Teaching The Adult Beginner

By Esther Joh

There is a population explosion of older people, many of whom are eager to study the piano.  Therefore greater attention than ever before is currently focused on instructional techniques and materials for the person who begins piano study later. Claims are made that within the past few years more adults have begun piano instruction than children. A relatively large number of books have appeared since 1960 whose titles indicate that they are written for the adult beginner.  Articles in professional magazines offer advice on what must be borne in mind when merits of offering instruction for the adult beginner.  Since the title “adult beginner” is elusive, the authors of “The Well-Tempered Keyboard Teacher” classified six categories of adult students:

1. Young Adult: “Slightly Older” students; 10-11 yrs old; too mature for methods for average-age students.

2. Teenagers: 12 yrs of age and older

3. College non-music majors: 18-24 yrs.

4. College music majors: 18-24 yrs.

5. Mature Adult: Adults who play for pleasure; 25 yrs. of age and older

6. Senior citizens: Sometimes considered a special adult category 

Furthermore the authors group those six categories into two concerning on their motivation, cognitive skills, physical capabilities, and attitudes: “young adult” and “mature adult.” In this topic, I will briefly discuss about the “mature adult” category as teaching adult beginners presents unique challenges. 

1.  Motivation

•   The main motivation for the mature adult is to play for pleasure. 

•   However, immediate motivation may stem from a number of sources. 

•   The mature adult may also be pragmatically motivated. 


2.  Cognitive Skills: The Adult Learner’s Strong Suit

1.  Experience precedes definition

2.  Each lesson is as full of musical experience as possible

3.  Choose material carefully, knowing the adult is capable of independent study

4.  Communicate sensitively: Answer questions directly but simply. 


3.  Motor Skills: Teaching the Adult to Move in New Ways

1. Constantly stress posture and attitudes that foster relaxation

2.  Plan the lesson or class activities so that the adult may warm up

3.  Stress awareness of the body


4.  Attitudes: The Adult as a Human Being

1. Create an atmosphere of partnership

2.  Arrange opportunities for feedback

3.  At all times be encouraging, but honestly so

4.  Avoid creating an atmosphere in which only perfection is acceptable

5.  Maintain an honest sense of humor



Arrau, Connie. "Piano Techniques for Adults." Music Educators Journal (1983).

Catron, Betty Schien. "Class Piano for Senior Citizens." Clavier (1977).

Ozanian, Carole. "Teaching the Older Beginner." Clavier (1979).

Thompson, Nancy Lynn. "Teaching Adult Beginners." Clavier (1982).

Uszler, Marienne., Stewart. Gordon, and Elyse. Mach. The Well-Tempered Keyboard Teacher New York: Schirmer Books, 1991.

Van Landschoot, Sharon. "The Adult Student: Is He Untapped Resource?." The American Music Teacher (1982).