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Adding Adult Students–is it Worth Your Consideration?

Yes. By all means, YES! Here are 10 reasons why I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to teach those who are 18 and above and even those who might be considered “chronologically challenged.”

Posing proudly after a No-Worries Workshop

1. Lesson Time: Adults are able to schedule lessons during those hours when most K-12 school students cannot attend.

2. Income: Because adults can come during “off hours” weekly income is expanded.

3. Friendship: Every time a new student enters the door a new relationship is established and inevitably a friend as well.

4. Variety: Each adult student arrives with a unique and distinct musical background and agenda. While some desire to master Mozart, others want to learn note names, while others wish to play current pop hits. Because of time limitations, I have not initiated a Recreational Music Making (RMM) class but this could be a possible option for your studio. This program, that emphasizes recreational and not traditional lessons for adults, continues to grow in popularity. For more information check out the Recreational Music Making Handbook.

Don and Stuart--self-titled "The Octogenarian Duo"

5. Appreciation: While I thoroughly enjoy seeing kiddos eager to play their first song (and watching them discover how fast they can play their new piece!), adults seem to enjoy and appreciate every aspect of their progress. Each step of the piano path seems to be equally important as, or even more important than, a perfected performance.

6. Light-Bulb Moments: In many cases, soon after lessons begin there are the “Ah-Ha” moments. Example: some students have known that 1 sharp at the beginning of a piece means that the F needs to be sharped throughout. However, it is so exhilarating when the need for the F# in the key of G is discovered and understood. Many theory secrets are unlocked after being bound by years of “blind obedience” to the score.

7. Staying Hip: One of my “younger” adult students keeps me up to date with the latest YouTube pianists and digital print music. He can play by ear but wants to read the latest hits as well. Since he has no prior reading skills, we both continue to carve a way to master pitch, rhythm and chord symbol recognition from the grand staff in an unconventional, non-method-book manner.

8. Flexibility: Job obligations or vacation plans often get in the way of weekly piano lessons for most of my adult students. Although the income may not be as reliable, I don’t mind a weekly schedule that varies. Because lessons may not occur weekly, Music Teachers Helper is crucial to keeping things organized. Lesson Reminder emails prompt students of an upcoming lesson (that they may have forgotten about) and e-mailed Daily Summary reports remind me of the lesson as well. Students truly appreciate the lessons notes I write and these serve as a basis for the following lesson. The notes are especially helpful if there is a long gap between lessons.

9. Workshops and Wine: I have learned adult students prefer not to perform among young pianists so I offer informal “No-Worries Workshops”. Students are invited to perform and share some details of the composer, the composition or the challenges encountered while mastering a piece. I always learn something new from the information they share. This past December we all enjoyed a glass (or two) of wine after the December workshop to celebrate the season. That just doesn’t happen at my bi-annual K-12 church recitals 🙂

10. Wisdom: One of my students boasts 88 years with the daily schedule of an 18 year old, another is a renowned eye surgeon, one a general contractor, another, a bio-chemist engineer, another a psychiatric practitioner, one is a World War II vet and…Although most are “retired” they prefer to call this stage a new chapter in their lives. All of them generously share their wisdom and perspective with me on a regular basis. Many times, I feel I OWE THEM for what I learn from their life experiences  and professions.

Sarah (on the right and 88 years young) celebrating her performance with friends

Teaching adult students may be a great fit for you IF:

  • your policies allow for flexibility in scheduling (my adult student policies are far different from those for K-12 students)
  • you enjoy meeting new people and engaging in stimulating conversation
  • you are willing to teach those who may suffer from arthritis, hearing loss, poor eyesight…
  • you are willing to customize lessons to match students’ desires and goals
  • you are interested in the concept of and the benefits of Recreational Music Making for adults
  • you enjoy keeping great minds stimulated and on track in the later years.

Would love to hear from others who enjoy teaching adults!

About the Author

Leila Viss
Hi, I'm Leila Viss, pianist, organist, teacher, author of The iPad Piano Studio and blogger at 88pianokeys.me.
I enjoy teaching piano to around 45 students ranging in age from 6 to 91. I am drawn to discovering innovative teaching methods and successful practice strategies to encourage the average player stick to the bench for life. Customizing lessons for each student is a priority and therefore... [Read more]

15 Comments

  1. Valerie Kampmeier

    Hi Leila,

    I totally agree- teaching adult students has been a very satisfying part of my practice for many years. They are often more motivated than children, really willing to work hard and intersting people to get to know. I’ve taught a Hollywood screenwriter, a Catholic priest, and a graphic designer, amongst many others.
    The only downside I’ve discovered is that they can be incredibly hard on themselves, so I’m interested in some of your ideas about “No Worries” workshops and recreational music-making. Anything that will encourage them to relax and allow themselves to be beginners at something, even at a more advanced age!

  2. Dave

    I recently decided to pursue adults more than any other demographic. I was a financial professional for many years before starting InTune Studios, so I know many accountants, lawyers, bankers, engineers, etc. I’m approaching them with guitar as a fun hobby, outlet for stress, and something creative on the side they can call their own.

    We customize lessons for them around what they want to learn. We’ll pick a song or two and build skills around that song. I find it’s the best way to keep it fun and focused on practical goals.

    We still teach younger minds, but I’m really trying to grow the busy professional segment right now.

  3. Leila Viss

    Great comments and ideas for marketing your studio!
    The No-worries-workshops are designed to be informal. I usually have a handout about performing strategies, composers, sometimes funny sayings, etc. The mood is casual, most wish to talk first before they play and they are all welcomed to try pieces again. It feels like a support group and no one is pressured to perform.
    RMM is a nationally recognized program that is based purely on recreational music making–low key, no pressure and a chance for those to find music enjoyable at any age or level. I highly recommend the book included in the blog.

  4. Musical Dream Catchers « Studio in a Box

    […]  The Music Teacher’s Helper Blog recently featured a wonderful article focusing on why teaching adult students is something private teachers should strongly consider (I particularly like the “workshops […]

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  6. […] Adding Adult Students–is it Worth Your Consideration? « Music Teacher’s Helper Blog. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted on Saturday, January 28th, 2012 at 12:53 am and posted in Studio Management, Who's on the Bench?. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. « Adding Adult Piano Students…is it Worth Your Consideration […]

  7. Don Fullerton

    I look forward every other week to being involved in music. I find it a definite challenge and an opportunity to try and excel in piano ( I have a long way to go). I feel confortable working with the other adults involved and enjoy hearing their progress in the workshops. Stuart and I have been working together in duets and this an effort I like because I have to stay up with Stuart and in some cases improvise when I happen to lose the score. It is a real exercise in improvising to come in the right place. Leila is a special teacher, I enjoy all of work she does to try an improve my understanding of music. Thanks Leila. .

  8. Dave Wilder

    I wholeheartedly believe that everybody can learn to play an instrument regardless of their age. Its the desire to learn that is important. In that respect, I see no real dividing line in regards to accepting children, teenage and adult students. Adult students bring all the benefits you have described PLUS they are likely stick around awhile. Younger students usually stop lessons when they get too busy with school, go to camp and finally head off to university. Adult students have usually thought through taking lesson and are often quite committed for the long term by the time they have called.

  9. leahcoutts

    I can definitely vouch for the benefits of teaching adults. Of my 50 students, over 30 are adults. I market myself as specialising in adult beginners because they are the students I enjoy the most. I love that they can understand why some things are important or necessary and you can reason and explain at a different level. I do love my kids too, but the friendship and rapport that you build with your adults is definitely something very special. Great post!

  10. Leila Viss

    Thanks Leah! Wow, 30 adult piano students. How would you encourage others to market lessons for adults?

  11. Marcie Salas

    I would like some input from teachers of adult students. I have an adult student in his sixties who has English as his second language. He has always wanted to play piano, and now that his granddaughters are starting lessons, he also wanted to learn. His biggest issue is translating the English alphabet for the notes, especially having to learn them backward. Does anyone else have an older adult student from a foreign country? Any help would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

  12. Leila Viss

    Hi Marcie,
    I have yet to experience that situation. Sounds like a challenge. What comes to mind immediately is color coding as that would be a common ground when language is not.
    I made large alphabet cards and ask younger students to place them in order forwards and backwards, CDE by the group of 2 and FGAB by the group of 3, arrange by steps, skips, etc on the floor. Then they begin finding the keys on the piano.
    Although I use this with children, you could use index cards, write each letter on a card with a specific color for each letter and the same color for the key (using colored stickers on the keys) and the same color for it’s appearance on the grand staff (using a marker or hi-liter). This could help your student associate a letter with a color and then transfer that color to the key and staff.
    Any other ideas?

  13. Justin Johnson

    Do you ever find it difficult to teach students near your own age or older? If so what are the main challenges that you face in these situations?

  14. Justin Johnson

    On the other side of this conversation, what would be the youngest student you would take? Do you think that there is too young of an age to start at? Thank you for such a great post!

  15. Leila Viss

    Justin, you pose great questions. Yes, there are difficulties about any age, the older the students is, the less brain power–to put it bluntly. As I know I will be the same age at some point, I try to keep things light. Most of them are at lessons to keep the brain cells active. We often discuss all our limitations with laughter. Hearing loss is a reality as well so using gestures and showing instead of telling works best.
    As far as students in their 40-50’s–they are passionate but do not have the time to match their goals. They tend to drop in and out but I really can’t blame them, I know how busy it is at this age. I seem to get along fine with them as long as I empathize with their situations.
    Those in their 20-30’s are interesting. They enjoy their latest smart phones and tablets as do I so our lessons are very tech oriented. They can be a little “in their own world” and oblivious to others but–they will get older 🙂
    The very young…mmm as much as I love to sequence concepts for the very youngest of students and honestly always have great lesson plans and fun, I do not enjoy crowd control (disciplining). So even though I have taught 4-5 year olds, I am not pursuing that age of student as much.
    Would love to hear your thoughts!