Too old to learn piano? - Being an adult piano student

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Sep 17, 2004 11:55 am

Too often, when we think of "taking piano lessons," we think in terms of children. But adults are just as capable as children and have greater focus and determination to learn than kids. So, are we ever too old to learn piano? Is there anything special about learning piano as an adult? If you're an adult student of piano, why do you do it and would you recommend it for other adults? Do you wish you had learned as a kid or had continued to take lessons when you were younger? As a teacher of piano, do you like to have adult students? This should be interesting and informative, so let us know what you think. :;):
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby 97-1095542407 » Sat Sep 18, 2004 4:08 pm

:;): I really enjoy my lessons at 32. I've fooled around with the piano for a very long time, never focusing in enough. I had about 6 attempts at lessons from about 9 to 14. My attention span and complete lack of discipline hindered my advancement on the piano. I've always had some musical ability and played around with the guitar for a while. I'm happy at new found dedication to the piano. I'm advancing so much! I at first believed the cliche' of the old dog (well not that old)...any inability is made up in discipline.
Hanon's are a great workout for the weakness in my left hand. My ability to understand the wisdom of practice and slowing down until it's in my muscle memory has been the highlight of being an older student.
I've some basic tips for those who care:
If you want to get better, dedicate yourself to at least 15 to 20 minutes of time to Hanon's, School of Velocity. The more you play then and reap the rewards of their practice, the more you'll want to play them. Avoid, as much as possible, skipping any days of playing. Aim for at least an hour. Even if you're banging out Hanon, it's something. With Hanon, alternate scales, play staccato in one hand, legato in the other and alternate. Play piano in one hand and forte in the other and alternate. Relax your hands, don't tense up the old bangers! Avoid taking on more the 3 songs at once. Want it!
All this stuff comes from EVERYONE that's ever gotten good. My teacher got it from her teachers. My wife got it from her teachers. Everyone I know that's progressed, practices everyday. It's like workin out ones body. Later!
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Postby 65-1074818729 » Sun Sep 19, 2004 7:36 pm

This is a very interesting topic.

As a bit of background, I started piano lessons at age 53 and have continued non-stop for the past seven years. I had no previous experience with any musical instrument.

analog_01 has brought up some good points on the importance of daily piano exercises. I too follow a similar schedual of Hanon.

The question posed by Dr, Zeigler was “are we ever too old to learn piano”. So far, I agree with everything that has been said. Older people do have better focusing abilities and determination which make up for much of the dexterity, flexibility etc, that diminishes over time.

However, if the question was “ are we ever too old to learn piano and become a great pianist”, then I would say “yes”. I believe that the younger a person can start to learn to play an instrument, the greater their potential to excel. There is something about the young mind that can absorb new information quicker and more efficiently. Also, their body-mind coordination seems to function more smoothly.

I read once (can’t remember where) that all of the known “great violinists” present and past, started learning to play before the age of five. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I would not be surprised if it is.

To address some of the other points raised by Dr. Zeigler, I am learning to play the piano simply for the enjoyment of playing an instrument. The feeling of achievement is also gratifying, after mastering a new piece of music. The piano has become a large part of my life.
And yes, I would like to have started piano lessons when I was much younger.

I hope that some of the teachers respond to this post, as I would be very interested in what they have to say regarding the learning abilities of children vs. adults.

:O
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Postby 75-1095335090 » Wed Sep 22, 2004 8:10 am

I teach a lot of adults. In fact, I don't even take students who are younger than 8, and from 8-13 they need to have an interview first that includes them and a parent to talk about what taking piano lessons includes.

I prefer teaching older students (and mainly adults and seniors) because I know that they are taking piano lessons because THEY want to, not because their parents are making them. Also, when they are paying for their own lessons they tend to take them more seriously to make sure they get their money's worth.

I don't think age has a whole lot to do with one's ability to learn to play the piano (or another instrument). If you can move your fingers, know the alphabet, can count, and can hear decently, it is very possible.

I've heard of studies (note: I haven't actually seen them, so... grain of salt here...) that say that learning to play an instrument as an adult can help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimers and other dementia (taking music lessons was second only to playing Bridge).

I think most of us know the benefits of starting learning music before the age of nine when your brain is still developing, but just because you're not rewiring your brain doesn't mean you can't learn to play, and play well, imo.

I think that the only thing holding most adult students back from becoming "great pianists" is lack of time. When I was younger and in my more advanced piano studies I spent a good 5 or 6 hours at the piano every day, more on weekends. Now that I'm an adult I'm not sure how I fit that much practice in. (Especially in the years when piano wasn't the only instrument I was dedicated to learning).

My advice to adult students:

Learning to play an instrument takes time. Don't be discouraged if you think you are playing songs that seem "too easy" but take a long time to play well. This is normal. As an example, all but one of my adult students has progressed slightly faster than my younger students in the lower levels, but they still think it's taking too long. (Something along the lines of, "I've been taking lessons for three weeks now and I can't play Fur Elise!!!")

Practice. You've heard it said that practice makes perfect, and it does. Especially if you practice those small, tricky bits of the song so slowly that you couldn't possibly play it incorrectly. (Example: I've been learning "Maple Leaf Rag" lately, going one bar at a time, starting my metronome at 16th note = 40 and slowly bumping it up from there. It took less than a week to get the first part of the song up to speed and well played, and the only times I miss notes is if I'm trying to play it from memory... still working on that. lol) www.practicespot.com has some wonderful ideas about good ways to practice.

Talk to your teacher. If you find you have too much work or not enough you need to talk to your teacher. Discuss your practice schedule, ask for tips that will make your practice more effective. Also, ask a lot of questions. There are no dumb questions here except those not asked. Believe me, your teacher would rather you innundate him/her with questions than to have you practice something wrong all week.


I think one of the biggest discouragements for adults taking lessons is that they have a lifetime of experience knowing how music is supposed to sound like and when they can't duplicate that right away they get frustrated. Most kids don't have that kind of experience with music and as a result are more bold at attempting certain songs.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Sep 22, 2004 8:27 am

Kittypalooza wrote:I've heard of studies (note: I haven't actually seen them, so... grain of salt here...) that say that learning to play an instrument as an adult can help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimers and other dementia (taking music lessons was second only to playing Bridge).

As an over-50 bridge player, I don't know if piano is helping my mental functioning, but it's sure a lot less hard on my marriage than playing bridge with my wife! :D
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby 97-1095542407 » Wed Sep 22, 2004 8:30 am

:laugh:
For me it's all about time. I'm lucky to have some time to dedicate. I get at least an hour per day. Sometimes I'm doing it a lot more. When I was younger and learned to play guitar. I had an undying want to play, and spent a ton of time doing it. Time/dedication and curiosity are just as important if not more then musical skill/talent. My brother had a knack for music but invested too little time into it. Did it matter that he had a knack? It seems I have to like it more then I need my 'skill' in music, to get better. When one talks about 'good', how good? Carnegie Hall? It can be (imo)possible to start late and get quite good. It depends on the circumstances. The one tip I can have is from the philosophy of __(guess). Be okay with being a beginner. Be a student. Kids have, like you said, little care of not knowing, they're used to it. Everything for them is a learning process. It's part of the gear the mind is in youth. I think it's possible to get back in that gear. Adults over analyze and feel 'dumb' if they don't get something instantly with someone looking over their shoulder. Let go! Be a student. That's what we all are in life anyway. Our egos turn us into 'adults'. I'm probably insane but , hey. I love you too!
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Sep 22, 2004 8:38 am

Although most pianists would probably agree that we have less dexterity and more difficulty learning skills as we get older, keep in mind that there are several performing artists who didn't start piano until they were in their 40's. They are the exception rather than the rule, but, then, performing artists themselves are the exception generally. :)



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All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby presto » Fri Oct 08, 2004 11:27 am

Guest wrote::laugh:
For me it's all about time. I'm lucky to have some time to dedicate. I get at least an hour per day. Sometimes I'm doing it a lot more. When I was younger and learned to play guitar. I had an undying want to play, and spent a ton of time doing it. Time/dedication and curiosity are just as important if not more then musical skill/talent. My brother had a knack for music but invested too little time into it. Did it matter that he had a knack? It seems I have to like it more then I need my 'skill' in music, to get better. When one talks about 'good', how good? Carnegie Hall? It can be (imo)possible to start late and get quite good. It depends on the circumstances. The one tip I can have is from the philosophy of __(guess). Be okay with being a beginner. Be a student. Kids have, like you said, little care of not knowing, they're used to it. Everything for them is a learning process. It's part of the gear the mind is in youth. I think it's possible to get back in that gear. Adults over analyze and feel 'dumb' if they don't get something instantly with someone looking over their shoulder. Let go! Be a student. That's what we all are in life anyway. Our egos turn us into 'adults'. I'm probably insane but , hey. I love you too!

That was some great insight. Reading what you wrote, I think at seventeen I've got an adult's mentality, because I react in the same way when learning piano as the hypothetical adult you portrayed, feeling slow if I don't get something instantly! Yes, I suppose it is ego, and I'll think about letting go and "being a student."
It does help, though, when my teacher points out a strength that I didn't realize that I had, or didn't realize how good I was at it--such as, "You're a great sight-reader!" It makes me feel that I have indeed advanced. :)
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Postby 119-1097335655 » Sat Oct 09, 2004 9:44 am

I am 23 a living in Japan, and only about 6 months ago rediscovered my love for the piano. I took lessons for several years as a young child, always to appease my parents, and never for my own appreciation. Over the past 2 years I have developed a deep love for all of the baroque, classical, romantic, impressionist, and neo-romantic repertoire (I'm not too fond of anyone after say, Prokofiev and especially dislike Shostakovich, but that's another story) and I suppose this is what led me back to the piano. Unfortunately I am not taking lessons and do not own a piano in Japan, but my affection for the instrument has grown so much that I spend at least an hour or so everyday in one of the ubiquitous electronics stores of Tokyo playing Twinkle Twinkle variations, Sonata 11 (the one of Turkish fame), Scott Joplin, and Clementi... Luckily I have a good memory, but I am not learning much in the way of new repertoire or technique. Anyway I am quite partial to the idea that, more than anything else, what gives advantage to the young (this is true in most any area) is the amount of free time they have to apply themselves to their craft/art. An aspiring musician of 23 years will find himself hard pressed to devote 5 hours a day to his art in addition to his full time job, girlfriend and other miscellaneous commitments. There are many parellels with language learning here. Besides the time issue, the other major relevant issue with older learners, in my opinion, is the formation of one's ego - essentially strong associations betweens ones sensory or philosophical (or linguistic or musical) impressions and their interpretations... Children have no such associations and so easily appropriate new information and systems, without much questioning and at face value. Obviously neither one of these things is set in stone - whether or not an individual is able to overcome these obstacles is more a matter of dedication and desire than it is a matter of time itself per se... Go out and learn! Enjoy! Thrill insouciantly at the unknowable mysteries!
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