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I haven't played the piano for ages means that the last time I played the piano was ages ago.

Will it be possible to write that

I haven't been playing the piano for ages

What would that mean?

Before I stop playing it, I used to play very often.

and that

I have not been sleeping for 5 days.

Would that mean that I have not slept well for 5 days but before this I used to sleep very well.

I haven't been hanging about all day, I have helped my brother.

Does that mean that most of the day I helped my brother and could not hang about a lot.

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    Depending on context, I haven't been playing the piano for ages could mean the last time I was playing the piano was a long time ago. Or it could be a simple denial of the assertion I have been playing the piano for ages. Which itself might either be asserting that you started playing many years ago, and have continued to play intermittently ever since, or that you've been playing continuously playing for the past several hours. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 29 '15 at 14:58
  • @FumbleFingers I didn't think of that before writing my diatribe! To me, it can't be a denial of "I have been playing the piano for ages" unless the accent is strongly on the "haven't" or on the "ages." – hunter Mar 29 '15 at 15:04
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    ... by the same token, I have not been sleeping for 5 days could be a simple denial - I might actually have been asleep continuously for 4 days, or I might have slept "normally" for several (but not 5) days consecutively. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 29 '15 at 15:46
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If a native (American-English) speaker wished to say that the last time he played piano was very long ago, he would say:

I haven't played the piano in ages.

Haven't been playing is a very, very unlikely choice of tenses when an AmE speaker wishes to convey that meaning. The continuous/progressive just doesn't work there for that meaning.

Consider:

I haven't been speaking to her for ages.

An American speaker would understand that sentence to mean "I have been giving her the cold shoulder for a long time now. I am angry at her and holding a grudge." Whereas

"I haven't spoken to her for ages."

means "It has been a long time since she and I have conversed."

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I don't have a complete answer to your question. In all of these sentences, the present perfect progessive is extremely similar to the present perfect, but with a slight nuance of you being immersed in the activity. I am going to start from your second example, which is the clearest example.

(1) I haven't been sleeping well for four days.

(2) I haven't slept well for four days.

These two sentences are extremely similar. The only difference is that (1) perhaps invites the listener to imagine the process of "not sleeping well." One imagines the speaker turning and tossing about in the bed. The progressive encourages us to think of the process of sleeping, or, the negative progressive encourages us to think of the process of not sleeping. In sentence (2), the speaker is counting how many days she hasn't slept well for, and the emphasis is on the number of days.

Both sentences imply that, prior to four days ago, the speaker was sleeping just fine. This is, however, not the key point of either sentence.

Now let's look at your first example.

(1) I haven't been playing the piano for ages.

(2) I haven't played the piano for ages.

To be honest, sentence (1) strikes me as unnatural. The problem is that the reference to the distant past "for ages" contrasts with the recent present suggested by "have been playing." I can think of some contexts where it would be natural, but they are pretty weird:

Deborah: John practiced the piano so much that he started to annoy me. I actually gave him 10 bucks just to quit.

Jane: Deborah, that's not fair! I've been not playing the piano for ages and you've never given me a thing!

That's pretty silly and contrived! And also, I moved the "not" after the "been" to make that example work.

But if we change "for ages" to "these past two weeks," then your piano sentences sound good.

(1) I haven't been playing the piano these past two weeks.

(2) I haven't played the piano these past two weeks.

Again, (1) and (2) are different, but in very subtle ways. Sentence (1) invites us to consider the speaker's routine/process of playing the piano, and lets us know that for whatever reason the speaker is not on this routine for the past two weeks. Sentence (2) is more matter-of-fact, with the emphasis on the duration of time for which the speaker has not played the piano. This is in perfect analogy to the "not sleeping well" sentence.

Finally we consider your last sentence. I fixed it up a bit, because I think it's more natural when both parts are in the same tense.

(1) I haven't been hanging about all day, I have been helping my brother.

(2) I haven't hung around all day, I've helped my brother.

Here I think (1) is a lot better than (2). The whole point of these sentences is that you want the listener to understand the process of what you were doing today: helping your brother, not hanging around. You invite the listener to imagine the process of "hanging around" and then dispel it with "helping my brother. The sentence (2) is a little odd but OK. By the way, in this example, I find the simple past (or simple past progressive) just as meaningful as the perfect, whereas your other two examples really need a perfect.

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    It's all down to context. Your second example #1 could be a perfectly natural response in, say, "Gosh! You play the piano really well! You must have been playing for years to get that good!" "I haven't been playing the piano for ages. In fact I never played at all until a few months ago, but since then I've practiced for hours every day". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 29 '15 at 15:53
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The verbs you're practicing using are tricky if your native language doesn't have an exact equivalent.

Some of your sentences feel a little funny to my ear. For each one, I will give you a version that is more natural to English.

I haven't been playing the piano for ages

Better:

I haven't played the piano for ages.

Or

I haven't been playing the piano recently.

Before I stop playing it, I used to play very often.

Better:

Before I stopped, I used to play the piano often.

[We should try not to use the same word twice in one sentence; and often is already a strong word, and doesn't get any stronger with very.]

I have not been sleeping for 5 days.

Better:

I have not slept for 5 days.

Or

I have not been sleeping well recently.

And another version of this last sentence:

I have not been sleeping well for the last 5 days.

I haven't been hanging about all day, I have helped my brother.

Pretty good, but slightly better:

I haven't been hanging about all day; I helped my brother.

Compare these two sentences:

I haven't been studying French very long.

I have been studying French for three months.

Do you see? The negativity in the first sentence doesn't really make any difference!

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