Monday, August 20, 2012

Obstacles for Adult Students

Last week, a friend told me about her prior experience with piano lessons. As a young person, she took lessons and enjoyed them. While she didn't make tremendous strides during her short time with the instrument, she continues to be enticed by the piano. Now that she is finding more leisure time to pursue recreational interests, she has considered asking about studying piano with me. What has stopped her? Fear.

After I examined my interaction with this adult to make sure that I wasn't a source of the fear (which I don't think I am!), I began to consider what might hinder an adult student from returning to the study of piano. Here are a few of the barriers that I have seen in adult students.

  1. The Aging Brain. This has to be the #1 thing I hear from potential adult students. They have convinced themselves that music is best understood by a child and that they will be fighting an uphill battle coming to the instrument as an adult. I have found that some concepts that children simply accept as fact meet with resistance from adults who do not yet have the theoretical background to musically explain them. While it may be a source of frustration, most of my adult learners are normally content when I tell them to assume that I'm telling them the truth for a few weeks; when they have all of the tools they need, they will see the puzzle come together logically.
  2. Not Enough Time to Practice. Adults are extremely aware of the hours that are devoted to the study of an instrument in order to become proficient and accomplished. Most adults return to the instrument as recreational music makers. As soon as we both agree that this is a worthy goal and define satisfactory progress as that which brings them pleasure, the stress fades and they realize that they will practice when they can for the simple joy of making music.
  3. Fear of Comparison. The last adult student to join my studio was all ready to begin lessons, but before committing had to make sure of one thing: he would not be required to play on recital with the little kids! It wasn't fear of standing in front of a crowd. He simply didn't want to have peers compare his performance with that of an eight-year-old.
  4. Fear of Failure. This obstacle knows no age limit. Numerous potential pianists talk themselves out of even beginning the process of learning to play the instrument because they convince themselves they will never be able to do it. With children, I can normally assuage some of their fear by assuring them that they will always leave my studio knowing more than when they entered. Adults aren't so easy to convince. Personally, I think the adage applies here:  "Shoot for the moon; you'll at least hit the stars!"
My friend hasn't spoken to me any more about beginning lessons. Personally, I really hope she decides to pursue it....and not just because it would be additional income for me. I find great joy in working with adult students who are approaching the instrument without stress or paralyzing fear; instead they sit on the bench for the love of the music and are often surprised at what they are able to accomplish once they clear the obstacles blocking their path.