While most piano students are kids or teens, others are adults. It’s wonderful for people to keep learning skills throughout a lifetime, and piano can be an especially rewarding hobby.
In fact, adult piano students may have a few important advantages over students who are children. That’s because adults typically take piano lessons because they want to do it. Also, unlike some younger students, adults tend to have an unusual amount of drive. No one is telling them to take lessons. They are doing it simply for the love of music.
What’s more, many adults have more familiarity with music and reading notes than children do. This can make it easier for them to hit the ground running, which means that they are positioned for making quick progress.
However, some adults really want to learn, but they aren’t necessarily comfortable with the idea of taking lessons. That’s especially true if they don’t have a musical background and feel like they are starting at absolute zero.
Fortunately, there are things that a piano teacher can do to ensure that adult beginners feel comfortable and welcome at their lessons.
Here is a closer look at how to facilitate piano lessons for adults.
Teaching Adults vs. Teaching Kids
Piano teachers who are accustomed to teaching kids will find that they have to adjust their approach with an adult student. When you are teaching children:
- The approach is more imaginative;
- They tend to learn through experience;
- They are less self-conscious;
- Usually are better able to focus on short-term rather than long-term goals;
- Have shorter attention spans; and
- Are driven by extrinsic motivations.
Adults are quite different. When you are teaching a grown-up student:
- They rely more on objective and logical lessons than imagination;
- Be prepared to provide explanations;
- Remember that they may feel more self-conscious;
- Keep in mind that they can track both short- and long-term goals;
- They have longer attention spans; and
- They tend to be more driven by intrinsic motivations.
Clearly, teaching piano to children and teaching piano to adults are two very different things. This makes it necessary for the instructor to alter their approach with an adult student if they are used to teaching younger people.
Tips for Teaching Piano to Adults
By now you know that children and adults approach learning the piano very differently. This means that teachers must tailor their approach so that their adult learners will be more successful.
There are many ways to accomplish this, and you likely will discover that you have to vary your approach from one student to the next. Nonetheless, there are a few broad guidelines that can be drawn.
For example, you’ll want to be clear with your adult students about what your goals are for them. Perhaps the current emphasis is on fingering technique. Accordingly, it is wise to refer to fingering technique frequently throughout the course of each lesson.
It makes sense to not just state your goals for them as a student but also to explain why this is an important goal. Adults tend to perform better in piano lessons when they know why a certain technique is critical. This means that you may need to explain the importance of posture or using the right fingering technique multiple times so that your students really absorb why you have set certain goals for them.
It also makes a great deal of sense to consult with your student about the kinds of music that they want to play. Most adults have a pretty clear sense of which genres of music they enjoy and which they don’t. This probably means that they hold some fairly decided opinions about the kind of music they want to practice on the piano.
Encourage your adult student to let you know about their musical preferences so that you can prepare lessons and songs that are more likely to appeal to them. This can be a wonderful way to keep motivation going, as adults are more likely to feel inspired when they are practicing music that they enjoy.
It’s smart to ask your adult students to set some short- and long-term goals of their own. Communicating about these goals will help you to assist your adult students to achieve these goals. You also can help with breaking down the goals into smaller components that each serve the larger goal. Once again, this is a wonderful way to help maintain motivation over the long haul.
Encourage your adult students to record their lessons using a tablet, smart phone or other electronic device. This enables them to revisit each lesson as they practice during the week. Plus, listening to earlier recordings of the songs they are playing is a marvelous way to track progress.
Many adult students are motivated by the opportunity to show off their newly learned skills. You might suggest that your student plays some of his songs in a social setting or takes part in a local talent show. Some instructors will schedule an annual recital that allows each student to perfect and perform a challenging piece. A performance sometimes is exactly the motivation that’s needed to overcome a difficult song.
Consider scheduling periodic social events that allow all of your adult students to gather. Adult students can be amazing sources of encouragement and support to each other. They can share inspiration and stories while also making friends and cementing their love of the piano.
Teaching Books Geared Toward Adults
Many beginning piano books are aimed at a much younger audience. Fortunately, that isn’t the case with all piano instruction manuals.
The Classic Piano Course Book by Carol Barratt is a marvelous resource for adult beginners. It’s exceptionally user-friendly and allows the student to learn as they play. Adults who are interested in playing classical pieces will be especially drawn to this book as it includes many familiar favorites. As the book contains many fascinating tidbits related to history and the biographies of composers, it’s a wonderful choice for adults.
Alfred’s Basic Adult All-in-One Course, Book 1 by Willard Palmer, et al. is another solid option. The all-in-one format truly is comprehensive as it covers lessons, technic, theory and a large repertoire. Also included are isometric hand exercises, written assignments and finger strengthening drills. Thanks to logical organization, adult students are able to smoothly progress from one lesson to the next as they explore topics such as playing styles and chord theory.
You further might consider recommending a companion DVD that can provide some sensible extra instruction. The Ultimate Beginner Series: Keyboard Basics, Steps 1 and 2 provides helpful advice with regard to body position and posture as well as how to locate notes on the keyboard and how to use both hands together.
Does Your Adult Student Seem Uncomfortable?
While it is sometimes true that kids get wrangled into piano lessons against their will, this typically is not the case with adult students. If you have an adult student who seems unusually shy or self-conscious to the point that you are afraid they will quit, then you may need to take extra steps to ensure their comfort.
The first step is to dig a little deeper into why they are taking piano lessons. Perhaps it’s a lifelong dream. Maybe they hope to play a song at their best friend’s wedding. It could be that they want to be able to sing songs with their kids while providing piano accompaniment.
Whatever their reason may be, you may be able to put them more at ease by listening to and validating their reasons for wanting to learn to play. Reassure them that any reason is a great reason to learn more about music.
It also may be that you will need to adjust your approach a bit to help your student succeed. Most adults are not as easily led as children are. If your student seems reluctant to take direction, then it will be helpful for you to understand that this simply is your student’s nature. Encourage her to look to other resources, like music theory books or authoritative websites, to gather more information about any subject matter that she finds challenging.
It’s also wise to try a little extra patience with some adult learners. Acquiring a new skill as an adult is an exceptionally difficult thing to do. When the going gets tough, be prepared to offer a little more encouragement and provide a great deal more patience. It may even be helpful to suggest stepping away from lessons for a week or two to give your student some space to reevaluate his goals.
Get the Whole Family Learning with Prodigies
Prodigies gears most of its lessons toward younger music students, but this doesn’t mean that adults can’t learn alongside their children. In fact, we hear every day from parents who are shocked by just how much they learn by participating in our programs with their kids.
Following along with the video lessons and other activities at Prodigies Music just might inspire you to try some piano lessons yourself. You never know what doors might open when you start studying music.