One of the major differences between teaching children or teaching adults is that children in general are dependent on their teacher for what to learn, how to learn, and how to apply their knowledge for a longer time period than adults. Adults, on the other hand, have a need to be self-directed and problem-solve for themselves.
It is a goal of mine to have my adults learning pieces autonomously as soon as possible, and this is a good indication that I am equipping them with the right skills to learn music for life, rather than just being able to play the pieces they learn in the lessons. It’s not about me wanting to become obsolete, rather that I wish to become a ‘guide’ rather than a ‘teacher.’
When I get a new adult piano student that has no musical experience whatsoever, we always take the time to plan some goals – both long and short-term. It is important for them to cover the foundation repertoire and skills; however, it is important to their motivation and to my lesson planning to know what direction they wish to head, and what music inspires them. Of course, they will be dependent on me at the start, as I need to teach them the language of music, but the sooner they can apply their new-found knowledge on their own, the better for their self-esteem and desire to continue.
When teaching a beginner adult early repertoire, we don’t just go through the notes and what to play, we also talk about the make-up of the piece (this is also useful for younger students). To show the transference of skills from one piece to the next, I always relate new pieces to ones they already have a good grasp on that contain similar pedagogical ideas. By analyzing the chord structure and repeated patterns before they have played a single note, they have set themselves up to approach the music with more success than just randomly playing note-to-note. As soon as they are ready, I aim to supplement their method book with other pieces, to keep them challenged and motivated. These pieces generally take them longer to learn than the small pieces in the method book that can be turned over in a week or two. These are always chosen by the students from a listening list that I supply, giving them more control over their repertoire.
At the end of each lesson, I aim to give my adult students a ‘challenge piece’ – i.e., a piece that we haven’t had time to cover in the lesson. They each have a sheet of paper explaining how to find patterns and break down pieces, and this serves as their guide at home. By getting them to tackle these pieces without guidance, it reveals their weaker areas; be it following fingering or noticing a change of hand position or key, and leads the way for what we work on in the next lesson.
I find teaching adult students extremely gratifying, especially as they learn to enjoy the process, as well as the end result of finishing a piece of music. By giving them the skills to continue the process on their own, they are more likely to become long-term musicians.