Is it too late for me to learn piano?
Can I ever reach the level of someone who started as a kid?
I had just asked my new 20-something student Caitlin if she had any fears about learning piano.
Have you wondered these things too? If so, you’re not alone.
They’re reasonable questions. But they’re comparison questions. The brain’s tendency to compare is not always useful (I know this…er…from personal experience). No matter how good you get, there’s always someone better. Even if you’re Art Tatum or Vladimir Horowitz. Because even they could do something the other couldn’t do – play their genre (Tatum jazz, Horowitz classical) better than anybody (but not each other’s genre).
These questions are more worthwhile:
Can I learn to play well enough to enjoy myself? Will I stick with it long enough to get to that level? Along the way, can I allow myself to enjoy playing what I can play now, and not get frustrated by what I can’t play yet?
As someone who has focused on teaching adults for my entire career, the truth is that most adult beginners can learn to play fairly well to excellently.
Naturally, the results that any particular individual will get depends on their motivation, commitment, self-efficacy and time available to practice.
What usually stops adults from attaining a playing level in the “well enough to enjoy myself” range is:
- Not starting
- Not sticking with it
- Not practicing regularly and/or well
This brings me to the successful example of Chase. Chase, an engineer in his mid-30s, began studying with me as a complete beginner. He started.
Chase has continued studying with me and practicing, week in and week out, for four years. He’s stuck with it.
Chase practices nearly every day, and practices well. I know this because I often ask students to show me how they practice at home (though one way or another it’s pretty obvious to us teachers!).
But there are a few other qualities and aptitudes that Chase has, or has nurtured, that have accelerated his progress.
Chase is patient. He obviously recognizes, even if he’s never said it out loud to me, that learning piano well takes time. Months and years. (Not days and weeks, though some online programs would have you believe otherwise.)
Chase enjoys what he’s playing now, rather than being frustrated that he can’t play something yet. This is obviously related to patience.
Chase has a high degree of “detail orientation.” This is an underappreciated quality when it comes to learning piano. There are many details to track – on the page, in technique (the way you move to play), and of course in listening to your musical results.
Chase sticks with something (an exercise, a chord progression, a piece) until he’s mastered it thoroughly.
Chase is just a normal adult who is proving to himself that he can become a really good piano player.
You can do it too.
Believe It’s Possible
Believe you can become a good piano player. Notice and let go of thoughts that contradict this belief.
Start now. Why wait?
No one learns to play piano – really play – in 30 days. Give it time. Enjoy the journey.
Nurture Constructive Habits and Attitudes
Cultivating patience, an appreciation for your current skills, regular and “good” practicing habits, and an orientation towards detail are all incredibly helpful. These are pretty useful in other areas of life too!
Can I ever reach the level of someone who started young?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Can I learn to play well enough to enjoy myself?
With time and practice, yes, nearly anyone can do that.
Am I ready to start?