Many adults are becoming more and more interested in learning how to play the piano. Many have had poor experiences in the past with a strict teacher (with ruler in hand). Some have had music lessons in the past, and some have no previous musical experience. Others have experienced the difficulties of trying to learn on their own.
If you’re wondering, “Can I learn how to play? Is it too late for me?” or “What should I know before I start looking into piano lessons?” I have some helpful tips to share with you.
1. Learning As An Adult Has Definite Advantages
Learning to play as a working adult, a retiree, and even as a senior has incredible benefits. We know this because of statistically significant findings in research – real science!
If you’re like most working adults, you have plenty of responsibilities. You may be working, parenting, or balancing your personal and professional life. If you’re retired, you’ve worked for a long time to gain the freedom to do what you’ve always wanted.
As an adult, you take lessons because you want to. No one is forcing you. You can choose a time that’s convenient for you in the morning, afternoon or evening. You can choose whether you’d like to take a private lesson or learn in a group.
You can also decide what type of genre(s) you’d like to play. And what types of skills you’d like to learn. There’s the classics, jazz, Broadway, Motown, and much much more. You can dive into one style or try several and see what you like best. You can get into ear training, composing, improvisation, theory, and more.
As an adult learner, you can choose what type of instrument you’d like. You can choose what program works best for you. You are in control of your overall experience.
When you choose to learn to play as an adult, you are in control of what you want. Plus, learning how to play the piano has a myriad of benefits for your health. (I’ll discuss all these fascinating scientific findings in a separate blog).
2. Find A Dedicated, Knowledgeable Teacher
Having a teacher serve as your coach (and support person) will make all the difference in your playing experience. You will have someone to guide you through the learning process. They will give you insights so you can overcome challenges. As I like to say, “You can’t ask a YouTube video for help.” Nothing against tutorial videos – they’re great in their particular role. Video tutorials alone won’t maximize your potential.
When you’re looking for a teacher, know that every program is different. All piano lessons are NOT the same. The quality of instruction can vary greatly from program to program. It’s much better to invest in a high-quality program with an experienced professional. You don’t want to run the risk of wasting your time and money.
There are many, many different teachers and programs out there. Do your research and ask lots of questions when you are speaking with a prospective teacher. Don’t ask “what is your lesson rate?” Ask, “what is included in the studio membership?” and “what happens if I have to miss a lesson?” Ask, “do you offer any fun playing opportunities outside of lessons?” And, “do you offer socials, field trips or informal playing opportunities?”
Here’s a tip you won’t hear often. Want to know if a teacher is seriously dedicated? Ask if they still perform on a regular basis. Ask if they take lessons, or they continue their education in some capacity. See what they say!
3. (Intentional) Practice Makes Perfect
A good teacher will have the depth of knowledge and experience in the kind of music you’d like to play. They will be able to break down the learning process and give you step by step goals in your playing during the week.
When you begin to play at home, it’s a good idea to begin some sort of regular practice regimen. Whether you use a digital or paper calendar, scheduling your playing time is an easy way to begin a new habit. It doesn’t need to be a lot of time. Go for small and attainable in the beginning. Eventually, you’ll want to make a side by side comparison with time spent vs. progress.
It can be a challenge building new habits. It’s easier if you schedule your playing time along with a pre-existing habit. For example, if you have a regular coffee routine, you can start there. You can play the piano and enjoy your coffee (together!) for a short time before getting on with your workday. (By the way, always use a cup with a lid! NEVER put a beverage on your piano, rather put it on a table beside your piano. Trust me:) If you’re retired, perhaps you go for a walk every day after lunch. You can get ready for your walk and then spend 15-30 minutes playing before walking out the door. Little ways of working in some playing time become life-long habits before too long!
4. Keep a Practice Journal or Practice Video Log
When you’re learning something new, it’s nice to track your progress over time. One way to do this is to keep a playing journal. (I recommend spiral bound so it stays open on your music stand). You can keep track of your short and long term goals and challenges you want to bring up with your teacher. You can keep a checklist of favorite repertoire, wish lists, etc!
That said, a written journal isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Another way to track progress is to make a video recording of your practice or “performance.” This used to be a time-consuming project! Thanks to the invention of smart devices, it’s really as simple as clicking a button.
I usually recommend recording semi-regularly to my students. It’s a great way to check how things are actually sounding, especially after you’ve incorporated a new skill (such as the pedal). Video logs are great for short-term assessment. It’s also gratifying to look back on your videos after months or years of lessons.
5. Don’t Be Afraid and Have Fun!
What’s the most difficult part of learning as a beginner? What is the one thing that holds back adult beginners more than anything? My answer might surprise you.
Hands down: fear of failure. Don’t be afraid! As an adult, you’re most likely competent in a number of skills. You might even be an expert in your field. We know a lot as adults and we’re good at what we do. In short, we’re not used to being beginners.
We’ve been taught our whole adult lives that making mistakes is a bad thing. We want to avoid them at all costs. We’ve been taught to avoid mistakes in our work and our personal lives. And we don’t typically share our mistakes with others.
The trouble is, unless we make mistakes, it’s very difficult to learn what we need to learn most. We have to shift our perspective. Mistakes are wonderful, useful things. They are necessary things. When we are afraid of making mistakes, we are putting ourselves at a disadvantage. Learn as a child would, who has not yet learned to be afraid.
This is easier said than done to be sure. It helps to learn in a safe, relaxed environment. When you embrace the learning process without fear you can LEARN MORE, and it’s much more FUN!
6. Celebrate Your Small Wins
Every time you are able to do something that you could not do before, celebrate! Learning to read music, use the damper pedal, and improvise (to name a few), are all complex skills that involve step by step learning. Every small step is worth celebrating because it’s one step closer to mastery.
So when you play Happy Birthday at a family member’s birthday party you’ll gain another step, which will be one of many. It’s another milestone in your piano adventure. Celebrate it!
7. Play for Others
Whatever your short or long-term goals, be sure to share them with someone. Even if you consider piano playing “just for yourself” (that’s okay), it’s still nice to occasionally share your playing with someone you love.
Music is the universal language and something everyone enjoys. If you are nervous to play live, you can always make a video (and record as many “takes” as you like) and send it to them!
Playing the piano is for everyone, regardless of age. Learning how to play as an adult beginner is always possible. All you have to do is decide you want to learn, find a good teacher and begin. Leave your fears behind. Make an effort to record and celebrate your accomplishments along the way. Sharing music enriches our lives and the lives of others. Spread the love!