Elementary? Intermediate? Advanced? Piano levels should be measured by “Piano IQ”

Have you ever wondered “What piano level am I?”
Here is my view on how you should judge your piano level.

It is difficult to judge your level by what instruction book you use

There are dozens of different books which are used for piano practice, and it is difficult to say which book is for which level because it is not rare for one piece to be introduced as “elementary” in one book and “intermediate” in another.
Even if you use the same book, number of hours required to master a piece depends on the learner.
It is a matter of course that someone who has mastered it in a short time has more skills than the one who needed many hours of practice.

Piano IQ is the Criteria

People sometimes ask me “I’m … years old. Do you think I can play this piece?” or “How long do you think I need to master this?” but these are the hardest questions to answer.
There are elementary school students who can master “difficult pieces in an instant” and adults who struggle with easier pieces.
Of course, the size of the body matters to a certain extent, but it is not your age or the number of years you have been playing the piano that determines your level.
This is my personal opinion, but the number of years you have taken piano lessons doesn’t really matter.
What matters is what I call the “Piano IQ“.
Someone who has a high Piano IQ 1) knows what note will be played next, 2) has a high kinetic vision, 3) can move his/her fingers quickly without getting tired, and 4) can tell what note it is or in what key the phrase is played, using his/her sense of musical pitch.
Although they can be developed by practice, it does have a little to do with early auditory education or talent, both of which are essential conditions for musical college students and professional pianists.
So, how do we tell if someone’s level is elementary, intermediate, or advanced?

Beginner to Elementary Piano Learners

It may sound a little strict, but if the below conditions apply to you, then you are probably a beginner or an elementary learner.
Beginners or Elementary Piano Learners are people who:
  • * Can’t tell what sound it is when you look at the sheet music.
  • * Start playing without paying attention to the fingerings – You have no idea what the appropriate phrase will be.
  • * Don’t understand the musical symbols – You are not trying to read the composer’s intention.
  • * See only the bar which you are playing when you play at sight.

Intermediate Piano Learners

Intermediate Piano Learners are people who:
  • * Know the scales for each key as well as the right fingerings for arpeggios.
  • * Can play considering the meanings of musical symbols.
  • * Can play to a certain extent even at sight, if it’s with one hand at a time.
  • * Sees further to the next bar if playing with one hand at a time.
  • * Can play a scale at a speed faster than ♩=100 for one hand.

Advanced Piano Learners

Advanced Piano Learners are people who:
  • * Can grasp the overall image of the piece just by looking at the sheet music.
  • * Can play with both hands even at sight. Sees further to the next bar and knows right away the right fingerings for them.
  • * Have played pieces from Baroque, Classic, Romantic, Impressionist, and Contemporary era.
  • * Can play a scale at a speed faster than ♩=126 for one hand.
Even if a beginner piano learner practices hard and challenges an advanced level piece, he/she will only be tracing the sounds and the whole performance will sound empty.
If you want to improve your piano techniques, the securest way is to choose a piece that suits your level and to practice it again and again to bring out the best of it.

Example of How to Judge Piano Level

I will explain how to judge someone’s piano level by using “Dolly’s Dreaming and Awakening” by Oesten, a popular recital piece.
This piece consists of three parts which are like little “stories”.
The first part is the lullaby and the illustration of the doll going to sleep. It proceeds slowly with only quarter notes, half notes, and rests.
The second part is the dream world of the doll. There are eighth notes and different rhythms in this part, making the piece a little fast, with more expression marks.
The third part begins where the doll wakes up and starts dancing. This part is fast and rhythmic with sixteenth notes and dotted notes, and the contrast between the loud and soft.
So, let’s imagine that you are going to play this piece at sight without any prior knowledge.
Beginners – They may be able to read the sheet music, but can only play slowly with one hand. Playing attention to fingerings and slurs, especially for the left hand in the second part, will probably be too hard.
Elementary learners – They can play the first part slowly with both hands. For the second part, they may be able to play with one hand at a time, but probably can’t pay attention to the melody line of the base (left hand). And the third part where the doll wakes up and the last page will be way too hard for them.
Intermediate learners – They can probably play the first part with both hands, putting his/her emotions in the music. The second and the third part, they may be able to play slowly, but not paying so much attention to the details. They might make mistakes, stop, go back, and play it again.
Advanced learners – They can play the whole piece expressively at almost the instructed speed. Because they can predict or analyze the next phrase, they can consider the right fingerings for slurs, or press the pedal thinking about the ideal sound. They can keep on playing even if they make a mistake.

Summary

I have introduced some of the criteria I use to judge the piano levels.
Piano levels are difficult to judge by which instruction book a student uses or what piece he/she can play.
Piano IQ such as 1) knowing what note will be played next, 2) having a high kinetic vision, 3) being able to move his/her fingers quickly without getting tired, and 4) being able to tell what note it is or in what key the phrase is played, using his/her sense of musical pitch, should be used as criteria.

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If you are not sure whether you are an elementary, intermediate, or an advanced learner, please refer to Elementary? Intermediate? Advanced? Piano levels should be measured by "Piano IQ" which explains the judgement criteria for piano skills.

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