All things being equal, it is no more difficult for adults to learn piano than children. Most adults can become proficient-to-excellent piano players, allowing them to achieve typical recreational goals.
Both adults and children have unique advantages for learning piano. Adults’ advantages include self-motivation, self-discipline and mature cognition.
Achievement of semi-professional or professional goals is not out of the question for highly enthusiastic and determined adults.
Is learning piano harder as an adult? Granted that the average adult can learn to play something, but can adults get good at piano?
If you’re an adult considering studying piano, these are reasonable questions. After all, it’s obvious to most people that piano isn’t the easiest instrument to learn – at any age. Yet piano has long been, and remains, the most popular instrument for both children and adults. Some of the many reasons are:
- Both melody and chords can be played by one person, unlike most other instruments.
- There is more great music composed for piano than for any other instrument.
- The piano’s visual layout makes it the easiest instrument for understanding music (e.g. chords).
Numerous skills are involved in learning piano, including reading skills, rhythm skills, ear skills and motor skills or “technique.” The average adult – who, after all, already reads English well – can learn to read music as (or more) quickly than a child, learn to perform rhythms etc.
Most people who ask “Is it hard to learn piano at an older age?” are thinking of motor skills, in particular the ability to simultaneously do different things with two hands and 10 fingers, and feet on the pedals.
We take it for granted that with good instruction and regular practice, most children can attain a reasonable degree of proficiency at a physical skill, whether ballet, baseball or bassoon.
It was long assumed that there is a golden age for learning new motor skills, otherwise known as “childhood.” Yet according to one recent study, this isn’t necessarily the case. With sound instruction and consistent practice, there is good evidence that adults can learn new motor skills as well as children, or (as may sometimes be necessary) ”learn to learn” such skills.
Children’s Advantages for Learning Piano
It’s undeniable that children possess certain advantages for learning piano:
- Their brains are probably somewhat more “plastic” than adults’. (That said, in recent decades it has been established that adults’ brains retain a reasonable degree of “plasticity” and are far from being fixed.)
- They have fewer poor somatic habits, particularly habits of tension, that must be “unlearned” in order to develop good technique.
- They have more time to practice.
All other things being equal, and assuming they perform the many thousands of hours of practice required to do so, children are more likely to be able to reach a very advanced or virtuosic level of piano playing.
Adults’ Advantages for Learning Piano
Adults have their own advantages for learning piano, some of which are so obvious that many people don’t consider them:
- Unlike many (if not most) children, adult piano students are self-motivated; no one is making them take lessons.
- As a corollary – and also likely because they are spending their own money – adults are more self-disciplined about practicing.
- Adults can concentrate for longer periods – which at least partially offsets having less time to practice.
- Adults can grasp complex musical concepts more quickly.
- Adults are fully grown and therefore fully functional as players – their hands are large enough to play most piano repertoire, their feet can reach the pedals, etc.
All other things being equal, given time and practice, nearly any adult can become a proficient-to-excellent keyboard player, allowing them to achieve typical recreational goals. Achieving semi-professional or professional goals is not out of the question for highly-enthusiastic and determined adults.
Playing, understanding and creating music on piano involves multiple skills and “intelligences” including spatial-visual, logical, kinesthetic and (naturally) musical intelligence. Becoming a good piano player does take time and consistent effort. But with superior instruction, enough focused practicing, and a high degree of self-motivation and self-efficacy, it is no more difficult to learn piano as an adult than as a child.