If you have ever considered music lessons for adults, perhaps some of the following thoughts have come to mind: “My parents made me take piano lessons when I was a kid and I hated it and never practiced. Now I really regret that.” “I would love to have a grand piano in my house, but I don’t know how to play.” “When I was a child, I always wanted to play an instrument, but I never got to.” “I played the clarinet when I was in high school and I really loved it.” People reminisce about their past experiences with music and make comments like these. Music teachers hear them all the time… especially from those looking for music lessons for adults.
Music lessons for adults are easily available for almost any instrument, and that includes the voice. But there is not as much advertising and promoting of music lessons for adults as for children. This sometimes leads to a common perception by the public that music instruction is an activity for children only. This article will address some of the main reasons adults take lessons, how music lessons for adults benefit them, and ways to avoid some snags when you decide you want to begin taking lessons.
The first question an adult needs to ask before starting music lessons for adults is, “Why do I want to do this?” Both teacher and student must have a clear picture of what all the goals are. Just as important is the choice of instrument. How about that old saxophone stored away somewhere in the house? What about the piano you inherited from your grandmother? Or is it your desire to go out and buy a violin because you really want to play that violin? No matter what you choose, there is an adventure just ahead of you. Each instrument is distinct and individual in its own way, but there is a common set of rules for all written music, and that allows for producing and good performance, which is, after all, the goal of performing art.
The “motherboard” of all musical instruments is the piano. All other instruments extend from the piano, and the playing or singing of music is fun and engaging no matter which instrument you choose. But to produce a good sound and to be accurate and artistic in your performance, even if “performing” is just playing for yourself, it is necessary to understand the fundamental principles of playing and/or singing. It is very stimulating to be able to just entertain yourself, or to play on stage in front of an audience.
Once you decide you want to begin lessons the next step is to locate a teacher who is in tune with your interests and schedule. You need to make your needs known to the instructor. Is pop and jazz for your own pleasure what you want to play? Do you want to form a woodwind quintet for classical music of the masters? You need to make it known. It will be a total frustration for both student and teacher to slave over a Mozart sonata for several months, when what you really wanted to learn was how to play cocktail piano for a friend’s party. Those who take music lessons for adults tell of the enjoyment and fun gained from flexibility in attempting a wide assortment of music styles. No matter what style of music you want to play, nothing takes the place of learning the basics, learning the vocabulary, and grasping the fundamentals, but these are merely tools to be used to reach the desired results. The adult student who begins lessons needs to remember that communication is the key. The adult student is the customer and that student will experience a real feeling of accomplishment when they possess a real desire to learn. A clear understanding between teacher and student of what the ultimate goal is will produce the most fulfillment. The ideal music instructor will cultivate this process and structure the material in such a way as to make it user-friendly and fun!
After you’ve found a teacher that meets your expectations, you will have to make a determination of how much time you can devote to this exciting project. Keep in mind that music is a journey, not a destination. Even the most accomplished professionals never stop being coached and seeking input from their peers. Enter your lessons with the expectation of spending at least a few years mastering the basics.
There is never a time when even the most accomplished professionals ever stop being coached and getting input from their peers. Music lessons for adults should be entered into with the understanding that you will spend at least a few years mastering the basics. Even more importantly, music lessons are most successful when there is time to practice. Thirty minutes per week is most often the actual lesson time. It is during this lesson time that the teacher will check hand position and breathing techniques, answer questions that may have come up during the prior week, demonstrate how to overcome trouble spots, and prepare the student for what is coming up the next week. The adult student must be willing to commit to a few minutes of practice for drills and repetition of material. Success will be linked directly to the amount of time dedicated to practice, but for the recreational musician, an acceptable result can be achieved through one half-hour of concentrated practice most days per week.
There are well-documented therapeutic advantages of playing a musical instrument. Pianos are located in nursing homes all over the country. Age curtails many activities due to physical constraints, but playing an instrument or singing can be safe and enjoyable at any age. Senior adults are often retirees with time to practice, so they can usually make remarkable progress. Playing music can be a good source of stress relief for the active working adult. A good teacher will be able to monitor the correct difficulty level of music in order to make music enjoyable and a source of pleasure for the adult student, and not another chore added to a schedule that may already be burdened.
Playing music encompasses the body and the mind, with both brain and hands becoming precisely connected. Each finger has to be a certain place at a certain time, and each note sung is a very exact number of vibrations per second. The science of this is precise and fascinating. True euphoria can be produced by successfully making it through a challenging passage.
Music lessons for adults are also advantageous in a social sense. Belonging to a community orchestra or chorus, joining a band, entertaining at parties, being a musically-educated member of a church choir-these activities are all much more pleasurable when you have the proper training.
Look at bulletin boards in music stores and local computer lists. They all show people looking for singers, keyboardists, and all kinds of other musicians. Music is a performing art, but playing at home or alone, with no one listening can be an entirely relaxing and enjoyable time. But, music is unique in that it takes three entities for completion. A composer must create the music, a performer must perform the piece, and an audience is needed to hear and enjoy it. It is these three elements-composer, performer, and audience-that make a live performance a distinctively engaging experience between the performer and the audience, even if your audience is just the family relaxing with you at home! Keep in mind, though, a good music studio will always offer recitals to its students to allow them to perform in front of an audience, should they desire to do that.
Dr. Diana Chapman Walsh, former President of Massachusetts’ Wellesley College gave a most inspiring and memorable speech when she was addressing prospective students. Incoming freshmen at Wellesley were encouraged to delay declaring a major. The philosophy there was to keep all avenues of self-development open. Dr. Walsh advocated taking classes in which you had no experience, and classes that you considered uninteresting, because you might discover an aptitude you never knew you had. I like to compare adults taking music lessons to Dr. Seuss’s character, Sam, who finds that after resisting them, “he LIKES green eggs and ham!” This is great advice for people of any age! The point gets across in yet a different way in Columbia Picture’s 1991 movie, City Slickers. Curley, a character played by Jack Palance, is a wise and weathered old cowboy, and his companion is Mitch (played by Billy Crystal). Mitch asks Curley what the meaning of life is, and Curley answers that it is “just one thing,” When Mitch asks what the one thing is, Curley replies that it’s different for everybody, and everybody has to find it for themselves. No matter what your age, it is never too late to see if music might be your “one thing.”
One of the many beautiful aspects of music is that it crosses all cultural, ethnic, political, and religious boundaries, and it is a constant. In an ever-changing world of electronic and digital technology, the specifics of how to play music remains unchanged, as anyone will find who took lessons as a child and starts again years later. (Middle C will never betray you–it’s always right where it was the day before, just waiting to be played!)
Students taking music lessons for adults come from all walks of life. A cross-section of my studio’s adult students includes a medical student seeking recreation and release from studying, a retiree working on a piano sonata, a housewife who received a grand piano for her anniversary present, an attorney who wants to be able to help his son with his piano lessons, a wife and mother of three who just turned forty and is taking voice and yoga for self-fulfillment, and an attorney with a long-held desire to learn piano but never played. There is another gentleman from the medical industry who has a complete sound studio in his house, and he wants to concentrate on theory in order to compose and record original music.
Once when housing two gentlemen from the Ukraine overnight, I had one of the best musical experiences ever. They were traveling with an orchestra and chorus across the US, staying in individual homes. They did not know a word of English, and I knew no Russian. It looked like it could be a long night, until they pulled out their violins. I pulled out a flute, and the three of us played Bach trios all evening long. Communicating in words became unnecessary. We all understood the language of music, and that can be a very rewarding experience for anyone. As an adult coping with today’s world of techno-gadgets, Twittering, time crunches and traffic, learning music through music lessons for adults can be a great outlet. Who knows, you might just discover your “one thing.”