Teaching an adult piano student has unique challenges. I know many piano teachers will avoid taking on adults because they’ve had bad experiences in the past with commitment or expectations.
But teaching adults has great advantages too. If you can learn the skills needed to teach this demographic they can be a valuable part of your studio.
It all starts at the first lesson with an adult piano student. You need to get started on the right foot – then everything else will follow.
This post was originally published in August 2017 and was updated in September 2019.
Connect with Your Adult Piano Student
Start by getting to know your new student. What do they do, what do they like, and why do they want to learn piano.
Adult piano students are usually very nervous. So keep that in mind when they walk in the door. This is a completely new environment for them and they might feel way out of their comfort zone.
Think about how you would feel going starting something completely new, knowing that most kids embark on this journey at 7 years old…?
Combine that with the perception many people have of the strict piano teacher, and the mystique that often surrounds music notation – no wonder they’re a bit on edge when they first arrive.
So put them at ease, make them feel welcome – and above all – make them feel heard.
Goal Setting for Adult Students
This goes hand in hand with knowing why they’re taking piano in the first place. Ask your adult piano student about their goals at the first lesson.
Do they want to…
- Write their own music?
- Learn a Beethoven Sonata?
- Sit an exam?
- Play their favourite Beatles songs?
Not all your new students will have an answer to this, and some may be too shy to tell you at first. But make sure you ask.
You don’t want to set them off on the path to classical music if that’s of no interest to them. And you don’t want to assume they’re not ambitious just because they’re an adult student either!
Whatever goals they do give you – have a little chat about their expectations for when they’ll achieve these things. Be quite frank about what it takes to do what they want and how you would get them there.
If they saw an 8 year old playing Für Elise, they might be quite surprised to learn how long that normally takes, and how many hours that 8 year old had probably practiced to get to that level.
I go into goal setting and expectations more in this post: A Practical Guide to Teaching Adult Piano Students.
Remove the Mystique
If you don’t know what this “mystique” is that I’m talking about – ask a friend who has no music training what they see when they look at sheet music. Or what they think when they watch a pianist.
People who didn’t study music kind of think it’s….a bit magic.
(They’ll probably talk about talent too. UGH, talent – one of my least favourite words. But that’s a topic for another day.)
So we need to take some of this away at the very first lesson with an adult piano student. We need to show them that they were right to think they could learn to do this. There’s no magic or witchcraft at work here.
This is why I believe you should give your new adult piano students a full tour of the grand staff. Explain the relationship between the keys and the lines and spaces as clearly and succinctly as you can.
I wouldn’t be afraid of over-explaining either. Even if something seems a bit obvious, say it. Otherwise, you risk them not knowing – and not asking because of the aforementioned nervousness and mystique factors.
Once you’ve given them this tour, get them reading on the staff right away. Get them to put this to work so they can see straight away that this music notation stuff is decipherable by average folk.
Finally, make sure you teach all new adult piano students something cool that they can play immediately. The staff reading likely won’t meet this requirement, so I recommend teaching your student something by rote.
This really could be anything, as long as it:
- Is playable by a beginner
- Sounds great straight away
- Has a full rich sound and isn’t “childish”
The last rule is the only one that’s tricky. While ‘I Love Coffee’ does sound great and is playable, it is just a tiny bit kiddy for the something cool (definitely worth teaching to them later though).
My personal go-to something cool to teach my new adult piano students is the chords for the verse of ‘Let it Be’. This is a simple four chord pattern, it’s very accessible, and everyone knows it.
The other thing about this particular chord pattern is that it’s quite easy to add little snazzy bits if they pick it up quickly. But it also sounds awesome with just a single note in the bass and an open fifth in the right hand if they need to keep it simple.
Since many adult students do want to learn pop-style music, chords are a great thing to teach them. Vibrant Music Teaching members can do this with the Chord Crash Course here.
If you’re not a member, you can download the chord grids used in that course here to help your adult students with the visual patterns of the major chords on the piano.
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Do you teach adult piano students?
What challenges have you found with these students? What do you find are the biggest differences between adult students and kids?
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