It’s never too late, so get cracking
Alright maybe we should elaborate a bit more.
Many people believe the lie that if you don’t start learning piano at a young age, you’ll never be able to, or even if you do you probably won’t be really good at it. The reality is that any adult with only so much as an ounce of musicality (which is inherent in all of us) can not only learn to play the piano, but even do so at a very high level eventually.
It’s easy to quickly feel a lack of motivation when attempting to learn an instrument later in life. This is because you’re in the beginning stages of training your mind and body to execute something you’ve never done before, and that can be a very frustrating feeling at first. And its this frustration that leads us to excuses like “I’m not talented enough” or “I’m too old to learn something new”.
Learning to play the piano from a mechanical point of view is similar to learning how to walk. Learning how to read and play music in general is similar to learning how to speak, read and write a language. Remember how frustrated you were when you couldn’t walk yet as a baby? Remember how annoyed you were because everyone around you could contribute to the conversation and you could barely utter one word at a time? Of course you don’t remember, but the problem is when we learn a new skill (or instrument in this case) later in life, we’re completely self-aware of how terrible we are at it the first time we try it. As adults, we’re well aware of our capabilities. We’re confident in the things we know how to do. We already know how to speak, how to read and write, how to ride a bike or drive a car. We’re good at our professions and we often play to our strengths rather than our weaknesses.
Now of course there’s no denying that children do learn things quicker than adults. The brain of a child is highly efficient at absorbing everything around it. This is because a child’s brain plasticity is much higher than that of an adult’s. Brain plasticity (also known as neuroplasticity) refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and change as a result of experience. As we age, the neurons in our cerebral cortex gradually lose synapses to the point where the average adult only has about half the synapses a three year old child does. However, research has shown that our brains are still very capable of changing and forming new neural connections throughout life.
So we know that we are capable of learning piano as adults, even though the challenge might be daunting at times because of frustration and the simple fact that our brains need to form new neural pathways.
So with that said, here are some strategies to put in place in order to progress as fast as possible whilst staying motivated:
Define realistic goals
Make sure you know what you want to get out of learning how to play the piano. Don’t expect to be playing the masterful piano works you’ve always adored in the first couple of months of learning. And if you’re a thirty something year old beginner with hopes of becoming a world renowned concert pianist, then you’ll most likely end up feeling disappointed and quit.
Instead, have realistic expectations and learn to enjoy the process of learning and making music as you go.
Work with a teacher
If you’re desperate to get going and you start checking out some online resources then that’s great, but the wealth of knowledge out there can be very overwhelming, especially if you’re a complete beginner. That’s why it’s important to find a teacher who can guide you through the stages of learning and help you narrow down the most important things to work on first. Your teacher can also help you structure your practice sessions to help you focus on getting the most out of your time spent at the instrument.
You might be thinking “I spend 8 hours a day at work, then I have to come home and cook dinner for the family, clean the house and still find time to work out and see my friends. When am I supposed to be practicing piano!?” Luckily, it’s not about how much you practice in one sitting, but rather how consistently you practice over time. Think of prioritising your practice the same way you prioritise going to the gym, or going to work. With as little as just 30 minutes a day you’re guaranteed to see progress in your playing in no time! Be very deliberate and bank off those 30 minutes in your daily schedule at least 4-5 days a week so you can get in front of a piano. Instead of shutting down once the kids are put to bed and you lie down to scroll through Instagram for half an hour before you fall asleep, rather form the habit of sitting down at the piano for that time. You could even break up your practice into two separate sessions a day, 15 minutes in the morning and the again at night. It’s worth noting that only mindful practice of 30 minutes a day will yield results. Mindful practicing means that you’re always practicing with a goal in mind, and you don’t linger too much on only one aspect of your playing. To reiterate, that’s why a teacher is essential. They can provide you with real goals to work towards and equip you with the tools you need to achieve them.
Lastly, have fun!
After you’ve worked through the things your teacher has prescribed, make sure to leave room in your practice session to play around and do whatever you feel like. Another reason why it’s more difficult for adults to learn new skills is because we’ve forgotten how to learn things in a playful manner. We tend to care more about results and how quickly we can see them. Children on the other hand don’t care! They play, discover and learn things as they go, because everything is new to them. We should adopt this mentality in our practicing. Learn songs that you actually like that are easy enough for you to enjoy playing them. You could also try to just make something up (improvise) now and then, nobody is listening to your practice so it doesn’t matter if there are some odds sounds here and there, you never know what you might discover!
It’s called playing music for a reason 😉
Hopefully this has inspired you to pursue a dream you’ve had for many years. It might require some work in the early stages, but rest assured that the joy it will bring you will far outweigh the hard work in the long run!