Children are fortunate if they take piano lessons. Childhood is the best and easiest time to learn. Children’s brains are like sponges and they quickly soak up all the information about how to read notes, how to place their hands on the piano keyboard and connect the written notes with the keys they play. They often memorize a piece of music after playing it two or three times. It’s very impressive.
However, for those who never got piano lessons as a child, but always wished they could play, or had some lessons and regret giving up, it’s never too late to learn.
Can You Learn Piano as an Adult?
It IS different when you learn as an adult. For one thing, as an adult, you are likely to be more self-conscious and very hard on yourself if you make a mistake or feel you should be learning faster than you are. As an adult, you have responsibilities and may feel guilty for doing something for yourself. The day job, child care, shopping, cooking, washing and cleaning all come first. Of course, some of them must – but there are some responsibilities you can safely ignore for half an hour each day.
The first thing to accept is that it takes focus and dedication to learn to play the piano. It’s not something you learn in four lessons. It’s an ongoing journey that never really ends. By committing to your piano lessons and practice, you are setting an important example for your children or grandchildren. Some of the adults I teach whose children are also learning, report that when they settle down to practice, their child decides right then that it’s THEIR time to practice. This is good because it gets your child to the piano, but it’s really important that your child understands that you are entitled to your time at the piano too. Playing together can make it a shared experience and more fun for both of you, but it’s still important that you each have your own private practice time at the piano.
A good friend of mine recalled that her mother would put her and her baby sister to bed in the evening and play the piano for an hour. The sound of the piano became their lullaby and cue to go to sleep. So don’t think that you can’t play after the kids are in bed – it can become a positive thing.
In order to get the best out of learning the piano, decide why you’re learning. If it’s for fun – make sure it really is fun! If your goal is to pass an exam on the piano, get the information you need and make a plan. Whatever your goal, get the most supportive teacher you can find.
There IS a great deal of hard work involved with learning the piano, of course, but that’s not to say you can’t enjoy the work.
I find that what stops adults progressing is their unrealistic expectations of themselves. Be as patient and kind to yourself as you would be with a child. Go slowly, learn hands separately, play hands together carefully. When you’ve got a couple of measures going along hands together, give yourself a pat on the back! When something goes wrong, resist the urge to “tut”! Tutting is not supportive. Decide if the error was a one-time slip, or whether it’s an error that keeps happening. If it keeps happening it means that you need to look at that measure individually a little bit more. If it’s a one-time slip, it is irrelevant so just keep going.
Be realistic about your goal on the piano. Do you wish you could play like Lang Lang? Unless you’re very talented and you have about ten thousand spare hours, that might not be realistic. However, if you wish you could play some songs for the family gathering, that is in all probability completely possible. The key here is to mark every step you achieve toward your goal and enjoy the journey.
Don’t compare yourself to children who are learning – or, for that matter – other adults you know who are learning. Everyone is different. Everyone has different priorities in life and different abilities.
You might learn the piano because you want to play for yourself and find it relaxing to sit at the piano for an hour a day and play through some songs for your own enjoyment. This is a perfectly fine goal to have, and a very worthy one. Don’t feel you have to “perform” in front of people if that takes the fun out of it for you.
Learn to play chords on the piano. All music is based on chords, whether classical or popular. Learning chords makes learning songs and classical music quicker. On the other hand, playing scales is optional. They DO help with finger dexterity, speed, and understanding different keys, but it’s not essential if you’re playing for fun. If you can find your way around basic three note chords, you can take any song with guitar tabs and, using the letter name of each chord, find it on the piano with your left hand and play the tune in the right hand. Start with songs you know really well as it will help you get it going along faster. Search on YouTube for tutorials as well – some of them are really good.
Prioritize practice for half an hour a day. Leave the kitchen and the laundry for half an hour. If you can’t find a half hour, try for fifteen minutes. Any time you get at the piano is better than none at all.
Is it harder to learn the piano as an adult? I would say this varies from person to person, just as it varies from one child to another. There is definitely a level of ability each of us is born with. But I believe anybody can do it – how difficult or easy you find it depends on many things. If you can stay focused and patient, you shouldn’t find it too hard. But in the end, it’s determination and practice that will get you to your goal.
Benefits of learning the piano as an adult are many: reading music notes and connecting them to what your fingers are doing is a really good cognitive exercise.
Learning the piano reaffirms that you can learn new things as you get older. I recently heard an adult who was barely 40 say “I’m too old to learn anything new”. That’s a very sad and wrong assumption. We can all learn new things throughout our entire lives!
Learning to play the piano raises your self-esteem. When you tell people you are playing the piano, it makes you feel proud!
Very importantly, you will inspire your children and/or grandchildren and show them what commitment and perseverance will achieve. So don’t put it off any longer if you’ve been unsure about taking up the piano as an adult. The rewards are great!