Playing an instrument is an exciting idea, but learning how to do it often daunting, especially for adults. However, the fear of learning a new instrument can be overcome by understanding the benefits of music. I chose some examples from my individual teachings and my recent involvement at a festival to depict how interacting with music can positively impact adults in different stages in their lives.
Teaching adults in the studio
Eagerness to learn
Since its conception, our studio had attracted a number of adults students. Personally, teaching them has always been a real delight. This delight comes from the enthusiastic spirit, curiosity and passion they bring each lesson. When an adult shows for a lesson, they really want to be there. Their focus is higher than the one of the children and they can therefore understand concepts in simple words and maintain activity exciting for longer. However, the high levels of intellect can cause that they create problems where there aren’t any. As a teacher I have to make sure that the activities are not taken too seriously and that we can achieve a beginner’s mind perspective.
Previous experience: advantage or curse?
Sometimes adults have already had previous knowledge of other instruments and possess knowledge of music theory and still want to learn another instrument. This can be a great advantage, but it can encourage underestimation of goals and lack of criticism. In those cases I channel their knowledge in the flowing and stimulating manner, which results in smoother progress.
Teaching adults in a festival
Each year Dartington Festival attracts hundreds of avid amateur musicians who are joined by professional coaches in creating a positive and social learning atmosphere. I recently enjoyed my second summer there as a performer and coach, and was reminded of the unique ways adults can benefit from learning an instrument. Seeing every participant approach music making with such enthusiasm and joy encouraged me to convey my musical ideas further and advocate music learning for adults.
Heaps of creativity
Learning an instrument expands the imagination and encourages creativity in adults; both of these traits often dull as we age and grow accustomed to repetitive work and lifestyles. Adults can also connect sensory experiences with more refinement than children; music often calls for simultaneous use of sight, touch, hearing and even smell. Regarding creative input, adults have advantage of their life experience, which serves as a source of inspiration. I’m particularly envious of one participant in Dartington who worked for years in criminology. His real-life examples of suspense are limitless and, consequently, the ways to express them in music!
Maximising through reciprocity
Lessons with adults are therefore filled with knowledge and experience that they bring to them. It’s a symbiotic environment where the input is reciprocal and learning is even more productive. While teaching adults I receive perspective from their lives and professions which enriches and broadens my way of thinking. I also work to channel their knowledge in particular fields to develop their musical understanding.
Heightening life skills
Adult students quickly realise that rehearsing and performing strongly resembles a natural human conversation. Through this discovery they radically diminish their performance anxiety, become more attentive in conversations and develop their awareness for other people. During the week in Dartington this was especially notable during chamber music coachings. Participants of one group especially showed heightened levels of compromising, cooperation and support for each other after rehearsing together for several days.
Improving our well-being
I am happy that I was able to witness so many adult musicians supporting classical music by actively taking part in it. With some participants being over eighty years of age it made me realise that learning music really has no age limits; it can immediately improve one’s well-being regardless of where they are on their life path. Each adult learner that I have encountered so far, let it be in individual lessons or in my recent visit at the festival, was a proof that music changes something deeper within us. Yes, learning a musical instrument is a demanding task, but the rewards that making music brings in our lives are more than worth the effort.