Last week's blog reviewed the sometimes overlooked abilities of younger students and this week I want to talk about the other end of the scale - adult learners. Nearly every single older student I've ever had has started their first lesson with a multitude of reasons why they can't play/won't be able to learn/will be terrible/have no expectations of themselves. "It's been years" they'll warn me, or "I've never done this, so don't expect much". I find this pretty amusing compared to younger students who will generally just attack the piano purely for the joy of making some kind of racket - harmonious or otherwise. Adults on the other hand generally require much prodding before touching a key and then very tentatively. It is completely understandable to be nervous in your first few lessons, playing for a complete stranger whose job it is essentially to judge your abilities. However, after weeks and months of students berating themselves I start to worry that there is some underlying problem. I consider myself fairly easy-going but there is only so much indulgent smiling I can do people. As a teacher it's my job to help you improve. If I think you're not doing so well on a particular song, or if I can tell there hasn't been a great deal of practice my current students can affirm that I will promptly point this out. Similarly if I tell you you're doing well, you best believe I mean it. It doesn't benefit my students (or me for that matter) to lie about their progress, and I don't believe in sugar-coating. I do believe in helping my students reach a level where they are confident to continue developing their piano skills without me. Which brings to mind another amusing habit of adult students: apologising for anything less than perfection. As I continually point out to them - if you're perfect, then you don't need me anymore.
I do genuinely worry about some of my adult students and their lack of confidence, which is something I generally encounter with younger learners, the main difference being adults tend to swear a whole lot more. I often wonder where this stems from and I've narrowed it down to 'results seen over time', one could even say a need for speed...? As adults we've spent our whole lives subconsciously developing life skills - reading, writing, speaking etc. However when it comes to learning something new it's very easy to forget this, and when we can't conquer a new challenge (even after 4 whole weeks!) frustration begins to set in. I've experienced this myself when trying to learn to play guitar. My poor partner (who happens to be an amazing guitarist) patiently endured days of my cries of 'why can't I do this!' before I realised I sounded exactly like my students. So I told myself what I tell them on a daily basis: 'give yourself a break'. Getting angry at yourself will absolutely not help you improve any faster. As adults we have full-time jobs, we study, we have children, we have lives. I never expect my adult students to practice 3 hours a day every day. This makes piano a chore. You'll start feeling guilty, throwing furtive looks at the piano which appears to be glaring at you accusingly from the corner. I don't want this, you don't want this, this is the opposite of what we want. Instead play when you feel like it, with perhaps a pinch of discipline. Be it 10 minutes before you go to sleep, during commercial breaks, when you've had a bad day, when you've had a good day - give yourself the time to realise your progress is real and you will want to play.
This was a lengthy one and I apologise, but it's something I feel very passionate about. So no more excuses! If there's a new challenge you've been putting off - be it piano or something else altogether - get started. As always feel free to ask any questions in the comments, and check back for next week's instalment!