Teaching children has been one of my passions since I decided to pursue teaching as a career. There is really nothing like seeing a child make music. There is nothing like seeing them grow and learn. There is really nothing like being taught by that child how to be a better teacher. While teaching children is most definitely beneficial to both parties, teaching adults is another animal, yet just as rewarding.
I have had the privilege to teach quite a few beginner, intermediate, and advanced adult piano students. By far the most challenging of these has been the beginner adult. (a clip of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony should be played right about now). As challenging as it can be, it is, I think, far more rewarding than it is challenging. It is a humbling experience for the adult who is fully competent at many things except for this skill they are trying to learn. As a teacher, I spend more time trying to convince them “yes, you can do this” than actually teaching them the concepts behind playing the piano. Why is this?
Adult students understand more than we realize but the actual “doing” part is difficult. One of my students told me they found it was easier to read the notes than to play them. The process that happens with first seeing the note to transferring that information to the brain to their fingers is usually the biggest hurdle for adults to overcome. The reality is that adult students will not be able to learn something overnight. But can they learn and play? Absolutely yes. And most adults will question whether it is worth it. Again, it absolutely is.
As a teacher there are 3 things to overcome with adult students.
1. I’m not talented enough.
I can’t even count how many people, not just students, have said this to me. This misconception that you have to be talented to play an instrument is false. Obviously we all have strengths and weaknesses but just because a skill has been developed in someone for a number of years does not mean they are “more” talented than the average person. It is just not true. Sure, we are not all Beethoven or the next American Idol contestant but anyone can learn something new. It requires work, not talent.
2. I am too old.
My current adult student is 52 and she has amazed me with her determination to learn just because she wants to learn. She has not let her age or life stage stand in the way. Like most adults, they may be insecure about starting to learn an instrument. They will most likely compare themselves to someone who has been playing for years but it is possible at an older age to learn. I found quite a few gentleman here learned to play instruments proficiently at an older age.
3. I don’t have the time.
Adults do have more responsibility than children. I have taught a mother of 3 and college age adults and both led busy, busy lifestyles. Whether from work, school or family, everyone is busy. Of course, we all have a hard time finding the time to do “one more thing” but as the saying goes…you make time. Of course, it depends on the person and the life stage they are in. Two hours of practice each week could replace the time wasted on Facebook!
Find a purpose and stick with it!
I have always tried to bring students back to a purpose. Often, the purpose of learning the piano as an adult is to PROVE to themselves that they CAN do it. This is not a bad purpose, but focusing on it can lead to frustration. The purpose I try to bring adult students back to is to first enjoy what they are doing. It is then when they will grow in their ability and knowledge which is a clear definition of learning.
Learning is a touchy word. We learned to read in Kindergarten, we learned our multiplication tables in 5th grade, we learned Chemistry in high school. We graduate, go to college, start a career and learn our new job. We automatically think “Welp, I’m done learning!”. That’s where we have to grow. We CAN learn something and we end up growing from it. Then we start to create this inspiring thing called music. And let me tell you, just like there is nothing like seeing a child smile after accomplishing a difficult piece, there is nothing like seeing an adult smile with pride and say “I can’t believe I just did that!”. They have learned to create music.
Thomas Edison, one of the most brilliant men who lived, said “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves”
I have learned a few things in my short teaching career. Both what to do and what not to do to get adult students to a point of learning, growing and creating.
Like I said, don’t expect to being able to play a Mozart Sonatina by next week. It takes a great deal of time to reach that level of skill. Don’t lower your expectations but DO be patient with yourself. Give yourself time.
When we reach the adult age we’ve been taught to not show any sense of self gratification. We tend to play down what we’ve accomplished whether it’s a job promotion or major accomplishment. There is nothing wrong with being proud about musical achievement. Why do kids keep going when they don’t want to? Because they soon learn that the feeling of accomplishment is a better feeling than that piece of candy or prize they get each week for practicing. Be proud of what you have accomplished.
Be willing to mess up
We don’t like to mess up. We really, really don’t like it when we are not good at something RIGHT AWAY. It’s kind of embarrassing! I get it! The most important thing about learning to play any instrument is to accept the fact that YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES! Mistakes are apart of learning. If you are a perfectionist, that’s great, but don’t let perfection drive you insane. It would be impossible to learn without messing up every now and then.
All these points could actually be applied to young students as well! I would say this post is from a teacher’s perspective but it is also for that adult out there who is thinking “maybe I can learn to do that….”. We may learn through different modes but each of us has to be patient with ourselves, learn the right balance for being proud of our accomplishments and being humble enough to make mistakes. Once we do these things we can grow and then begin to create our music!