One of the most exciting developments during the span of my piano career has been the huge increase in adults taking up lessons.
There are no doubt many reasons for this; many regret not learning when they were younger, while for others, taking up piano as an adult is the next chapter in their growing musical interest.
Whatever the reason for starting lessons, the last thing most adults want is to be presented with Jimmy Timpson’s First Piano Lessons for Tiny Tots, or a minor variation with the word “adult” cannily stamped on the front cover.
In this feature, I will showcase seven of the very best adult methods available for those starting lessons in 2019.
But first, let’s consider what a really good adult method might look like…
Why Adults Need a Different Approach
Teaching literally hundreds of adult beginners over the last 30 years, I have consistently observed the following:
1. Adults start out with a longer lifetime of prior listening.
Given the importance of learning musical language “sound before symbol”, here’s a significant benefit. Adults generally have a developed musical taste, know what music they do and don’t like, and why. Rather than learning playground songs, sunday-school hymns and Disney favourites, adults tend to favour well-known classical melodies, film and show tunes and popular chart songs from previous decades.
2. Adults have a more mature outlook on learning.
They often say in their initial consultation that they feel ready to “learn properly”, which they unpack to mean learning to read music fluently, play at sight, understand music theory, and develop a solid technique.
3. Adult beginners tend not to be interested in learning by rote.
Those who want to learn by imitation typically teach themselves using YouTube videos. However, adults are often keen to learn actually by ear, and many show an interest in playing from chord notation. Overall, they favour an approach which fuels independent learning, and methodology that isn’t dependent on or driven by the teacher’s input.
4. Many adults pick up music reading more easily than children.
This should not surprise us, given the many years over which they have comfortably read the written word. They are keen to learn music reading with as little fuss as possible, and readily appreciate the independence that music reading will afford them.
5. Adults often find it more difficult to learn new coordination skills.
Again this should hardly surprise us; as we go through life our movements become more established, and harder to adapt. Unlike young beginners, use of arm weight rarely poses any difficulty, but adults often need extra material to help them develop finger independence and coordination.
6. Adults have considerably more independence than children.
Even before starting lessons, many will have already begun their journey of exploration, reading around the subject, honing their interest and understanding of their favourite music, researching the best instruments and investigating learning strategies. Once lessons begin, adults will regularly ask intriguing and often unexpected questions as they try to build connections between lesson/method content and their wider independent learning adventure.
To summarise, a notation-based approach suits many adults and fosters their independence. Supplementary text and additional resources (e.g. recordings and online resources) are also highly valued by these students.
As discussed in my post The Problem with Method Books, there will never be a one-stop perfect solution to suit all, and the teaching professional needs to be acquainted with a range of alternatives, carefully matching the material to each student’s specific needs.
The reviews which follow
Given all I have said in this introduction, it is hopefully clear that I will not be recommending methods which:
- merely reproduce pedagogy that was originally developed to suit children;
- require a teacher-led approach, for example by including rote learning;
- or are primarily based around childish music;
Happily, there are a growing number of good choices adult piano method books, and each of the methods featured in my Which Adult Piano Method 2019 can be recommended in conjunction with the needs which has been outlined above.
Also please note that these books and resources are highly suitable for beginners in their mid to late teens, which whom they can thus be used with confidence.
And finally … the order in which the publications are presented attempts to juxtapose interesting alternatives, and is not a ranking.