The Nervous Adult Piano Student - A Lovely Story

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Classical Piano By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Piano » Classical Piano
Last updated: 31/10/2017
Tags: achievements for adults who want to learn piano, adult learning beginners

When I started teaching the piano, it never occurred to me, rather naively, that my piano and violin lessons would appeal to anyone other than adults looking for lessons for their child. How surprised, and somewhat anxious, I was when I received my first enquiry from an adult looking for lessons…not for their child, but for themselves as a beginner.

Fast forward 10 years and I find that 70% of my students are adults - all of whom started with me as beginners (with the exception of a couple of YouTube learners!). 

The story of one of my pupils - I'll call her Lucy - contains nearly all the emotions and feelings that I have discovered that most adults beginners to music have. Whilst Lucy feels these on a more exaggerated scale, they really do resonate with many of my other adults: nervousness, lack of confidence, being too hard on themselves, fear of failure, being outside of their comfort zone and finally, unexpected exhilaration.

2 years ago I was approached by Lucy, an adult in her 30s looking for piano lessons. She had grown up listening to the piano and had always wanted lessons, but never had them as a child. Her love of Billy Joel spurred her in to action to search for a teacher.

Lucy arrived for her 1st piano lesson with a nervous smile and within minutes was apologising for her lack of knowledge of the piano. She ultimately wanted to play some Billy Joel and wanted to know how pianists, such as Lang Lang, could play so well.

By lesson 4 she was getting so frustrated at her lack of technique - she was practising correctly, she was listening to professional recordings, but her fingers weren't "working like the professional pianists she listens to".  Whenever I asked her to play small passages of her music, her face crumpled and she became nervous, made mistakes, and stopped playing. She wanted to play perfectly every time and hated playing in front of others.  Every week I would explain that even professionals make mistakes, but we learn how to cover them up - something that Lucy really found astounding.

Over the first 6 months of lessons, Lucy made fantastic progress, albeit with many gentle, weekly, conversations about how she needed to stop being so tough on herself and allow herself time to develop good techniques. I carefully brought up the subject of whether she would like to take ABRSM Grade 1. Her jaw dropped and she said "what if I fail?".

Many more gentle conversations ensued and after putting off her Grade 1 twice, she eventually decided that she should do it. She loved the piano after all and she wanted to prove to herself that she could do it. This goal was much more achievable rather than aiming for fast fingers like Lang Lang.

I cannot find the right words to describe Lucy at this stage - so overwhelming were her nerves, worry, tears and the lack of self-belief took over. But Lucy went into the exam better prepared than any other pupil I had ever taught. She was awarded a well-deserved distinction.

I have never seen anyone so excited and exhilarated as Lucy after I told her the result - what a wonderful, wonderful thing to experience.  

There's no stopping Lucy now. She is preparing to take her ABRSM Grade 2 practical alongside her Grade 2 Theory exam. Playing some Billy Joel in a concert is next on her list and now her confidence has soared, not just in the piano, but in everything. 

So what have I learned from this? Certainly that many adults put such high, unachievable expectations upon themselves which can lead to frustration. I believe it is our job as teachers to manage their goals and expectations whilst encouraging their sense of achievement. It's quite a tough learning curve when we realise that our bodies won't do what our brains instruct us to do! Gentle encouragement, praise and the understanding behind why they are wanting to learn is very important.  

As teachers we are often therapists to our pupils, without us or them knowing it much of the time. As adults, we all need to revel in our achievements, just as Lucy did.


Sarah Lloyd Classical Piano Teacher (Walsall)

About The Author

I am a friendly and experienced teacher of all ages and abilities. I love playing and teaching my students how to enjoy their musical skills!




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