Teaching adult students

Michelle is my adult student. She’s just started her second term with me, and I’m so happy with her development that I just had to video her.

Michelle had a couple of piano lessons as a child before dropping it. She’s chosen to do this for herself now.

That’s the lovely thing about teaching adults. Learning piano is something they really choose to do: it’s a gift to themselves!

The adult beginner workbooks open up pretty much the same as the ones for young learners: there’s instruction about good posture and a good shape for your hands, the left side of the keyboard is the low notes, and the right side is the high notes. Black notes are in groups of two and three and we use them as reference points to name the white notes … Yep, adult beginners means exactly that!

Each piece of music they learn introduces or reinforces a new concept: new notes, hand positions, a scale, a sharp, a flat, some chords, some theory. Early on they are playing simplified versions of music they recognise, and by the time they are in the middle of the book they are playing some very pretty pieces. They can look back and see just how far they’ve come from those first pages. What a great feeling!

Here is Michelle playing Scarborough Fair in the Alfred adult beginner workbook.

I love a story where a person has their day in the sun later in life, although Michelle isn’t quite old enough to be an example of that. It is a theme close to my heart, since I only managed to bring music to the forefront of my life quite late in the day.

Before Michelle’s lesson I dropped into Music Express, where my mate Brenton Neville was holding the fort on late night Thursday. Michelle bought her piano from Brenton, so I told him she was coming along like gangbusters.

We got round to the topic of teaching adults. Brenton recalled when he used to sell organs for a different establishment, a long time ago…

As part of that effort, he used to give organ lessons. One of his students was a man in his 80s, who bought an organ and who used to drive some 180km for his one hour lesson with Brenton.

“I did attend his funeral some nine years later,” Brenton said. “His daughter came up to me then, and said she did not begrudge her father spending six thousand dollars on an organ. She said he only learned ten songs, but he played them for three hours a day, every single day. He absolutely loved playing that instrument.”

In the shop, a moment of pleasant silence settled upon us.

“At that time,” Brenton reflected, “I wanted to sell Steinway pianos and I really resented selling organs, because after teaching my students for about five months, they would sound pretty much as good as me.

But by the time I stopped selling organs, I had grown to love them for exactly the same reason. I could see the joy people got from being able to play music. The music made them better people.”

It was time for me to go and teach Michelle. I said goodbye, making a note to include Brenton’s stories into this blog.

If you are thinking of buying a piano, go and visit Brenton at the Music Express store in Westfield Garden City. He knows a lot about pianos, he’ll tell you a fabulous story from his musical life, and he’ll run off some beautiful tunes on a piano of your choice while doing so.

And afterwards? If you are thinking about lessons, ask him for suggestions. Or even contact me here. Make that long-postponed musical journey happen for yourself. Life is short, and you deserve it.


  1. skywalkerstoryteller

    I like what your partner said about music making people better. I’ve found the musical instrument I love playing is my Native American wooden flute. I’ve had it for years but am now beginning to play a little every day and it makes me feel good and calm and content with life. I enjoyed your student’s playing too.

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