5 Famous Pianists Who Started Late

October 15, 2020 Selin Gökova 6 min read 7 Comments

You may be tired of hearing the same success stories of concert pianists, who all started playing the piano before even they learned how to read. All those stories may lead you to question if there are any successful pianists who started late, at least as a teenager.

I started the piano when I was 11 or 12, and it was me at first that made my family arrange piano lessons for me at that time because I was in love with the sound of the piano.

However, as years passed by, I began to feel more and more discouraged about my dreams to become a virtuoso pianist, because all the great pianists around me seemed to start no later than age 4 or 5. I’ve always felt that it was unfair because I thought I deserved to become a better pianist than people who started at 4 years old. While those virtuosos start to play because of their families, I wanted it myself, which means I had more passion for playing the piano compared to them.

a succesful pianist who started late

Luckily, I discovered amazing concert pianists who had very successful careers despite starting late, and they have become the greatest inspiration for me throughout the years.

I can’t wait to share their stories with you and hopefully inspire you as well if you are feeling late to become a successful pianist!

Here are the most famous pianists who started late and proved that what matters is passion rather than age if you want to pursue your musical dreams.

Famous Pianists Who Started Late

Albert Frantz

I think Albert Frantz is the most inspiring person on this list because he started playing at 17 and became a world-class pianist! Yes, you heard it right…

If you are little into piano learning, you know that becoming a successful concert pianist and a recording artist is nearly impossible if you start later than 6. Even 6 years old is considered late sometimes, which makes Albert Franzt a unique success story.

Related: 11 Easy Classical Piano Songs For Beginners

Albert Frantz started taking piano lessons at 17, but he ended up studying electronic engineering at college despite his deep passion for the piano. As would be expected, his parents were not really supportive of him at first, plus his piano teacher told his parents to “throw their money in the garbage rather than spending it on the piano lessons.”

However, Albert Franz couldn’t think of anything else, so he worked extremely hard and became the first to receive a Fullbright Scholarship in a decade to study classical piano at Vienna Conservatory.

He is now a world-class pianist whose debut album was nominated for the German Record Critics Award. I highly encourage you to check out his documentaries, Tedtalks, and interviews because there is a lot more about him that I haven’t mentioned in this post, all of which are very inspirational and motivational.

There is a short documentary about the life of Albert Frantz if you are interested!

James Rhodes

Another exciting and inspirational story here belongs to James Rhodes, who is a very famous concert pianist and writer. However, life didn’t treat him fairly at the beginning, since he was sexually abused by his teacher when he was just 10.

He started to take piano lessons at 14, then stopped at 18 and didn’t play for 10 years until 28. He was dealing with mental health problems and working in finance all those years, which prevented him from playing the piano. Also, he thought he was not good enough at the piano when he was 18, and it was one of the reasons for dropping lessons.

When he started to play again at 28 after 10 years of break, his life completely changed. 5 years later, he recorded his first piano album, and his fame and success only increased since then.

He released several albums, gave concerts at the most prestigious venues, filmed music documentaries, and wrote 3 amazing books.

He is actually a fantastic writer as well and I can’t recommend his books enough. In  Fire on All Sides and Instrumental, he shares the traumas from his early childhood, and how music later helped him recover. These books also feature Rhodes’ unique insights into composers, classical music, and the classical music industry, which are incredibly eye-opening and inspiring for pianists of any age. 

He is also the author of this book that teaches how to play the piano in 6 weeks by practicing 45 minutes a day with a special method.

James Rhodes still continues to give epic concerts and inspire others with his unique life story.

Here’s a short introduction to James Rhodes if you don’t know him already.

Lucas Debargue

Lucas Debargue is a French pianist, who won 4th place at the 15. International Tchaikovsky Competition and gained significant international recognition since then. He continues to perform at the greatest concert halls and recording albums under the prestigious record label Sony Classical.

However, Lucas wasn’t one of the child prodigies who are provided with the top education and instructors right from the beginning. He started at the age of 11, took piano lessons for 4 years, and quit it. He once told in an interview that he stopped practicing because he didn’t have a guide or a coach that could support him at the time.

Related: How to Quit Piano Lessons: Telling Your Teacher&Parents

After dropping lessons at 15, he went to college to study literature and worked at supermarkets to support himself financially. When he was 21, he quit studying and returned to playing the piano, and this radical decision brought him the 4th prize at one of the most prestigious classical music competitions 4 years later.

Here is a short documentary about Lucas Debargue that is quite interesting.

Sviatoslav Richter

The next virtuoso on this list of pianists who started late, we have one of the most influential pianists in the classical music world.

Richter was a Soviet pianist, who is considered one of the best virtuosos of all time. While he was a conductor and composer at an early age, he didn’t start seriously practicing the piano until 22.

Related: Top 16 Famous Russian Pianists

His father was a pianist and an organist, but he gave him only a basic education for the piano. From 15 to 22, Richter was mostly self-taught and played the piano only on the side.

If you’re interested in learning more about the fascinating story of Richter, you can check out his famous biographical book. Besides his life, the book features Richter’s advice for pianists and his own struggles with learning and practicing the piano.

It’s one of the most inspiring and interesting books about music I’ve ever read. I also believe it has greatly contributed to my growth as a pianist, and that’s why I highly recommend it to all piano players. 

As one of the greatest pianists of all time, his life is truly an inspiring story.

Arcadi Volodos

Arcadi Volodos is another Russian pianist who is considered one of the best pianists in the world, and you might get surprised to hear that he didn’t practice the piano seriously until he was 16.

Only 10 years after starting, he was already playing with the top orchestras in the world and performing solo recitals all around the world. He recorded several albums, some of which received the most prestigious awards like the Gramaphone Award and Echo Klassik.

He is a really unique artist in my opinion because you can immediately see the real passion he has for playing the piano if you watch his documentaries.

Volodos never attended any of the competitions, nor he had a serious practice routine because he thinks that music shouldn’t be treated like a boxing match or a sports game. He argues that music is strongly connected to feelings and nature, which I think sets him apart from many concert pianists.


Albert Frantz, James Rhodes, Lucas Debargue, Sviatoslav Richter, and Arcadi Volodos are the 5 famous pianists who started late in life.

Whether it’s becoming a pianist or not, I hope their stories will inspire you to chase your dreams more passionately.

What do you think about starting to play the piano late? Do you think it’s possible to become a successful pianist at a late age or not?

Let me know in the comments!

Selin Gökova

Selin Gökova is a neo-classical composer and pianist from Istanbul, Turkey. Holding an ABRSM certificate on piano performance, she's been playing the piano and composing for ten years. Wandering Tunes is her side project where she combines her two passions: writing and music.

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  • Christina July 7, 2023 at 3:28 am

    I wanted to learn the piano when I was little, but my mother could not afford it. At 41, while serving in Italy, I bought this beautiful piano, which I plan on giving to my daughter. While it’s still with me, I do wish to learn. Is there a book or anything you recommend for real beginners….as in someone who has never played an instrument and has not learned to read music?

    • Selin Gökova July 10, 2023 at 4:27 pm

      It’s so nice to hear that you plan to learn the piano 🙂 There’s a book called “Alfred’s Self-Teaching Adult Piano Course” that is amazing for self-teaching.

  • Allen July 3, 2023 at 1:55 pm

    I just casually ran into this article, and I’ve found it quite inspiring, I hope you don’t mind me sharing my story. I studied classical piano lessons from age 11 through 17 and quit after my family opposed me continuing music as my formal career path in a conservatory (mostly due to concerns that I would be condemned to poverty). I had picked up the guitar since 15, so at 18 I became a heavy metal musician (take that, parents and I’ve recorded a few albums with different bands ever since. Many years and trials and tribulations later (including a 6-year hiatus from playing music at all due to depression) I was able to move into a place where I could bring my old piano from my parents’ house. It immediately reconnected me with music, especially classical music and it’s been a lot of work, but managed to get regular practice in and build a modest repertoire with Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Satie, Chopin, Glass, and now, at 38, I’m starting to challenge myself with Liszt Etudes and Rachmaninoff and other things more advanced pieces I never thought I would get a chance to play after my teens. It really never is too late to get back on track, and my appreciation for piano music is greater than ever. My dream is to be able to record a classical piano album someday with some thematic pieces that do not fall too far from the themes in my other music. Thank you for the great piano content on this website!

    • Selin Gökova July 4, 2023 at 3:36 pm

      Thanks for this incredibly inspiring story of yours! I really appreciate you sharing it here and I’m sure many other will also resonate with this. I’m so glad you’re enjoying and reconnecting with music again! The idea of recording a classical piano album is fantastic and you should definitely go for it 🙂

      I feel like I’m still not ready to dig into Liszt Etudes and Rachmaninoff, so I have so much respect for people who are brave enough to take on those works 🙂 But maybe it just means that I need to work harder on my technique to gain that courage 🙂

      Thanks again for this wonderful story.

  • Chris Harwood January 14, 2023 at 8:20 pm

    I am 58. From the earliest age I can remember, I loved standing or sitting next to my grandmother while she played until she passed at age 108. She played from age 5 and as a young lady was accepted at a very prestigious school in France to study piano. (I do not know the name. Instead, she met my grandfather and chose to stay in the United States and play for silent movies.) Now, at my age– not only do I miss her –but it pains me to know that as a child I was not offered the opportunity from my parents to explore an interest. Instead, I only watched. Adulthood came, I served in the military,
    life went on– including a career in Information Technology– and I never explored this interest. Only recently– as I know it will always haunt me otherwise–have I been considering taking lessons. It saddens me, however. As I have been fiddling around for a month (only) now I wonder if it’s too late. Is it crazy to believe I could yet gain considerable skill–dexterity and knowledge– to at least be able to play to some degree. Please let me know your thoughts no matter how harsh. Thanks.

    • Selin Gökova January 17, 2023 at 8:33 am

      Hi Chris,
      Thanks a lot for reaching out. Learning piano doesn’t have any age limit. Of course, when we are younger, our learning and muscle capability are much more advanced, so we learn at a faster pace. At the age of 58, you may just learn a bit slower than a child does, but you can definitely gain considerable skill with enough practice. However, no matter whether you’re young or not, learning to play the piano requires a lot of effort and consistency, so keep that in mind 🙂 Unless you want to become a concert pianist, I would say it doesn’t really matter if you’re 20,30, or 58!

  • Adrian May 2, 2022 at 2:32 am

    Hi I am so Glad of this information is very motivating ti see pianists who begin late in Piano but fought for their dreams and got a Triumph. I begin late in music too, when I was 14 years old. I studied in the University other speciality but If have never let m’y Dreams of become a concert pianist. !!!thank you so much.

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    Hi, my name is Selin. Playing the piano and composing are my biggest passions. I've founded this blog to share everything I've learned throughout the years about piano playing and learning. I hope you stick around! Read More

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