We’ve heard it time and time again. Kids are like sponges. They can learn so much faster than adults and retain more information. The other day I overheard a woman at the grocery store tell the cashier that her niece could speak 3 languages and plays the violin and is on the traveling soccer team. Insert eye roll here.
However, it seems to be ingrained in our brains that kids are smarter, will learn faster, and retain more information than adults.
It’s almost as if we, as adults set ourselves up to fail. We know this to be true so why bother doing it. In fact, I won’t be able to do it because I’m not a five-year child. I wouldn’t have a clue as to where to begin. It’s going to be so hard. So, hard that I will put off doing it. And more importantly, I know that I am going to struggle and eventually, I’ll give up.
The piano will collect dust along with the rowing machine, the I Can Learn French DVDs, the make your own pasta machine, and the broken tennis racquet in the garage. Some people don’t even get that far. They give up before they even try.
Are we doing a disservice to adults everywhere? Why do we set ourselves up to fail? Is there anything that can done about this? Does this happen in all adults or is it different for adults in their 20s and 30s compared to older adults and senior citizens?
What if I wanted to learn piano at older age? Could I be as successful as my younger counterparts? What could I do to learn it faster? Let’s see if we can break the cycle of negatively and see if that’s the real reason we aren’t as successful as the youngsters. Here are five things we need to know about learning the piano at older age.
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- It’s the Connections
- Life Experiences
- Adults-20s to 50s
- What Did We Learn?
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It’s the Connections
Let talk a little bit about the brain. According to research, kids have more neurons and more nerve cells to make connections within the brain. Kids are also more creative. This creativity allows them to do more things. The adult will see two boxes: one small, one large. There is no hidden meaning behind the boxes. They are just plain ordinary boxes.
Kids will see something completely different. Their imagination is nothing short of amazing. The kids will see two dragon heads. One of the dragons is the baby dragon who loves to roar and the other is the daddy dragon who breathes a lot of fire when he is angry. The dragons will run around, dance, and roar. I speak from experience because my own two children did just that last week.
The prefrontal cortex within the brain is more developed in children than adults. This development gives them the ability to be more flexible and inventive than adults. The prefrontal cortex is also where working memory is stored. Kids have a better memory and can recall things in their short term memory banks faster than that of adults.
Your little cousin can count in Chinese from 1-30 and you can’t get past the number five. This is the reason that kids are better at learning new languages and learning musical instruments. The five-year-old phenome can not only speak Chinese but also can play several scales, arpeggios, and can play all of the Suzuki Piano book 1.
Kids have no inhibitions either. Children are not adults when it comes to learning something new, especially something new and exciting like playing the piano. They rarely worry about what others think. In this way, they are fearless. If you were to visit any kindergarten class and asked the children to raise their hands for the following questions, what do you think you would find? Who here is a great painter? Who is a terrific singer? Who is an awesome reader? Who is a terrific dancer? And the list could go on.
Nearly every kid in every class would raise their hand because no one has ever told them that they weren’t good. They have yet to be jaded by society or driven out from the thing they love to do. Now go to any workplace and ask the adults in the room the same questions. Would you get the same answers? Absolutely not. Children will respond differently than adults. So, part of the reason that children learn faster than adults is part societal and part biological.
It is clearly the old nurture verses nature debate. From day one, children are encouraged by their parents to try many different things and to explore their new world. Play is at the center of their world. Once children reach adulthood, they are told to stay in their lane and not veer from it.
Now, let’s think about how this is different from adults. Are adults not creative? Are they driven by fear? Yes and no. Some people have endless creativity. Most of these people work in some sort of creative field: computers, theatre, music industry, education, writers etc. We tend to think of athletes, firefighters, police, doctors, lawyers, and military personnel as being fearless.
There’s no real difference between adults being creative and fearless, but children seem to have these qualities oozing out of them like they are some sort of strange creature. It isn’t until later in life, particularly when they reach school age, that these creative juices and fearlessness subside. At least, for a short amount of time. One can debate as to why that happens at later date,
How does this affect your ability to learn the piano as an adult? In a way, it really doesn’t. We are comparing apples to oranges. We are comparing children to adults. There is no real comparison. So, in a way, we are selling ourselves short. We rely on the fact that a nine year can do it better, so we really don’t want to do it.
If it’s one thing that really separates us from children, it’s our culmination of life experiences. The older you are; the more experience you have. Older people are often more motivated to learn piano because they are doing something that they really want to do. No one is forcing them to do it. For children, there is hardly some intrinsic value (at least from the beginning) that makes them want to practice.
Adults are more likely to practice and ask questions when they are stumped or hit a road block. They are also more likely to practice because dopamine is released (in the reward center of the brain) when you are playing music. These neurotransmitters give us the same pleasure that we get when engage in some sort of physical activity, sex, or eating. This is the feel good connection in the brain.
There are a few other things to remember when we are comparing children’s learning to adults. While the child might sound like he or she really know how to play a particular piece of music, he or she might not fully understand where the composer or artists was coming from when he wrote it. Adults can analyze the piece, compare it to earlier works, and even speculate why he or she wrote the piece in the first place.
This is important because we often ask ourselves if children learn faster or better. This is true, however we now know that adults will learn deeper. They will have a deeper understanding and feel more connected to the music they are playing than that of a child.
Adults 20s to 50s
Let’s look at time spent on learning the piano. When we talk about this, we mean actual practice time. We mean time looking for that perfect piece of music. Time spend learning the piano is the one factor that could really have an impact on whether or not a younger adult would learn faster than that of a middle aged adult or senior citizen. One can agree that most adults will learn the same way if they are healthy and have a positive attitude toward learning the piano.
Adult piano students can be separated into a few categories: retired workers, workers, and students. Generally speaking, adults in their 20s are students and haven’t entered the work force. This is important because these students often have flexible schedules. As adults move into their 30s and 40s, families and children are at the forefront of their lives and time constraints are placed on the individual.
It’s easy to generalize that adult students in their 20s and 50s and 60s will have more time to spend on practicing, going to lessons, and other study of the piano because of their family situations. However, everyone is different and not there is an exception to all of the generalizations discussed here.
It is also easy to say the retired adult students would learn the fastest because they would have the most access to piano practice, lessons, and would have the most life experiences to make connections to the music. However, physical and mental acuity sometimes declines in individuals over 50. There is no one real study to prove otherwise.
Let’s take a look at the adult who would learn the fastest and make the most progress over time. These students would have the following qualities: have already set short and long term goals, have a mix of online learning and private one on one studio lessons with a qualified instructor, set a specific routine for daily practice, have positive attitude, and have true love for playing and learning new techniques, songs, and pieces on the piano.
What Did We Learn?
A lot of questions remain unanswered in this debate. Who is better? Who is the faster learner? It’s hard to debate the fact that children learn faster and can retain massive amounts of information in a short amount of time. They also don’t seem to held back by their lack of finger strength and dexterity. These improve greatly over time.
Adult piano students learn better when they don’t have time constraints placed on them and are committed to improving their playing. Who is the better adult learner? Is it the 20 something or middle aged person? Is it the retired senior? Until we have some concrete evidence and a study is done, this would still be really hard to pinpoint. Adults and young children will learn the fastest when they are having fun! This point is not to be missed.
This is why we play. We play for the joy, not the competition. We play to make music. Remember, we play for fun.
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