Piano teaching

Is It Ever Too Late to Learn Piano?

guest post by Doug Hanvey

No matter what your age, it’s never too late to learn a new skill. My experience teaching hundreds of adult piano students over many years leads me to generally agree with this truism. However, I’ve discovered it’s also true that each stage of adulthood has its unique challenges. In fact, I have misgivings about the question “Is it ever too late?” Are there more useful questions that prospective adult piano students could ask?

Recently, a young adult beginner arrived at my studio for her first lesson. At the first lesson, I make sure to discuss the student’s goals, insecurities, and perceived challenges to success. This student – probably no older than 25 – told me that she feared it was too late for her to learn to play, given that she was no longer a child.

Inwardly I chuckled. I’ve successfully taught beginners in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. I knew from experience that it was by no means too late for her, given attention to the usual things like good practice habits.

While in general it’s never too late for adults of any age to learn piano, this doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges along the way.

I’ve found that hurdles to learning are often dependent on one’s stage of life. That said, students of any age may struggle with the following:

Younger adults may struggle with the ability to pay for lessons (if newly self-supporting) and inexperience or even naiveté about the effort and time required in the long haul.

Middle-aged students often struggle with carving out the time from a busy work and family schedule for consistent practicing. Indeed, simply having the energy on a given day to get in some practice may sometimes seem like a momentous challenge.

Seniors may struggle with concentration, health concerns that disrupt the learning process for extended periods, and deep-rooted somatic habits that may make it difficult to acquire sound technique.

Struggles aside, adult students at any stage of life are also likely to possess compensatory personal and/or situational strengths. Younger students often have more time for practicing. Middle-aged and senior students are less likely to experience financial obstacles. Senior students are typically free of family obligations and may have a better understanding of what learning a musical instrument actually takes.

I like to say that there are truly only a handful of determinants of success for adult piano students: not starting, not continuing, and not practicing regularly or well.

So questions that may be more useful than Is it ever too late to learn to play piano? are:

Can I learn to play well enough to enjoy myself? Since playing music of nearly any level can be enjoyable – especially if the focus is on one’s abilities rather than the difficulty of the music – the answer to this is almost invariably “yes.”

Am I willing to confront and surmount the challenges that may occur in the learning process? Acknowledging that tests and trials are likely to occur makes them less threatening when they materialize.

Finally, the question that is perhaps most useful for adult students: Can I allow myself to enjoy playing what I can play now and not get frustrated by not being able to play what I’m not quite ready for? Children don’t have enough experience or knowledge to concern themselves with what the future may bring. Adults usually do. Music itself happens and can only be appreciated in the moment. New adult piano students should consider that if they can enjoy their skills and the music they can play now, they are already a success.

Doug Hanvey offers online piano lessons for creative adults. Doug holds a master’s in adult education and is the author of The Creative Keyboardist adultpiano method. He is a member of Music Teachers National Association in the United States.

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