• Graham Yates

Adult Lessons: What's Achievable?

Many adults wonder if they can take piano lessons. My response: Of course they can! More and more people are realizing they have the time and resources to learn skills they had regretted not learning when they were younger, and there are more resources than ever to support such lifelong learning.

I was incredibly heartened to discover this video documenting one adult's progress through a year of piano study. Watch it here, then continue reading below:

His improvement is obvious, as is his commitment. He knows what he wants and what it will take. Also, his focus on progress is not so narrow that he doesn't notice possible new pathways as they appear: he starts out interested in video game music, becomes aware of an interest in classical music, and resets his path based on a growing passion for Chopin. Along the way, he becomes aware of a need to upgrade from a basic digital piano to adding a damper pedal (you hear this when he plays Für Elise at 2:11), then to an acoustic piano and investing in professional piano lessons 5 months in.

Two aspects are not so obvious, though.

First, on the day he unpacks his digital piano, he seems to already have a musical background. He already knows the standard fingering for a C major scale, which he plays at 0:45. It is not necessary to have any musical background before taking lessons as an adult, though obviously it will affect what is a realistic expectation of progress after one year.

Second, in his second entry at 1:03, long before he starts piano lessons and with the help of a method book, he is learning to play a simple piece that involves both hands acting independently.

Watch the focused attention he displays here. His body is calm and his mind is alert. When he comes to a difficult part of the music, he pauses, sorts through the difficulty, and continues. Musically, his ability is more advanced than this piece. But I believe it is the patience that he demonstrates in this foundational moment on day four that leads to his playing of Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu one year later.

Of course, the many hundreds of hours of dedicated practice time were necessary to accomplish this. And of course, this young man may be the exception and not the rule. But many people do not progress this much in one year (it can take children eight years or more to reach this point under typical circumstances). Why?

I believe it comes back to that foundational moment on day four. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, they say. In this case, he made sure his footing was secure, and by doing so ensured what kind of state he would be in when he arrived so many footsteps later.

Too often we want to blast through to the finish line (myself included). We try to rely on our brain and sheer willpower, and ignore the fact that we are body, too. Muscles, bones, tendons and joints need time and thoughtful, calm repetition. This results in reliable, seemingly effortless playing that's a joy for the player and for the listener. I hope that this video will be as inspiring to the aspiring adult learner as it was to me.

Let's remember Day Four.

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