At Creative Keyboardist, we ask new students about their deepest motivations and intentions for studying piano.
As a lifelong learner myself, I’ve found that clarifying my motivations for a learning project is tremendously helpful for enhancing my enjoyment of the learning process, remaining motivated, and ultimately succeeding at my goals.
As a piano teacher who specializes in teaching adults, I’ve found that asking new students to articulate their motivations helps me to understand and guide them better.
I’ve come to recognize that most adults want to do more than “just play” (though to be fair, some do want only that). Creative Keyboardist’s Play, Understand, Create approach was developed from the recognition that most adult piano students’ motivations fall into one of these three categories.
Whether you’re an adult studying piano or a teacher who specializes in recreational music making (RMM) for adults, I hope you’ll find inspiration in this real-world data collected from numerous recreational adult piano students.
“I’ve just always wanted to learn to play piano.”
Playing music is the first pillar of the Creative Keyboardist Play, Understand, Create approach. Not surprisingly, adult piano students’ motivations may be as straightforward and uncomplicated as the above quote suggests.
But others are specifically motivated by the desire to play music they love:
I want to be able to recreate some of my favorite songs on piano.
I want to be able to play good songs and make them sound beautiful.
There are a few specific songs I’d love to be able to sit down and play, and I’d love to start working on them in a more targeted way.
The #1 song I want to learn: Clair De Lune.
Or more generally:
I have a deep love for the piano and have always wanted to be able to just sit down and play whatever I want.
Others aspire to develop certain proficiencies:
I want to learn how to play better and play sheet music.
“For a fuller expression of my emotional landscape / soul…”
A significant percentage of adult piano students describe self-expression as a key motivator:
I feel like it will be a really beautiful way to express myself and connect with others.
To connect more in depth with the piano and to progress as a pianist for my own personal expression.
As a means of self-expression through sound.
Others cite a specific interest in expressing themselves by creating their own music:
I want to gain fluency in music, mainly to help with composition on piano and other instruments, but also so I can develop an outlet for expression and creativity on piano.
I want to get comfortable enough on it to play expressively, to realize musical ideas in real time.
I want to have a hobby where I can learn, progress, and create something beautiful along the way.
“I love playing piano and every time I start playing again I ask myself why I ever stopped!
It brings me such great joy.”
Many adult piano students describe the enjoyment and fun they have or anticipate experiencing:
I want to become objectively skilled at an instrument. Because it makes life more enjoyable in many ways.
To have fun communicating through this wonderful instrument.
Fun! I started during COVID and love it! It’s like learning a new language.
Playing music, and getting lost in it, is an outlet during difficult times and brings me joy.
Play With or For Others
“To get the knowledge of music that I need to be able to play with a larger variety of musicians.”
Piano is the ideal instrument for introverts, as it’s easy to make full-sounding music without others:
I want to play an instrument that I can play by myself (as opposed to the clarinet).
Nevertheless, many adults yearn to play music with and/or for others:
To improve to be able to play with my dad and brother.
To further develop my skills for public performance.
To become a gigging musician.
My main focus right now is learning how to play jazz standards with other people.
I want to improve my overall playing, expand my repertoire, and be able to perform for small audiences.
I have plenty of friends who play instruments and it would be nice to join in. I also have a one and a half year old who is very musically inclined so it would be nice to get a head start on him.
It’s about time I learn to sit down and play songs people ask for on piano!
“I want to understand how music is constructed/all the theory stuff. So that
I can better hear what I’m listening to/what went into making it. And can
make some of my own. Something I get to keep with me forever.
A friend for when everyone I love is dead. Etc.”
Understanding music is the second pillar of the Creative Keyboardist Play, Understand, Create approach. Most adults have a strong desire to understand music better. This may go much further than learning the basics, such as reading music. It may include understanding how chord progressions work or how songs are structured. Many adults recognize that piano is one of the easiest instruments for learning the nuts and bolts of music:
I think learning piano is a really great way to understand the fundamentals of music better.
Some want to do so in order to be more creative:
I want to develop my understanding of music and be able to play the things I can hear in my mind.
I would like to deepen my knowledge of music and be able to write my own. My goal is long-term understanding to make me a better musician.
Others recognize that improving their understanding of music will help them achieve specific goals:
Now that I have recently begun to take music production more seriously, I’ve found that my lack of proper training is holding me back.
To have a better understanding of music theory so I can play by ear as well as learn different musical styles.
“I want to be able to make the things I hear in my head…”
Creativity is the third pillar of Creative Keyboardist’s Play, Understand, Create approach. Many adults describe a desire to create music as a strong motivator for taking up the piano. Some want to learn to improvise:
I’d like to play jazz standards and improvise well.
Others want to arrange:
To play and make arrangements of my favorite music.
Others want to compose:
My primary goal is in service to songwriting – to expand my musical vocabulary
(standards/licks/progressions/theory). I often sink into jam/improv and would like to integrate more discipline in capturing the concepts I create, and translating those concepts into compositions.
Others have explicit creative goals:
To start releasing/performing my own music once I’ve built the skills for it.
To create healing music recordings.
“After some personal reflection and self-searching I have determined that
a regular music practice is necessary for my mental wellbeing.”
Many adults study music to enhance their personal well-being:
It offers me so much healing in moments when life overwhelms me. I aspire to deepen that by using it for self-expression and emotional self-regulation.
Others view it as a welcome respite from work:
I work a high pressure tech job, so it would be nice to have something interesting and creative to do at the end of the day aside from zone out in front of the TV.
Not all incentives for acquiring piano skills fall into the above categories. Adult piano students may have other motivations such as:
Making sure I have the fundamentals and am doing things correctly.
Brushing up on the skills I learned as a child.
To be a more well-rounded person with a diverse set of interests, and have a new challenge to compete with the malaise of complacency.
I appreciate the structure and rigor around practicing and musical study.
Some want to connect with others:
My pop played a variety of instruments, but piano & organ were two of his favorites. He passed 10 years ago and I think in some way it will make me feel connected to him again.
I’d like to be able to sit down and play whenever I find a piano and to be able to musically communicate with my other musical friends.
And others are ready to realize a long-held ambition:
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and haven’t ever made the time to actually do, so this is truly something that’s just for me to prove to myself that I can still make dreams happen.
Just playing, self-expression, playing with/for others, understanding music, creating music, and enhancing personal well-being reflect the range of reasons that adults take up the study of music, specifically piano. If you’re an adult piano student or thinking of beginning piano lessons, take a moment to reflect on what motivates you. If you teach adults, consider asking your students to reflect on their motivations. You’ll likely learn something of value.