The piano is one of the most popular instruments to learn and, generally, learning to play is often a parental requirement of their child.
However, most children made to take lessons do not appreciate what learning the piano will do for them until later in life, so is it hard to learn piano at an older age?
It is harder to learn piano at an older age because an adult’s brain does not have the same level of plasticity as a young child or teenager who can absorb information like a sponge. Still, the adult brain is not incapable of learning new information, and learning the piano has many cognitive benefits for the elderly.
This article will explore why it is harder to learn the piano as we get older while also showing you the many benefits of doing so, including the benefits to cognitive function and memory.
What’s the Ideal Age to Begin Piano Lessons?
The piano is not an easy instrument to master at any age. If you have a child and wish for them to learn the piano, age five is the average age most piano teachers agree that a child is ready to learn an instrument.
While children learn and file away information quicker than an adult, they also lack the why of learning to play. “Why practice or why go to lessons?” and “Why are my parents making me do this?” are all going through many a child’s mind.
Practice time is more often than not a fight between the child and parent.
The child generally gives in to practice if they get something out of it, such as extra TV time. The neuroplasticity of a child’s brain means little if they are not willing to do something (source).
However, if a child begins piano at an early age, their cognition is less apt to decline as they get older.
The Teenage Student
What would your reaction be if your teenager came to you and said they want to take piano lessons?
As a parent, it is possible that your first response may be surprise and disbelief, especially if you had suffered through lessons when your child was young and hated the piano.
There are a growing number of teenagers who wish to begin learning the piano for one reason or another.
Some took lessons at a young age and hated piano lessons but, in their teens, it is now their idea. They are now ready for the challenge and are willing to practice on their own.
A teenager is still at an age where the brain is particularly malleable, so learning the piano is much akin to a younger student (source).
By their very nature, teenagers are ready for more creativity than their younger counterparts and, therefore, find lessons to be more engaging.
Students in Their 20s and Beyond
We have learned that, as we age, our brains begin to lose their plasticity and start to set, but modern science has shown that this is not entirely true.
As long as you continually challenge your mind by acquiring new information and perform difficult or challenging tasks, it will maintain a certain level of plasticity.
The more you challenge yourself to learn something new, the less likely you are to suffer from cognitive decline.
The brain is amazing; there are more neurons in the brain than can be used in a lifetime. If an area of the brain dies, another takes up the slack.
If left unused, the dendrites and neurons in the brain will shrink. Still, if one continues to learn, especially something as challenging as the piano, dendrites will grow and connect, which increases cognitive abilities as you age (source).
The benefit to an aging mind alone makes learning the piano, no matter your age, a worthwhile endeavor. As with anything worthwhile, it will not be easy, and you will meet with obstacles along the way.
Why Older Students May Feel Intimidated
The mature mind does not often handle failure, or not being the best, very well. The ego bruises easily, and unless you are someone who does not care about what others think, this will be your first challenge.
Older, or mature students, have established careers and are good at what they do. Being a beginner on anything is tough, and they might be afraid to make mistakes.
Unlike children, adults have heard the music they are playing, even classical pieces. They want to be sure it sounds like the original
The stress of life can also transfer to stressing over how your playing sounds. Mature adults often have little patience and can be very critical of themselves.
In the busy life of adulthood, practicing every day may seem like an impossible task. Not to worry, it is better to practice in small bursts of time, and not even every day. During the off days, your brain will absorb what you previously practiced.
It is not unusual to expect to practice for one hour every day. However, this is not a necessity. On average, your brain tires after about 15 minutes, so shorter sessions may prove beneficial.
Adults are often running from one thing to the next with little to no breathing room. If you have 10 spare minutes, use that time to practice. Short sessions are better than none at all (source).
The Advantages of Being an Older Student
Older students have a better grasp of what the music is trying to say. The more mature student quickly understands musical concepts such as scales where a child’s comprehension of scales, arpeggios, and intervals takes time to develop.
Adult students also know their style of learning. They are highly motivated over the young child taking lessons because mom decreed they do.
Mature students may also feel emotionally motivated. Perhaps they just inherited the family piano and decide it is time to learn. What and how well they play is not as important as playing on the family heirloom (source).
Adult learners have a broader view of the world, which adds a particular dimension to their music. There is an understanding of Bach, his music, and the man. This understanding allows the adult to play with a passion many young learners may not yet possess.
Some Challenges Elderly Students Face
There are certain challenges for elderly students that children need not contend with, one being arthritis. Most mature adults have arthritis located in one joint or another. However, you should not let arthritis stop you from learning the piano.
Arthritis may be one challenge an older adult sees as impeding their learning the piano. However, playing the piano can help arthritic fingers.
Gentle practice sessions are akin to physical therapy and tend to promote rather than prohibit recovery. Still, practice sessions should be short, with technical exercises kept to a minimum or even not at all.
Posture is not on our minds every day but, when playing the piano, posture is essential. Poor posture at the keyboard can cause serious injury to your hands.
How you hold yourself determines the position and angle of your hands, which could lead to finger and wrist injuries such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
It is not an easy fact to face but, as we age, our coordination gets worse. A young child is also uncoordinated but attains the needed coordination faster than an adult.
Adults can and do master the necessary coordination but may need a slower pace to do so. Rushing ahead to play those complicated pieces you have dreamed of will only frustrate and discourage you.
The Benefits of Learning Piano at an Older Age
There are numerous benefits to learning to play the piano, especially for older adults. Music is highly therapeutic, especially if one plays it on an instrument.
Learning the piano reduces stress. While practicing, you are taking time to relax and do something for yourself (source).
You will find a renewed increase in cognition. As we age, finding ways to improve our cognition and memory leads to a better quality of life. The piano has that covered.
As you are learning new patterns, your memory increases while doing something you enjoy.
It is highly satisfying to learn the piano at an older age. The piano is a challenging instrument, but when you accomplish learning a piece of music, you will feel proud.
This feeling spills over to other areas of your life and may enable you to achieve a goal at work you have found elusive.
Age brings much to enrich our lives but little in the way of a social circle. If you take lessons, consider taking group lessons, to meet new people.
You may bring your newfound skill to a community group of like-minded adults who want to play with others in a supportive environment.
To many, learning an instrument at a later stage in life is a daunting prospect. Some teenagers think they are too old to learn, and you may have a 70-year-old who is eager to begin, not allowing age to be a factor.
It is indisputable that learning the piano at an early age, generally by age 5, makes it easier to learn due to the brain being very plastic, yet there is no wrong age to learn.
True, it is more challenging to learn the piano as you age, even beginning in your 20s, but this is not insurmountable.
Learning to play the piano as old as 90 is not unheard of. Learning to play, no matter the age you begin has lifelong benefits, even reversing cognitive decline to an extent in older players.