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Learning the Piano as an Adult

I love to write prose, poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. I also have years of experience studying and playing the piano.

The letter names of the notes on the piano

The letter names of the notes on the piano

Learning a Musical Instrument as an Adult

You can play the piano as an adult beginner! I'm going to give you all the encouragement you need to do what you've always wanted, play a musical instrument. Look at that piano. Isn't it just inviting you to have a go? If you have lots of determination you will succeed.

Beginning to Play the Piano

Enthusiasm is more important than talent. Get to that piano and have a go. In the middle of the keyboard, that's all those black and white keys, find two black keys in a group. No, not three in a group. To the left of the two black keys is a white key. This is middle C. Put the outer side of your right-hand thumb on middle C. Next, having firmly pressed down middle C, use your thumb as a hammer, then use your next finger to press down the next note. This is D.

Guess what your next finger presses, E. Next comes F, then G is played with the last two fingers. If you play up and down these notes, you are playing a five-finger exercise. Now put your left-hand thumb on that same middle C and, moving in a mirror of the first exercise, move down to B, A, G and F.

You can now use both hands together. Place your two thumbs so they are sharing middle C, then move outwards to your second fingers, then the third, then the fourth, then the fifth, and then back again till you reach the C again.

Now just experiment playing anything and listening to the sounds you make. A book may help you, or you may find you can make progress just "playing by ear." Whichever suits you, the secret is to practise, practise, practise. The most important thing a teacher can say to you is, "Just play that again." Good luck.

Hint for Playing the Piano

It is important to use your hands correctly from the start. You will then have better progress and enjoy playing more

Advice for a Beginning Piano Player Who Has Made Some Progress

You might find a friend who is at the same level and play duets together. This is great fun. You need to start with very simple duets. Often Christmas carols are arranged as duets.

When you have mastered this find someone who plays a melody instrument, like a flute or a violin. They will be thrilled to have someone accompany them. You will need to thoroughly practise your part as keeping in time with someone else takes a bit of getting used to. The secret is for you both to count the beats of the bar. If you can do this out loud while you play your piano part it will be a great help both to you and the other player. This will give you hours of fun and your playing will improve enormously.

Once you have mastered this you may find a small church with a need for a pianist to accompany the hymn singing. You could begin by playing just the tune. Then progress to playing the tune and the bass. You need to practise this thoroughly. You can usually find out what tunes are needed on the Wednesday before the Sunday service. You can make it a stipulation that this is so if you are to play.

You need to be aware of the tunes which are known to the congregation. You need to take on board how many verses are being sung, however, if you glance at the congregation when you think it is the last verse you should find that they are all closing their books, so if you are not sure that is a way to tell.

Also, look out for tunes that have a line repeated. Give the congregation a clear first line at the start to make them aware of the tune being used. Do not panic about mistakes. the congregation are only too pleased to have your help.

Scales for the Adult Piano Learner

Why is it important to learn your scales and learn them well? Scales along with arpeggios are the building blocks of playing. Most music is made up of bits of scales and arpeggios. So if you learn them well sight-reading a piece will be easier. Although in Britain you are required to learn your scales off by heart you also need to read them if they are to benefit your sight-reading.

Fingering the scales correctly will get you into good habits and when sight-reading your fingers will fall naturally on the notes without fumbling for a suitable fingering. It can be great fun to play scales and enjoyable to progress in speed and evenness. You will enhance your playing greatly if you put in the effort to play scales well.

How to Tackle a New Piece by Practising

When you tackle a new piece on the piano, you need to take one hand at a time. It is not a good idea to play both hands and struggle right through the piece. Always break things down into small sections and practise each little bit over and over. Gradually join the bits together. You must remember to practise the left hand too, just as much as the right hand. when you are thoroughly familiar with both hands you can begin to put the hands together. This may all seem rather laborious but it is the quickest way to learn a new piece.

Any passages where you go wrong need more work on them. You should start just before the problem area and carry on through to the next section. If you do this you will soon eliminate the problem areas. Practising is like hacking your way through a jungle, the more you do it the more there is a clear pathway in your brain. If you don't practise, the jungle starts to grow up again. Set aside a regular time for practise. It is actually better to do a regular small amount than it is to do a long session once a week. Best wishes with your playing.

You're Not Too Old to Begin Playing Piano!

Don't answer that question, but listen to this. I have a pupil who is in his seventies. Ten years ago he began lessons on the piano with me. At that point, he could remember how to play the right-hand notes from way back when he was eleven, but he couldn't read the left. Now he plays Debussy and Mozart and Tchaikovsky and Chopin.

He really enjoys it. I'm not saying he could go to Carnegie Hall but he gets such pleasure from it. His secret is commitment, a sympathetic teacher and practice, practice, practice. Guess which is the most important. He often practises for 2 hours a day, but if you want to make reasonable progress half an hour will do to start with. That half-hour could usefully be split into three, ten-minute sessions.

You could get an easy book like the ones I've suggested and work at it yourself, but the encouragement of the right teacher would be a tremendous help. Don't be put off if the first teacher you try is not suitable. However, if you explain what you want to do at the beginning you will probably put off the wrong sort. It may be an idea to find a youngster who wants to practice teaching.

If playing the piano is something you have always wanted to do, take the plunge, who knows how far you will get and what enjoyment you will have. Don't put it off, do it today.

Natural Talent Is Not Necessary to Learn Piano

Don't worry about talent. The ability to stick with something, to keep going against the odds is far more important than talent. There are plenty of people out there with talent, but what have they done with it? Nothing. If you are prepared to work hard and practise, practise, practise you will get huge enjoyment from your improvement.

But increase the practise slowly or you will knot your fingers up. Start with ten minutes a day, or three sessions of ten minutes a day and gradually increase to half an hour a day. Remember there is no question of your getting to the Juilliard; this is strictly for pleasure. No one may ever want to listen to you play, except you, but that is what it is all about, your own satisfaction in progress.

You Won't Become a Concert Pianist

Just as you would not expect to learn to play tennis as an adult and become champion at Wimbledon; so you cannot expect to become a concert pianist having started now.

However you can have a lot of fun and your appreciation of the concert pianist will be enhanced because you know something of the difficulties they have faced and overcome. Measure your success by the progress you make not by comparing yourself to others.

How About Playing for Small Children or the Elderly?

A pre-school or kindergarten would be pleased to have you play for them on the piano. You need to play with a strong rhythm for children to dance or move to your music. It would be good to re-introduce some old nursery rhyme tunes as these are part of our heritage but are being lost, no longer sung. The children could also play percussion instruments with your playing as a solid background. If you can sing along as well this would be good.

At the other end of the age range, elderly people would enjoy your playing. They would enjoy a singalong with both golden oldies and slightly newer songs. The elderly in residential homes enjoy this because apart from the music it is the chance to see a different face.

If you are feeling confident try accompanying a melody instrument, such as the violin or flute. So long as you are prepared to be patient with each other you should have lots of fun. You have an advantage here because the melody line is shown above your music, but the melody instrument has just their own part. So you can see where they should fit in with you.

Guide to Buying a Piano for the Adult Learner

Let's start at the bottom of the money scale. You can get keyboards fairly cheaply. They vary. I think they are better if they have a piano touch. An old-fashioned piano can be cumbersome and it needs tuning every six months and varies with the weather.

I have a Yamaha Clavinova which is electrical, has a complete piano touch and sounds wonderful and the big plus is that if you live near other folks it doesn't matter because you can use headphones and they'll never even know you play. Then when you've made some progress you can surprise them.

The only drawback with digital pianos is that they do not keep their value as there are always new and more wonderful models being brought out, but if you are happy with the sound yours makes and don't intend to sell, there is no problem.

Real pianos, acoustic pianos do have a special sound of their own, but digital pianos have their advantages. They do not take up some much space and are easier to move. The narrow stairs leading to my apartment would preclude my having an acoustic piano. A digital piano would be ideal for a student in a shared room. They would be able to practise using headphones without disturbing their roommate.

Adult Piano Learner Success Story

I have a lovely adult pupil who is about forty. She has just passed the grade 5 piano exam with the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. This is a big triumph as she was terribly nervous in the exam. She is going to get advice about this to see if it can be managed better. This is a big problem for some people, probably more with adults than children.

However, this is a big success. Grade 5 is quite a tough exam and is treated as a serious landmark. We now have to study music theory and pass an exam before we can go on to Grade 6. This lady started lessons with me from scratch with very little previous experience in music-making. Proof positive that adults can make good progress. Well done Rachel!

What do you think of this lens? I'd like to know

marlene on March 29, 2017:

I am fast approaching 80 and enjoying trying to teach myself how to play the piano for the first tim.

Jennifer on December 17, 2015:

Thanks for your encouraging post, now time for me to go pactice.

Thena on January 10, 2015:

Thanks for being on point and on tatrge!

Danice on January 03, 2015:

I had no idea how to approach this be-roefnow I'm locked and loaded.

Doll on January 02, 2015:

Do you have more great arceltis like this one?

Jen on November 24, 2014:

Hi, I have been having lessons for 3 months now (aged 56) and have progressed to about halfway between grade 1 & 2. It can be done, but like so many things in life, it takes a lot of investment - in time! But the rewards are tremendous!

Sam on September 21, 2014:

Curious about what would you say about learning with apps and computer?

jazza on September 20, 2014:

Thank you for this lens..

stevie10772 on September 07, 2013:

All power to you for encouraging adults to take up the piano. I have had many adult students with high success. Adults can have a great time on the piano, but they really do need a private teacher rather than being shown pictures of various techniques. That 'thumb tuck', for example, is not quite up to par, but is rather misleading. I'd rather students set solid foundations from the beginning with excellent technique as can only be found in a private teacher. However, adults do have a great time with lessons, and it is highly rewarding with all sorts and types of music. Thanks for your encouragement in this area. ~ Private Piano Teacher of 20 years

arkose on September 01, 2013:

Thank you for this lens. I took piano lessons when I was in kindergarten, but had to stop when my teacher moved away. I never did get to take it up again, but I think I should try again now. My boyfriend plays piano, so I can get him to teach me :)

Thomas F. Wuthrich from Michigan on July 16, 2013:

Excellent! I enjoyed the video, Poulenc Two Piano Concerto First Movement, playing in the background as I read to the end. I've had a Yamaha PSR-270 keyboard for several years, but never really learned how to play it properly. I do putter around from time to time though. Fortunately, I use headphones, so no one else has to hear. I'm able to feed in my favorite jazz radio station, so I can hear as I try to play along. I know the fingering is all wrong, but sometimes, it almost sounds like I know what I'm doing...for maybe two or three notes in a row! (I keep my eyes closed so I don't confuse myself anymore than is necessarty.)

Takkhis on May 31, 2013:

Amazing lens! I don't know how to play piano but my cousin knows it well :)

audrey07 on May 20, 2013:

I got the chance to learn how to play the piano when I was a kid but I couldn't be bothered then. Now, thinking back, I wish I knew better!

GabrielaFargasch on May 04, 2013:

My oldest student is 88 years old and I am so proud of her! She brings me to tears at almost every lesson with her determination to learn! All we need is the passion and the will to want to learn an instrument and then magic happens! :) what a beautiful page!

Snakesmum on March 23, 2013:

Used to take piano lessons in my 20's - gave it up, but perhaps I had the wrong teacher. Now you've got me thinking about getting a keyboard and learning just for fun. Blessed.

Liz Mackay (author) from United Kingdom on March 16, 2013:

@sheacherie: Go for it girl, you can do it.

sheacherie on March 15, 2013:

I would love to learn piano at 19 but everyone is like you have to be a kid to do so. But your article just got me motivated :) Great lens.. and thank you so much for your visit.

anonymous on February 15, 2013:

I think that learning to play the piano as an adult is beneficial on so many different levels. Thank you.

MatCauthon on February 07, 2013:

Piano... a frustration of mine...

Fay Favored from USA on February 05, 2013:

I agree, age has nothing to do with learning the piano if your really want to. Playing the piano is so relaxing for me. It de-stresses me. My husband and pets fall fast asleep. A very relaxed home indeed.

Vikki from US on November 18, 2012:

Playing the piano is probably one of my most favorite things to do for 'me'. I can get so much clarity when I just sit down alone and simply play what comes to my heart. And you are right--you can learn at any age.

appelonia on October 29, 2012:

What a nice lens. So encouraging.

Liz Mackay (author) from United Kingdom on October 14, 2012:

@happy-birthday: Glad to have been able to encourage you.

Birthday Wishes from Here on October 14, 2012:

Very nice lens! Thanks to you I will try it again!

darciefrench lm on October 09, 2012:

I love your learn as adult lenses. Lifelong learning is key to a long happy life. Our beloved matriarch of the family is 92 and still drives, line dances and cooks big dinners for the family. Even through life's pain, she's never stopped dancing, learning new things and keeping current.

VickiLeesBookshelf on August 20, 2012:

Love the article! ..and the type of piano suggestions..


VickiLeesBookshelf on August 20, 2012:

Love the article! ..and the type of piano suggestions..


MarcellaCarlton on August 09, 2012:

I love it! Don't hesitate to learn a new skill. You will feel so good about yourself.

It is so much fun.

RinchenChodron on August 05, 2012:

Maybe someday I'll give it a try.

Spiderlily321 on July 31, 2012:

Great lens. I used to play the violin as a kid. I was also in band and marching band for 7 years on the flute. I taught myself how to play piano a few months ago and am pretty good at it now. I love it so much! It is a lot of fun.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful lens :)

anonymous on May 27, 2012:

I have always wanted to learn and still will. Of course, I would need room to put a piano. We have an organ (2keyboard) which was given to us but I never quite mastered playing. Also, I don't read music, so that is a challenge also, although many play by ear. Great lens that I shall mark for a future return. *Blessed*

chris-maverley on May 21, 2012:

Great encouragement. I have been playing piano/keyboard for years. I'm 37 and I'm starting proper piano lessons next week. I'm hoping to go straight to grade 2 and all the way up. I have a good understanding of the theory already. Need to work on sight reading left hand. I love music. It speaks to the soul. Great lens. I'll be checking back.

anonymous on May 13, 2012:

I think this is magical with your wonderful gift of encouragement going hand in hand with your teaching gift and practical nature to help all succeed as adults in learning the piano...right down to not having their knuckles knot up, excellent and congratulations on your purple star!

Lisa Auch from Scotland on May 03, 2012:

I learned as a child, but love tinkering around on the piano!

mimosapudica on April 16, 2012:

thanks for your encouragement. I'm an adult beginner too. going to sit for my grade 5 practical exam next week. :)

rewards4life info on February 05, 2012:

I used to play the piano when I was younger but stupidly gave up. The older I have become the more the desire to play has grown, I think I will have to start up again before it passes me by. It's one of life's true pleasures to sit and play music on a piano. Lovely lens you have so much helpful info for any level.

pinkiepink on July 21, 2011:

I took piano lessons for a long time when I was younger. In the beginning I loved it, then I got a little older and didn't appreciate it as much. Now that I am older I have been considering taking lessons again. My mother has always played and she's quite good.

A funny story about me and the piano when I was younger and don't ask me why I did this but --- we had this wonderful old piano with ivory keys, one day I picked off all the ivory keys that would come off - with my teeth. Again, I have no idea why I did this. My brother has the piano now and for many years there was nothing on them - not too long ago they had some kind of plastic keys put back on - it just isn't the same piano anymore :( but I still have the memory.

PositiveChristi1 on July 11, 2011:

Excellent information. I'll be recommending this to other adult pianists.

winwell on January 20, 2011:

Great stuff. I gave up piano lessons as a boy, now 50 years on I regret that so much. My youngest daughter is very musical and has a keyboard (about 4 octaves long) but she's learning her scales and fingering. Pianoi lessons are so expensive these days. Round my way they charge £15 an hour so to get any real benefit, you're talking £40 or so a week. I just hope she sticks at it.

kimmanleyort on August 12, 2009:

Learning the piano as an adult was one of the hardest things I ever tried. I can't say I was very successful but I think I skimped on the practice part. :) At least it gave me more sympathy for my kids when they were practicing. This lens is very encouraging and gives some great step by step instructions.

KimGiancaterino on July 14, 2009:

I live with two bass players (husband, step-son) and would love to get back to the piano again. Your lens is very encouraging. It's wonderful to live in a house with music. Squid Angel blessings!

rosariomonteneg1 on July 08, 2009:

Hi Liz,

Still finding my way in the Squidoo's maze.

Just found out that you had included VOICE, my favourite musical instrument, in your lens. I'm so glad that you did.

Thank you for writing about the best of musical instruments.

Great lens, I wish many people could read it.

learn_guitar on July 03, 2009:

Its really a nice Piano lesson, That's what I call a musical lens.

Liz Mackay (author) from United Kingdom on June 20, 2009:

[in reply to CCGAL] We all play the way we find easiest. I play from music and find it difficult to play by ear, however If I really wanted to play by ear I believe I could but would have to practise that way more of the time. To play from music you need to start very slowly picking out the notes and gradually get faster each time you play. I doubt if either of us will do it as the urge to play the easier way will take over.

CCGAL on June 20, 2009:

I am an adult who makes a hobby out of learning to play instruments - I can attest to your point that regular practice is a major key to learning. My biggest issue is that I still can't read music quickly - I can sound it out and memorize it, then play it back from memory or "by ear" but after 40 years of working on it, I've made little progress in the sight reading department.

I enjoyed this lens!

rosariomonteneg1 on June 09, 2009:

Hi Liz,

I'm new in this community and just found that you were my fan! This is so kind of you, how did you find me?

I chose this lens among yours to read because I want to encourage others to follow your advice. When I was a kid I used to play piano but I stopped when I was eleven for reasons that had nothing to do with music. Since then in the whole of my adult life I always longed for some instrument that would be easy to play but never found the time to look for it. Until some years ago an old cousin of mine, a great musician, told me, "but of course there is an instrument exceedingly easy to play. They give it to children and people think it's a toy, but it's not. It was a great instrument at the time of Bach". And he gave me a recorder. He also taught me how to play, like a 10 minutes lesson. Since then it's been one of the joys of my life. You never forget how to play it, even if you stop for a while. Try it and you will have a faithful friend for the rest of your life.

Liz Mackay (author) from United Kingdom on May 27, 2009:

[in reply to Snozzle] Thanks Mike, I'm sure you can master an instrument. It's just about wanting to do it badly enough . Well I'm sure you will do it goodly enough. I'd like to know what you choose and how you get on.

Snozzle on May 27, 2009:

I'm ashamed to say that I don't play any musical instrument. I remember at school (a long time ago!) learning the recorder but that's it. You've given me a challenge - thanks.