Is it Too Late To Learn Piano?

is it Too Late To Learn Piano

by Shannon Price

A friend called me recently and asked, “I’m 35—isn’t that too old to start music lessons?” I told her there is no such thing as too old to start anything, especially music lessons.

She wanted to take piano lessons but was concerned no one would teach a beginner her age. I said I have piano teachers who only want adult students. Then she worried about starting something that requires patience and study, having been out of school so long. After we talked a few more minutes, she became excited about finally playing the piano that had been in her home so long.

Before her brave phone call, she had tinkered on the piano keys, not really knowing what to do, but making music nonetheless. Her mind at ease, we set up lessons, and although nervous, she was quite happy to begin her latest life journey.

Her questions are shared by many adults who want to learn an instrument. They are afraid it’s too late to learn piano or any instrument for that matter, but rest assured, it isn’t. Here is a more detailed list of common concerns among adult beginners, along with my observations about what they can actually expect.

Will my teacher drop me if I make a lot of mistakes? 

Most teachers love teaching and are inspired when they see someone who really tries and likes to practice. In fact, good teachers prefer to witness your mistakes so they can help you not only fix the problem but learn how to avoid it in the future. If you have mistakes that you are able to hide during a lesson, the teacher can’t help and the problems will keep occurring. Don’t fear mistakes. That fear will distract you and actually cause the errors you are trying to avoid.

Do I have to study classical music before I can play rock or jazz?

If your goal is to play popular music or jazz, the idea that you have to start with classical music isn’t true. In fact, a good way to begin studying music theory is through popular music! In pop music, chords are presented as symbols (much like a guitar tab for a rock song), so you play without sight reading. Of course, understanding music theory and sight reading eventually will make you better and more able play with others and perform.

We must understand that children are less encumbered by stress and the business of life, which results in better focusing, making it seem as though a child absorbs new material faster. Actually, adults who want to make up for lost time often learn faster than children. Another cause of distraction is self-judgment and impatience. Children usually have never heard the music they’re learning, whereas adults worry too much about sounding like the professional on a record. Relax and give yourself a break, then you’ll improve!

Will I have to practice every day?

Taking two or three days off from practicing during the week will help you progress faster than if you practice every day. The rest periods are when your brain absorbs and organizes your efforts. This time off should be guilt-free so you get the complete benefit from days of rest. If you practice seven days a week and miss a day, don’t practice more the next day to make up. This approach never works, and you make more mistakes and get frustrated because your brain is working overtime.

Should I practice for an hour or more? I just don’t have time

Shorter practice times are perfect! After about 15 minutes of an activity, the average person becomes mentally fatigued, so short bursts repeated frequently are more efficient than one long session. If you only have 10 minutes, go for it. Do another 10 minutes later in the day. By the end of the week, you might have had 15 or 20 mini practice sessions. If you do have lots of time and want to practice for a while, circuit train. Spend 15 or 20 minutes learning a part, then switch to practicing hand and finger techniques. This way, your mind rests while your fingers get a workout.

Improvisation is about creating an intimacy and connection between you, your instrument, and the music. It’s about experimenting with chord combinations, jamming, and making mistakes until music making becomes instinctual. Understanding music theory will not necessarily make you improvise better. I know several talented musicians who have more than one degree in music and cannot improvise at all because they were never encouraged to be OK with that. To improvise you need courage, spontaneity, and freedom to play what you hear in your head.

If I want to play other instruments, DO I have to start with the piano?

This is a myth. Some of the best guitarists, violinists, flute players, and saxophonists never had piano lessons. But since I am a keyboard player first and guitar player second, I know there are certain things that are easier to understand on the piano, but this doesn’t always make learning another instrument easier.

Anxiety about starting anything new is normal, but fear should never stop you from trying. If individual lessons are making you sweat, try group lessons. After some skill is developed, there are community bands and programs such as New Horizons Orchestras and Weekend Warriors for you to hone those skills, have fun, and make music with a group. So what are you waiting for? Go out and play!

About Making Music

Instead of being dedicated to one instrument, young musicians, or professionals, MakingMusicMag.com is a lifestyle resource for all music makers, regardless of age, instrument, or ability. We focus on providing educational articles teaching people how to play an instrument, but we also favor travel pieces, music related health articles, interesting news stories, and plenty more.

16 comments

Well said, and good advice.

As a piano player I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I wish I could play piano” or “I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano” or “your so lucky you can play the piano” (I want to tell them luck has nothing to do with it, but I don’t). My standard answer is, you can! And then I ask them … What are you waiting for? You won’t do it any sooner.

The responses are typically much like what you’ve covered in this article.
I also tell them that one of the most popular forums on our web site is the Adult Beginners Forum (we get the “am I too old to learn to play?” question all the time).
People in this forum give each other moral support and encouragement, they share their triumphs and challenges, discuss piano teachers and methods, they even video tape themselves and post “recitals” online. Most importantly, they are having fun!

There are only three things you need to learn to play piano.
1.) Desire
2.) A Piano (or suitable keyboard)
3.) A good Teacher.
If you can’t find a good piano teacher in your area, look into virtual lessons (via Skype), many good teachers use it.
Or if that doesn’t work for you there are a number of courses available on DVD, online, and in books.
The important thing to remember is, the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be making your own music.

Happy Playing!

Frank Baxter (pianist, piano tuner, piano lover)
President
Piano World
http://www.PianoWorld.com

It seems that in every suggested equation, the curriculum (what the student is going to be able to do) gets left out.

We are the publishers of the Senior Series for Piano (for adults who don ‘t want to sound like children).
Learning chord playing and styling, music reading and the ablity to play pieces that are 2 or 3 years more advanced has made the adult experience more satisfying. They have a low tolerance for “3 Froggies in a Puddle” type tunes.

This isn’t honest about the nature of the challenge. Of course it can be done, but it is pointless to make it sound easy. Also, there are a lot of very bad teachers, a lot of teachers who say they want to teach adult beginners but are not being candid about it, a lot of bad material, and, um, you do have to practice pretty much every day. You have to practice to figure out how to practice in the way that is best for you. You cannot expect that to come naturally after puberty. It might, but probably won’t. Don’t set people up for frustration! This is going to take time.

Surprised no one mentions Bartok, Kabalevsky, and other East European composers who wrote a lot of very sophisticated, modern music for beginners which is fascinating in its own right and can serve as an entry to solid jazz technique. It is also not a bad idea to join a folk dance group, or practice yoga to get in touch with your body. Music is very physical, not merely cerebral.

I came to the harp several years ago…tried piano, guita, and recorder, and for various reasons, none clicked. Harp had always been a dream, but I thought impossible. I tried it in a music store, and it clicked! Didn’t hurt my hands, didn’t have to worry about those pesky keys. Took several tries and several years to find the right teacher. Finally did, and it’s so much fun! Music theory courses on Coursera helped, too. BTW I’m 72.

Oldest student I have ever taught as a beginner was 80 years old! While there were some physical challenges (he was taking violin lessons) we had a great time together and he did very well!

The real reason I was looking to be answered involves whether an older person would have more difficulty learning to play. It does seem very much like learning a new language, which is harder to do when you’re older. I’d like to learn the piano; there are so many songs I hear on the radio that I think “boy it would be great to surprise people and play that”. Just wondering at what point is the brain to hard-wired to pick it up….

I think it would be more difficult to learn piano as an adult, but not impossible. Especially if you have family commitments and a full time job, finding the time to practice everyday can be difficult. If you are single with no job living with your parents, you could probably learn really fast!

I think it as Frank said. The most important thing is ‘DESIRE’ to learn. if you have the desire, you can learn quickly.

I started learning the piano from scratch aged 38.i am now 50 and am studying for lcm grade 8.at this level you have to practice every day for about 3 hours ,which I simply can’t do as I am often tired from work.for those who are wishing to learn the piano achieving grade 5 can be done with an hour a days practice , beyond that you have an awful lot of work

I have decided after nearly 58 years of thinking about it that I am going to start learning the piano duing 2017. I have had the desire to learn for many years and have a keyboard and at one point even went to a teacher or lessons BUT didn’t practice so I stopped and gave up. What a wimp!! If something is worth doing it’s worth doing!! I know that saying usually ends up with “well” but I would like to look back at the end of 2017 over the year to see how well I have progressed. My goal is to play a Christmas song I have written to the tune of Winter Wonderland by Christmas 2017. So bring on 1 January 2017. I can’t wait to get started AGAIN. I’ll be 58 on Valentine’s Day 2017 and I wonder how good I’ll be by the time I’m 60? Only time and practice will tell!!

I retired my nursing license (MSN, RN) after 39 years (20 of that was spent in the USAF) My 9 year old grandson & I started together 7 months ago – I am 61 and it’s been a wonderful experience for both of us! In fact, our music school was rather excited that I was the second 60 something they’d taught in the last 18 months and we were welcomed with open arms!

At 64 years old, when I decided to (finally) learn to play piano, I signed up for classes at my local Center for Adult Education. By definition, everyone was an adult! There are 6 – 8 students per class. Classes are 1 1/2 hours long, one day a week. OK, maybe I’d learn faster one-on-one with a teacher. But I love the interaction with other students and the teacher gives each student plenty of individual time. I love it! I have one more level to complete there and then I’ll look for a private teacher. No, I’m never going to be a great pianist. But that isn’t the point. I’m enjoying myself! And learning a new mental/physical skill at 64 isn’t a bad thing either!

At 57 years old, in April 2016, I had a stroke which resulted in aphasia (inability to talk). Several weeks of therapy allowed by brain to recover to the point where I regained the ability to speak fairly well. I’d always wanted to learn piano and thought lessons now would only serve to exercise my brain that much more. So far, after six lessons (with a break for brain surgery), and at least 30 minutes of practice a day, I’m actually able to play simple songs and scales with both hands at once! I would not have believed this would have been possible, even before my stroke. So far, so good!

The real reason I was looking to be answered involves whether an older person would have more difficulty learning to play. It does seem very much like learning a new language, which is harder to do when you’re older. I’d like to learn the piano.

I have decided after nearly 13 years of thinking about it that I am going to start learning the piano during 2017. I have had the desire to learn for many years and have a keyboard and at one point even went to a teacher or lessons but didn’t practice.so I stopped and gave up.

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