Learning to Play Piano as an Adult: Expectations vs. Reality

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"If you could wave a magic wand, what would you be able to do at the piano?" is one of my favorite questions to ask. Here's my perspective on the Expectation vs. Reality when it comes to playing the piano as an adult.

When I meet with a prospective student it’s an informal affair. We chat, ask questions and get to know each other. As their prospective piano coach, I try to get to the heart of what they’d love to be able to play at the piano.

One of my favorite questions to ask is, “if you could wave a magic wand, what would you be able to do at the piano?” Over the years, I’ve received a variety of answers to that question. Some have a good idea of what skills or genres they’d love to explore. Others don’t know if they want much beyond “playing something that sounds good.” It’s okay either way. Not everyone knows what they want in the beginning.

Every discussion is different, every person unique. What’s interesting is something which comes up in most initial meetings. It’s a question I am almost always asked.

“How long will it take for me to sound good?”  

What I want to say (with a smile) is “I have no idea.” That would be the honest answer. My answer is usually something like, “well, that depends.” It depends on lots of factors. It depends on what “sound good” means to you. 

Progress depends on consistency of quality, intentional practice.

Most (but not all) understand this fundamental truth. The time it takes to arrive at your goal also depends on the level you are seeking. Are we talking about a steep hill or Mount Everest here? Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star at the elementary level is quite different from Mozart’s twelve “Twinkle” variations of the French folk song, “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman.”

Progress also depends on your preferred mode of playing. This includes learning to read music on the grand staff or reading a lead sheet or chord chart. If you have aspirations of playing Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto, you might have years in front of you. If you want to play your favorite pop tunes, that’s usually less involved than Rachmaninoff.

The good news is learning for enjoyment can be gratifying no matter your playing level. As we know, music making is food for the soul and the brain! While playing goals are important, I find most of my students’ priorities shift over time. Some begin lessons with lofty reading goals only to discover later on they love playing by ear. Some start with a desire to play pop music and develop a new found love of Classical arrangements. Some find music theory intimidating but come to write their own compositions.

Our expectations tend to change over time, which can be a good thing. Music offers us so much – the piano is a versatile instrument! This can be a challenging concept to “wrap our brains around” at the start of a new venture. Most find something special in playing – a unique form of self expression. Something nothing else gives them.

Something which keeps us coming back for more.