicated to practicing every day.

That is why most classically trained pianists typically begin training right from childhood. That notwithstanding, how fast you progress will depend on the quality of tutorials you receive, your dedication to practice, and your learning pace.

However, if you are only interested in learning to play the piano for pleasure only, you can make great progress with about three to five years of studying and practicing.

Benefits of Being a Classically Trained Pianist

Professional Playing Opportunities

By the time one attains the heights of being a classically trained pianist, they are equipped with a collection of piano playing skills that are enough to land a host of music playing opportunities, including music scholarships.

This should not come as a surprise because, due to how long classically trained pianists spend learning and playing the piano, they are able to pick up a range of physical and technical skills that enable them to play the piano in different styles and at different levels of complexity. Their enviable skillset is always evident in their performances.

Due to this, classically trained pianists often get commissioned work offers and can partake in rigorous competitions and other opportunities in the piano world. 

That is why a classically trained pianist will have a host of opportunities to play professionally in an orchestra, chamber ensemble, or even as a solo performer.

With that out of the way, it’s not wrong to conclude that all professional classical pianists who play in an orchestra or chamber ensemble are classically-trained.

Development of Relevant Non-Playing Attributes

It takes a lot of years to reach the level of being a classically trained pianist. Thus, learning and consistently practicing a particular musical instrument for many years is not easy. 

Within this period, classically trained pianists inherently developed non-playing attributes such as discipline, patience, and confidence.

Learning to play the piano can be physically demanding in the early years, especially for young people. This is because, at an early age, their hands tend to be too small to reach some of the chords they need to play. 

Thus, their fingers end up hurting from trying to reach these chords. Therefore, for them to play through this pain and physical barrier until they reach maturity indirectly instills the habit of discipline and perseverance in them.

Apart from the mental discipline they acquire along the way, being able to dedicate time to consistently and diligently practice for years instills in them the virtue of patience.

Disadvantages of Being a Classical Pianist

Most Classically Trained Pianists Can’t Improvise

One disadvantage of being a classically trained pianist is that they are not trained in how to improvise. This simply means they can’t “freestyle” or create something “in the moment” and play. 

This is a skill that many jazz and gospel piano players have, and many different styles of music encourage improvisation. 

Unfortunately, most classically trained pianists are trained to play exactly what is written on a score, so they tend to have a rigid playing style. Lots of them play almost entirely from written musical pieces and prefer to hit every note just as it has been written. 

Classical Pianists Can’t Play by Ear

Another admiral skill that many piano players and musicians in general have is the ability to listen to a song and play it on the spot. This is called playing by ear.

Many piano players and musicians have developed the skill of listening to a song and figuring out the chord progression. And even if they haven’t heard the song, they’re able to come up with a chord progression for the song, just based on the song’s melody. 

But playing by ear is something classical pianists struggle with. That’s because they’re not trained to figure out chord progressions in a song by ear. So instead, they rely on sheet music to perform.

Due to this, most classically trained pianists are not adept at playing music by ear. In fact, many of them clutch when they are supposed to play simple song tunes without any sheet to read. On the other hand, classical pianists who develop a good ear for chords are truly exceptional.

Is It Hard to Become a Classical Pianist?

Yes, it is hard to become a classically trained pianist because it takes hours of consistency and practice to master reading and playing sheet music, music theory, finger dexterity, and playing in tempo. All these skills can take years to master. 

Within that period, a lot of time must be dedicated to studying and practicing before one can gain mastery of the core skills needed to become a classical pianist. 

In order to become a proficient classical pianist, one needs to have an understanding of musical form and theory as well as how harmonies work. These will contribute greatly to sight reading and the interpretation of musical pieces.

Aside from these, a classical pianist must have flawless technique and be able to hold a steady tempo while playing beautifully. These are only possible through years of consistent practice in order to develop rhythm skills and technique.

Unfortunately, most people lack the dedication, patience, and consistency required to become classically trained pianists. That is why it is hard to become a classically trained pianist.


To sum it all up, classically trained pianists are pianists who have explored their craft more deeply by studying the theory behind playing the piano as well as honing their playing skills and performance to an advanced level. 

Due to this, they exhibit an incredible level of piano playing artistry. Additionally, classically trained pianists are able to understand the musical intentions of a composer.