This year’s updated feature on adult method books begins with an in-depth look at each of my Top 5 Choices, after which I will include shorter reviews of some other great alternatives…
One of the most exciting developments over the course of my piano career has been the huge increase in adults taking up lessons. I have lost count of the number of adult beginners I’ve had the pleasure of teaching over the last three decades; at present I teach more than 30 adults.
I’ve seen adults taking up the piano for many reasons; some wish they had learnt when they were younger, while for others taking up piano as an adult is the next chapter in a 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.
And that’s perhaps one reason why my round-up of the adult beginner method books was by far the most-read article on Pianodao in 2019.
Fully refreshed for 2021, I’m delighted to present this updated and expanded version, including two major methods not mentioned last year.
But we’ll again begin with my top tips (also updated!) about what to look for in an adult method book, and why adults learn the piano differently to younger beginners…
Why adults benefit from a different approach
Teaching literally hundreds of adult beginners over the last 30 years, I have consistently observed the following points:
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 stress in their initial consultation that they want to “learn properly”, which they unpack to mean learning to read music fluently, play at sight, understand music theory, and develop a solid technique.
Alongside this, adult learners are usually willing to commit as much time as they can to practising, and want to make the most of their learning investment.
3. Adults coming for lessons tend not to want to play by rote.
I often find that they have already tried learning from apps or online videos, and found them wanting; they recognise their need for the guidance of a real-world teacher, and will generally associate this with a structured approach.
That said, adults enjoy creativity and are often keen to be able to play by ear and using chord symbols as well as from standard notation.
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 usually keen to learn music reading with as little fuss as possible, and will often jump straight in, appreciating the independence that music literacy will bring.
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.
Where a method book doesn’t include sufficient material it can, of course be supplemented, and may well need to be.
6. Adults were schooled differently to today’s children
Approaches to education have changed considerably in recent decades, and depending on the age of the beginner, their learning expectations, approaches and comfort zones might be quite different to that of today’s school children.
When showing beginner adults a range of different books, I am often surprised to see them immediately select the least flashy, most traditional book in the pile. And provided it is pedagogically and musically sound, that’s absolutely fine.
7. Adults have considerably more independence than children.
Many adult beginners are established music fans who have read around the subject, honing their interest and understanding of their favourite music, researching the best instruments, and investigating learning strategies. They are likely to be connected to and gathering information from other adult players as well.
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 developed to suit children;
- or are primarily based around childish music.
Happily, there are a growing number of good choices of adult piano method books, and each of those featured in the following reviews can be recommended in conjunction with the needs which I have outlined above. They are all highly suitable for beginners in their mid to late teens, too.
Are you ready? Here’s my TOP 5 CHOICES…
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