Music Lessons for Adults

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We are half way through our 10 week adults course as I’m writing this and pupils are learning a piece called ‘The Last Train Home.” (I dedicate this piece to my dear friend Justin, who did my course a few years ago. He still jokes about never having caught that train.) It’s generally at this point in the course when pupils realize that playing the piano, well it isn’t just a matter of sitting down and having the notes miraculously flow through dexterous fingers which are somehow aligned with that greater power, which exudes all that is beautiful. No. Instead, we stand at that station waiting in anticipation for that train, which we pray is actually coming.

This post is dedicated to all my pupils who are putting in the hours. Who are pitching for lessons and finding the 5 minutes, which hopefully turn into a few hours. Because when the muscle memory kicks in, when your eyes are finally ahead of your fingers and your left and right brain have gotten over their issues and made peace with each other, when your pedal foot decides to join your body and your arms, wrists and fingers decide to actually listen to your brain, when your brain stops telling you ‘you can’t’ and when the notes stop looking like random blots on the page, well that’s when the train arrives. Box of chocolates to any of my pupils who play this song at our next recital.

Piano playing at any age has it’s challenges. Learning as an adult presents a unique set of challenges, which I believe are mostly everything NOT to do with music or any lack of musical ability. As adults we arrive with fear. Kids just don’t come with this fear. They haven’t learnt yet that they might not be good at something. (Hopefully) they haven’t been subjected to years of really unhelpful teaching methods which likely left us feeling like utter failures or never quite as good as the next person. As adults, we have a very real fear of failure. Of being the one who looks like a fool. As adults we want to be brilliant yesterday. Starting something new is hard. As an adult we are not as quick to embrace our mistakes as opportunities – they scare us. When our fingers don’t listen to our brains, when we’re in a position that is new, it is generally uncomfortable, threatening at best. Learning to play the piano involves learning a whole new language, and it means starting at the beginning. I value that as an adult, stepping through the front door and sitting at a new piano is no small feat.

What I do know is that every adult who has come for lessons as found their notes. For some, it came easily – perhaps because they had remembered something from childhood, perhaps because it was just a matter of re- accessing something that was already there. For others, it wasn’t fast. And that’s ok. Because what I have come to value, is that music isn’t about sitting down and performing. Music is a process. It’s one that will have it’s ups and downs. There will be days when things make sense, when logic prevails and when you get to lose yourself in something that will have your brain and your heart captured. But on other days it will just be painful. And one will have to get comfortable with the small, daily input. Because all those minutes add up. Michael Gladwell speaks of the 10 000 hours principle in his book ‘Outliers’. Not everyone is born musical. But I firmly believe that ANYONE can put in the hours. And those hours start with minutes.

We’ve been running the ADULTS 10 WEEK COURSE for a few years. It has proven to be a highly successful intro into piano playing for many of my pupils. The group dynamic has meant that by the end of the course, a small group of strangers leave as friends, all literally speaking a new language. The course is intensive in content, but with a relaxed approach to accommodate real beginners. Some pupils came to refresh what they had learned as a child. Others came to start. Most pupils then opt to continue with individual lessons, as by the end of the course they are reading music notation and have a good understanding of what genre they would like to pursue.

 

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