Adult Learners… the pros and cons – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C.S. Lewis

How often do you hear friends and colleagues say, “I wish I hadn’t stopped learning …(insert a variety of past pursuits now inducing feelings of regret)? Often that wish is tied to a musical instrument. Because learning an instrument is hard work, often children give up before they have learnt enough to carry them through into adulthood and they stop playing all together.

Nearly a third of my students are adults and they are a really rewarding group. Learning an instrument as an adult has both pros and cons.

Nobody yells at them to practice, which on the one hand is very nice indeed. On the other hand, they have to be able to discipline themselves to do the job. Also, they are paying for their own lessons, so while footing the bill is not necessarily a positive feature, it’s easier to knuckle down to work when you understand the value.

One of the biggest challenges for adult learners is that their understanding is ahead of their physical reaction. Adults will often pick up theoretical concepts quickly, but they will develop technical and reading skills slowly and gradually. Unlike children who usually have nimble fingers and good technique but lack the emotional maturity to understand the musicality of the piece, adults can usually grasp intellectually how a piece of music should sound (e.g. playful, sad, lilting etc) but don’t have the skill on the piano to express it. This limitation is, of course, only temporary and will be overcome with time and practise. Physically, the body is usually more tight; as people age, they often cannot move their fingers fast enough to play at extreme tempos or their wrists may never loosen enough to provide good flexibility but there is still a lot of beautiful music to be made. There will always be pieces suited their physical level that can satisfy them emotionally and still challenge them technically.

Adult-oriented method books assume adults will learn a lot faster than children and this is not always the case. I have found it to be rarely so; adults may learn differently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean faster. Adult method books usually jump right in to using all five fingers on both hands – and reading nine notes – from the outset. For adults trying to learn something new on top of all the normal pressures of family, work, commitments etc, this can be overwhelming. I would prefer they start out with a sense of accomplishment rather than frustration. Consequently, a lot of the most helpful resources are very child-friendly and do not speak to you as an intelligent adult. But you do get some cute pictures!

Piano teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Adult student, Alan playing finger control exercises.

Adults learners can be fluid, flexible and adventurous and bring with them a strong motivation to learn. But they are also cautious, perfectionists and extremely hard on themselves. They are often very anxious to achieve their goals and it can be difficult to convince them they are doing well. Adult students are also better able to articulate their problems and understand practise suggestions, both benefits helping them to make consistent progress.

The best thing about learning to play the piano as an adult is that they are free to do as they please. Adults aren’t trying to please a parent, a teacher or an examiner. No one is forcing them to take lessons. It’s about them and the music. And that is a blessing 🙂

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW or mobile lessons are available in the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie.