So, I decided to learn the piano. I’m in my mid, soon to be late, fifties and this is huge. But what I figured is, I’d raised my family, had all four of my kids learn piano to some degree, (after all doesn’t that help cognitive development and math skills?). but, alas, I never took the time to learn piano myself! I asked myself, wasn't it about time to invest in myself? And the answer was unequivocally YES! I surely was not getting any younger and NOW seemed to be the perfect time!
Fast forward to now, and I have been on my piano learning journey for about a year and a half. The skills I have learned have been vast, and to be honest, not all of them are entirely having to do with the piano. This may come as a shock to you, but you’d never think you’d develop skills like patience with yourself, muscle memory, attitude adjusting (this is huge), humility and tenacity, and how to deal with mental blocks that might keep you from progressing. I’d like to share some of the very valuable tips that I have for you, or anyone you know that is an adult and wants to learn the piano. My hope is by sharing what I’ve learned, this information may motivate you to invest in your own inner musician.
1, Music is a vast topic!
To begin with, once you dip your toe into how much information is out there regarding music and the piano, it almost feels overwhelming to begin with. How are you going to be able to learn it all, and most certainly how are you going to be able to master playing the piano ‘the right way’? Wrap your head around this for a minute. You are NEVER going to be able to learn it all, and you do not have to be a piano master, to be a talented musician. Yes, you did read that right! And the best part about that is that it is OKAY!! The journey of taking the step to learn something this intricate is a process that takes even the best musicians a lifetime to ‘master’ and I’d dare say if you got any of them talking, they’d agree that they still had more to learn to be a ‘master’! The step to learn piano in the first place is the most important step. The information is massive, and you can learn new skills and information around music for the rest of your life and never run out of more to learn. If you are like me and want to learn the piano, there is NO TIME TO START LIKE NOW!
2. Humility is your friend.
Secondly, as an adult, there is a misconception that we should be able to ‘pick up and process’ the necessary information quickly because after all, we are adults. I have learned through increased humility, thank you piano lessons, that this most certainly is not the case. With my adult brain, I am able to ‘intellectually process’ lots of information, and quite possibly I might be able to even repeat it back to you if I had to, but to ‘translate’ that new musical information down to my fingertips is an entirely different story! With learning the piano, humility with yourself is bound to be one of the positive outcomes. I say, embrace this. Humility is your friend and I highly recommend developing more humility for yourself. The more I am humbled and in awe of how much work it takes to really play at all frankly and also to play well, the more I am able to accept my skill level, and once I am able to do that, I am able to then build on that foundation. I have a feeling you will be able to do the same. I cannot even begin to share with you how rewarding it is, to struggle through something for a time, and then watch in awe, as you are able to actually PLAY the music, that through your dedication and hard work, SOUNDS like the music you are trying to produce! I will add that I am humbled by any musician out there, who has spent time investing in the production of music for others, like me, to enjoy. Little did I know the full spectrum of commitment and work that it takes, and I have a renewed respect for musicians in general. Bravo!
3. Start a routine.
The next thing I quickly learned is I needed a routine to stick with that included a process, and mini goals. Not too many goals, mind you, but goals in general. The first goal, you guessed it, is to start a routine. I began my learning journey by taking an online piano course, group style, through Connection Experiment and absolutely loved this mode of learning. I met others online, and subsequently took more courses this way, and intend to continue with these other great adult students. This is an online community that I have progressed with and what a joy it has been. Plus, bonus, I have met some very amazing people this way. One important thing about my routine is that this new routine had to fit into MY life. How much time was I able to commit to my new self-improvement endeavor? I decided I could reasonably commit to about 5 days a week for about 30 minutes, for practicing, plus my once-a-week hour long lesson. I am not saying I sit at that piano bench the entire thirty minutes either. I will often practice for about ten minutes, take a break, and come back again later, for another 10 or 20, or so, but you get the idea. I think these small breaks give my brain a few minutes to think about what I’m trying to learn. This has been my routine, but your routine may look completely different, and that’s okay, as long as it works with YOUR life and your learning style. Also, this is important. I do give myself grace when I cannot temporarily meet my practice goals due to sickness or travel, etc. but I pick right back up as soon as I am able. Learning to play the piano is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m in it for the long haul.
4. Set small goals.
When my kids would learn the piano, they would seemingly breeze through many piano pieces each week. I think this is because the child brain is still developing, and those memory pathways are anxious to be set by learning new things. What I’ve found is that it’s a little more interesting learning as an adult. And you guessed it, by ‘interesting’ what I mean is a little more challenging. The rewarding results, however, are well worth the challenges. I do have to work for these rewarding results. What I like to do is break my piano piece down to literally one measure at a time. You know what? Sometimes I break even the one measure down to only the first couple of notes IN that measure and add on one note at a time after I’m comfortable with the first two notes, and so on. These smaller sections of a piece, or even a small step in the single section will often be my entire goal for the day’s practice session. When I feel like I have this small part solid in my mind and most importantly in my muscle memory, I then move on to add more. This may sound excruciatingly slow, but oddly, the progress I make doing it in this manner really adds up. I literally celebrate when I finally ‘fix’ a part of the music that has been exceptionally challenging for me. I am finding that I enjoy feeling successful, and for me, this is best accomplished by reaching many, many small goals on my way to my larger goal.
5. Invest in some resources.
Having the tools needed to get a job done, is highly important. Imagine how much longer it takes to walk to the grocery store vs. driving. Obviously, the tool of a vehicle is saving precious time and energy. When learning the piano, I am open to all the resources I can get my hands on. The group online classes at Connection Experiment have been amazingly helpful. Tthere are many more tools as well for during non-class hours. I recommend checking out the tools available on the resources page on Ashlee’s website that can aid you in your own journey. For starters, out of the gate, I found such value in learning the note names with flashcards. Personally, rhythm is a weak point for me, and I found much value with the Rhythm Book also available on that resources tab. When I am practicing, I also follow an adult lesson book and have a couple books that go into detail around scales and key signatures, which believe me, are repeatedly helpful. There are also many videos Youtube that can help you along with tricky topics you may get stuck on. I’ve been in Ashlee’s Casual to Confident Piano Player program for a few weeks, and that’s been helping a TON. What you do NOT want to do is try to continue learning something you are ‘iffy’ on understanding. What happens is that sure, you’ll likely learn the thing your working on, but unfortunately inaccurately, and it will take a zillion times longer to re-train your brain and your fingers, once you discover the errors. It’s MUCH quicker in the long run, to learn it right the first time. Believe me. Resources help!
There are many more things I have learned, but besides the step of deciding to start the journey, there’s a follow up. Stick with it! You can do this! If there was ever a person who was NOT going to be able to play music, it was me. And I am here to tell you, I AM ABLE TO PLAY MUSIC, I AM A MUSICIAN, and better yet, SO ARE YOU! I hope you’ll join me and invest in yourself too. You can do this!
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