Can you recall the last time you tried to learn something new as an adult?
Did you immediately feel like you knew how to just take off and conquer your first project with very little practice on the subject?
Maybe you felt discouraged as others around you, and maybe even younger than you, were able to perform the task with ease?
Sometimes it can feel intimidating or awkward to take direction from another adult on something a lot of children start to learn from a young age.
The first thing we tend to look for when put in these types of situations is confidence and comfort.
The kind of comfort that comes from using familiar fundamentals to gain new knowledge on an unfamiliar subject.
As teachers, how do we help a new adult students to feel comfortable taking direction from another adult, when sometimes what we’re going over with them is the musical alphabet or even counting to four?
Let’s go over some techniques I have used over the years to help bring a sense of confidence that most don’t expect to feel when learning something that might as well be a foreign language.
Related: My Adult Piano Teaching Checklist
Unlike most children you may teach, there is usually no one signing the adult student up for piano lessons; they are taking lessons because they want to.
The question that will help you understand them better is – Why?
Maybe they want to perform in a loved one’s wedding, or they love to sing with their children – it could be that they weren’t able to take lessons as a child due to hardships, and now is a great time for them to give piano a try.
Whatever the reason may be, once you engage in intentional conversations about their desires, you can then encourage them work towards those specific goals.
They will find comfort in the fact that their dreams are validated and you don’t find their goals silly, but attainable and maybe even admirable.
A child will more easily learn, with a curious and open mind, as they tend to trust that an adult knows better, and can take direction well.
Adults are different in that as we learn and grow into independent, knowledgeable beings, we tend to question authority as a way to challenge what we’re told to ensure we’re learning quality information.
If your adult student seems unsure about taking direction from you, understand that this is simply in our nature and allow them to learn in a way that makes them comfortable and content.
Encourage your student to supplement their piano lessons with a music theory book or maybe even some internet research and educational videos about the topic they are having trouble understanding or that they want to know more about.
Even within adults, we all learn differently; make sure they understand to ask questions and learn the way that works best for them.
My adult students have always started their piano journey with lofty goals.
As their taste in music tends to be more elevated and specific, they always request fairly difficult songs in the beginning, with very little patience when I tried to explain that their favorite song may be something we can explore down the road.
It’s important to make sure your student does not get discouraged by having to postpone their favorite songs and a little creativity tends to do the trick.
To ease their impatience, in the past, I have simply written out the melody to their desired song and that seemed to whet their appetite for the time being, as it was much easier to learn a lot sooner.
They may want to move faster than you normally do with children – so set weekly goals for certain scales and chords, followed by a couple of songs from each section of their beginners books – if they are dedicated, they will practice as much as they are able to and may be able to move through books fairly quickly.
It may take some time for an adult piano student – especially a complete beginner – to be encouraged to continue learning every lesson. As mentioned above, it’s easy to become discouraged when you’re not used to being at a beginner level at anything as an adult.
As the teacher it is important to recognize when your student is becoming discouraged, and maybe take a step back from the lesson to discuss what they want to focus more on or even if they need a mental break.
It’s okay to spend some of the class time discussing music they like or even allow them to ask you questions they may have.
Sometimes, sharing personal experiences in learning something new as an adult or any anecdotes, may help them ease their mind and allow them to reset and continue where they left off.
Help them remember why they’re learning piano in the first place and how awesome it is that they are trying something new, not to mention something that is great for their mind and spirit.
This is a checklist/flow chart to help you navigate the first lesson with an adult student.
There is also a list of do’s and do not’s on the second page.
Print it out and have it handy for when you get a new adult student!
Inner Circle members, you can find this handout and plenty of other adult teaching resources in the Resource Library.
As piano teachers, the most effective thing we can do is help students of any kind, feel comfortable and confident during their lessons. It makes each lesson fun yet effective, but more importantly, it encourages the student to continue lessons.
While children can grow tired of piano practice and lessons quickly, it’s even easier for adults to find reasons to give up, including scheduling conflicts and priorities falling elsewhere.
Simple encouragement and creating attainable weekly goals will go a long way with your adult students.
Erika has spent the last 15 years sharing her love for music with others through private and group piano and music theory lessons. She places an emphasis on bringing fun and joy to each lesson, with approachable, modern teaching techniques. When she's not spreading joy through music, Erika is a wife, mother of two girls and professional writer for small businesses.