Over the past five years or so I have been amazed at the volume of requests for tuition from adults. Don’t get me wrong, I have always taught “grown ups” since I began teaching in my early twenties (and I was the kid!) but there seems to be a recent surge in requests. About a third of my students are now aged over 18 and there appears to be no let-up in the demand for lessons.
So why? Why have things changed so dramatically? I don’t have the answers and maybe someone will, but is it the vogue for “mindfulness”? Is it that nowadays people are examining their work/life balance more? I truly have no idea….. but in the words of the main characterin the movie Dead Poets’ Society:
“Medicine, law, business, engineering….. these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love*…. these are what we stay alive for”
* I am adding music and playing an instrument to that list…… so sue me!
Adult students have a huge variety of goals and varying wishes and I feel it is very important to ascertain as much as possible why they want to take lessons. My job is often very different when teaching these students to children. I think when one is a child, education seems to stretch indefinitely into the future with no particular “end point” and quite often the reasons for learning aren’t examined in great depth. It’s often pretty much accepted that children will follow a path that leads to exams, concerts or other achievements and that a syllabus “a bit like what everyone else is doing” will be at least loosely adhered to. In many cases that’s fine, and I am not decrying the value of a structured educational plan (although one size definitely does not fit all for anyone, whatever their age.)
So why do adults want to learn? The motivations are wide and varied. Apologies in advance to some of my adult students who may recognise themselves in my list here (although of course you may be being paranoid…. ). I also feel somewhat uncomfortable squishing people into neat and convenient boxes but we have to start somewhere…….
Here are some possible motivations of people who come to me for lessons:
There are the “BEGINNERS” who didn’t have the opportunity as a child, or else who tried to learn as a child and it didn’t quite work out for them for whatever reason. I have taught people who fall into this category who range from their twenties to their seventies and beyond. I have some empathy for this group as I have educational regrets. I intend to brush up on my conversational German one day…. having not had an educational “perfect fit” for my learning style as a child – and not for maths either ( I still don’t get algebra. Why would anyone want to “find x” unless there was a prize involved!?) I would say that methods of learning an instrument are a lot different nowadays and I hope that many of us as music teachers are more aware of the differences in learning styles that may well relate to an adult, or indeed to anyone. There is also a LOT more material for older beginners which is published nowadays which is more inspirational and age suitable. Don’t think you will be learning to play nursery rhymes……although if you want to learn how to play these to your children or grandchildren this can be arranged! Some adult beginners want to take exams and get certificates and some don’t. It’s all good and it all works. Everything can be tailored to individual wishes.
Then there are “RETURNERS” and “DEVELOPERS”……… by which I mean those who enjoyed learning to play as a child and maybe got up to an intermediate level or even a more advanced one. Some of these students want to learn how to progress their playing further and again, some want to take exams and some don’t. Some of my returners learned another instrument and can read music but want to try the piano or violin. They often have a huge disparity between their innate levels of musicianship (often very adept) and reading ability and their technical ability to “get around the notes”. This is often fun; to try to bridge the gap between the inner, maybe experienced musician and the realisation of their expression of that. Often “returners” need help in exploring repertoire they may not know is open to them or in fulfilling their dreams of playing in a different style or performing pieces they always wished they could play but had struggled with alone. Sometimes “developers” are technically skilled but want to learn to read music and develop different facets of their playing as well. I currently teach several adults who are accomplished musicians but feel there is a hole in their all-round musicianship which they want to fill. I really enjoy helping these students and often we have very interesting discussions about playing in the lessons. I often learn a lot from them as well!
Then…… there are the “EXPLORERS” …….. these are students who want to enjoy making music with another musician. I love these people! I sometimes think they have the very purest of all the motivations (if I were being judgemental !) Often these students want to have a lot of fun with a big metaphorical box of toys and we play duets, discuss music and generally explore (which I am certainly all for!) Perhaps a violinist want to play through repertoire with an accompanist, or play duos, perhaps a pianist wants to walk through some chords to play their favourite songs. There is usually a lot of musical chat and laughter in these sessions and I look forward to them!
Of course a lot of my adult students don’t totally fit into any of these neat “categories” and some wander back and forth between them……. but I do feel very lucky indeed to work with them all, no matter what their motivation, and many have become good friends too.