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3 Ways to Inspire Adult Students

Inspiring Adult LearnersNo one who teaches private music lessons to children is likely to be heard claiming that the job is easy. Those of us immersed in challenges of bringing music education to the young know very well the short attention spans and high energy levels common in our student population. But we also know the joy and pride we see on students’ faces when they play their first recognizable melody, or their triumph as they master their first hands-together piece.

Teaching adult students is another ballgame entirely. Those of us who have had adults in our studios understand that for many of these students, learning to playing an instrument is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. What we who made music as long as we can remember may not understand is the extraordinary amount of courage it takes for an adult, someone who is capable and competent in other facets of their life, to become an absolute beginner in a new, complex endeavor.

1. Making Real Music, in Lesson # 1

Pianist, educator and composer Forrest Kinney has developed some sensitive, creative teaching techniques to address issues encountered when teaching adult students. In the Inspiring Adult Learners, Part 1 video, Forrest demonstrates a freeing, invigorating piece he teaches to all of his adult students, starting on day one of their lessons. Based on a pentatonic scale and played entirely on the black keys of the piano, it combines structure and improvisatory freedom into an easy-to-learn, complex-sounding piece that adults love to play.

Inspiring Adult Learners, Part 1 from RoyalConservatory on Vimeo.

2. Choosing Repertoire for Adult Music Students

Although adult students can understand the idea of sequential skill building on an intellectual level, they need the morale boost of playing something that sounds polished and complex, and they need that boost early in the learning process. Playing the melody line of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is simply not going to give an adult student a tremendous sense of pride and satisfaction. However, a haunting melody such as “Amazing Grace” or familiar tune such as “Auld Lang Syne,” played in a simple, hands-together arrangement, provides the adult student with an important sense of accomplishment as well as a good deal of enjoyment.

Inspiring Adult Learners, Part 2 from RoyalConservatory on Vimeo.

3. Pedal Pieces and Patterns

Unlike children, most of whom begin musical studies because their parents value the education and discipline and want the experience for them, adults come to music lessons by their own choice. Adults are usually driven and dedicated to learning and practicing, and eager to move ahead in their studies. But adults also tend to struggle with a level of self-consciousness that young students don’t possess. They want to be able to sit down at the piano and play pieces that are somehow big, or complex, or showy. In short, they want to sound like adults when they sit down to play.

Inspiring Adult Learners, Part 3 from RoyalConservatory on Vimeo.

The lists of skills we teach our piano students, whether they’re children or adults, look pretty much the same, including such musical staples as note reading, rhythm reading, keeping a steady pulse, and playing expressively. But the importance we place on some skills over others, the order in which we broach different musical and technical topics, and the repertoire we have those students learn all need to be tailored to more than just the age of the student.

With our adult students, we need to consider not just the age of the individual student, but their musical background, experience, interests, and goals as well. Forrest Kinney’s three videos on inspiring adult students offer his own proven, creative approaches to teaching adult students.    

Looking for more tips like these? RCM Certified Teachers have access to expert tips like these and more in the Studio Resources area of their Certified Teacher Portal. Find out how you can become certified by creating a Teacher Account and visiting our Professional Development page.


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