I have touched on this subject before, but it is an area I find really interesting from the position as pianist, piano teacher and retailer. As you may know from previous blogs, I did fall into teaching piano rather by accident and really fell in love with the whole process of teaching and learning. Selfishly I noticed that the act of helping others gain skills at the piano also really helped me improve my own skills. This is a positive circle which grew and grew.
As time has trickled by as a retailer I have also noticed a subtle change in the people coming through the door to view the pianos I have for sale. The majority viewing pianos are those with children getting started and or trading up to a better instrument as their children progress.
However there has been a little shift recently and I am having the pleasure of meeting people who are a little more mature in years. Having raised a family and settled into careers or coming up to retirement are now wanting to learn the piano. Some are returning to playing the piano, others are starting to learn from the beginning having never had the chance as a child.
Of the people I have stayed in touch with, I have found that in every case they are finding that taking up playing piano has improved their lives. This of course could also apply to other musical instruments and to singing.
I have always been firmly of the belief that there is no time like the present to begin a musical journey. Learning a musical instrument is one of the most rewarding journeys we can make as human beings. These troubled times surrounding us now does make it even more important to pursue goals for self improvement.
There remains a perception that if you didn’t take lessons as a child then you’ve missed your chance. This is simply not true. It is perfectly possible to get to a good standard with regular practice and a level of dedication and play the pieces that one enjoys hearing. There has not always been very much on offer in terms of adult education, however things have changed. City Lit and Morley College, both in London, offer wonderful courses for adults of all ages and stages of musical development. Social networking is also providing the opportunity of people getting together to play piano to each other and to swap ideas.
On the whole, people are living longer lives and it is reasonable that if someone begins learning an instrument in their 50s they can keep playing and improving for decades. There has been research suggesting that playing an instrument and singing can enhance emotional well being, brain health and hearing function.
It is all very well to say the time is now and go and get on with it, but now can be a little daunting. The level of choice is also daunting nowadays as well. To start with, keep it simple. What musical instruments speak to you the most? And what style of music appeals?
The piano is the only instrument I can really speak about with confidence as this is where my experience lies. If learning piano is completely new to you, I would suggest one-to-one lessons. Different teachers do have areas where they like to specialise, but generally an experienced teacher will be able to help a keen piano learner to get started. They can tailor the lesson to exactly what you as a learner need and in this calm and encouraging environment put you at ease. The institutions mentioned above do offer beginner lessons and they can also work really well. It does depend on ones personality. Learning as a group could also be fun as each person encourages each other, shares what they find easy and difficult and have fun playing piano together under the guidance of the teacher.
On the whole, adults are in control of their lives. We have skills at work we have acquired and are very competent and fluent in all our tasks, whatever they may be. It can come as a surprise to find out that playing the piano easily comes very gradually over time as the result of a great deal of effort. Many adult learners do find it difficult to adjust expectations and this can cause anxieties and loss of confidence.
The best thing is to keep going, keep trying and listen and accept the encouraging compliments that the teacher expresses. Self criticism can be a good thing, but it can also undermine progress. A good teacher will give advice on how to practice and strategies on how to overcome difficulties in the pieces being learnt.
Technology can also come to the help as well. Many beginner books come with play along CDs which can be a fun way to feel that you are playing ‘real’ music in a group. A good thing about this is that you will have a whole orchestra backing you up which will feel great, even if you only have a simple tune to play. Another positive is that you will have to play in time and keep going, the CD isn’t going to stop and wait for you! The internet is also a great asset. For example there is a great deal of help on YouTube as well as play along apps.
I have an adult pupil who in her words was ‘afraid of being terrible’ and did go on to say, ‘who am I trying to kid? Nobody needs to hear me play the piano’ but got started anyway after having a gift of 10 lessons from her husband. Three years on she is still having weekly lessons, practices most days, making good progress and seems to really enjoy playing the piano.
For a person of maturing years, having a weekly piano lesson with its tasks and goals to overcome for the next lesson can help give structure to the week that was previously provided for with work. Many teachers have a pupils concert at the end of each term which also helps give a little focus and even more reason to play piano. This is also a sociable event and one where friendships and sense of a musical community can blossom.
The above is also true for group lessons at a local college. Here there will definitely be a feeling of community. There will be group encouragement and fun of learning together with wonderful learning at its centre.
Very often the course will have a focus of an end of term concert. They have a formality and sense of occasion about them followed by a huge sense of relief and sense of achievement once the concert is done.
Perhaps after all this a well earned trip to the pub for everyone to celebrate!
Thank you for reading.