Learning Piano as an Older Adult: The Ultimate Guide
Playing piano can bring a host of health and wellbeing benefits - but can you learn piano at any age? And can you still learn if you face challenges such as arthritis and low sight?
Having taught hundreds of students aged between 50 - 93, I have created this guide to share with you:
- My top tips for learning piano later in life
- A comparison of piano and keyboard options
- A comparison of private tuition with online lessons
- A summary of which methods are most effective for non-classical music (i.e. popular songs, etc…)
- How to view a free beginners online piano lesson
Benefits of Learning Piano at 40, 50 or 60 Plus
Learning to play piano often appears in the Top 5 list of skills people would love to master. Indeed, for many, it is a lifelong dream. Alongside the desire to learn to play piano, some aspiring students hope it will contribute towards prolonged mental & physical agility. Others want to introduce grandchildren to the joys of music; some want to play for friends, etc. etc. The list of reasons goes on….
Almost as long & varied as the list of reasons WHY people want to learn piano, is the list of BENEFITS learning piano can bring. Not only is it a great way of lifting your spirits and having fun, but many studies have shown that it also brings mental, emotional and physical benefits.
According to this article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information there is evidence that learning to play the piano affects neural pathways, creating what the authors term “positive outcomes” for auditory & cognitive functioning and for dexterity. It has also been shown that it helps maintain a healthy mind, easing depression and stress.
According to the article, osteoarthritis sufferers who practise regularly on an electronic keyboard experience a decrease in arthritic pain and an increase in finger strength – a benefit which carries on into other aspects of their lives.
One of our students (Pam), a long-time arthritis sufferer, told me recently that after a few months of playing regularly she no longer experiences pain in her fingers, and finds she no longer needs her pain relief gel. Another student commented “the piano has been a great way to stretch my hand and get movement back.” In an article from the New York Times, a doctor overseeing a patient’s arthritis as she plays piano, notes “I think it has helped her hands … it maintains strength and range of motion in the joints.”
What a great way to give your fingers a physio workout!
Best Age to Begin
The best age to start learning piano is...whatever age you are now!
You are never too old to learn piano, as proven by my students. Jean (aged 93) and Harry (aged 90) both learnt several songs on piano within weeks. So, too, did hundreds more of my students, most of them in their 70s and 80s.
Essentially - the sooner you start learning, the sooner you will experience the joys of playing songs you love on piano.
Equipment Required – Piano & Keyboard Options
It is possible to have fun and play songs using any type of keyboard. Options include acoustic piano (upright, or grand), digital piano, organ, electronic keyboard and synthesiser. The skill of knowing which keys to press, in order to play a particular song, is the same no matter what type of keyboard you use.
However, there are differences between the pros and cons of each:-
If you wish to play advanced classical music then you might prefer an acoustic piano.
If you wish to play simple classical music or non-classical music then an electronic keyboard may be more practical.
Advantages of electronic keyboards over acoustic pianos
- lighter keys (easier for arthritis sufferers or people with restricted finger movement)
- lower purchase cost
- lower maintenance costs
- easier portability
- control of sound volume
- option of headphones
- option of different sounds, e.g. different types of piano + other instrument sounds
- ability to layer sounds, e.g. piano and strings
- option of transpose features
- option of backing rhythms, recording and other features
When choosing a keyboard my top 3 recommended features to look out for are :
- Keys that are standard size (i.e. NOT children’s size)
- A keyboard that has at least 48 - and ideally 61 – keys, or more (counting both black and white keys).
- Keys that are touch-sensitive (i.e. that sound louder when pressed harder)
How to Learn the Piano
Private Piano Lessons Compared with Online Learning
If you are able to afford the cost of private piano lessons for several years (often £ 1500+ per year) and can find a ‘good’ teacher who is effective at teaching the style you wish to learn, then private lessons have benefits such as feedback on your playing and tuition specifically tailored to your own requirements and abilities.
If you want to play non-classical music, such as popular songs, then using online resources can have several advantages over private lessons. These advantages include:-
- A wide choice of tuition methods and online teachers
- Access to rapid-progress methods (such as DecPlay.com)
- Being a fraction of the cost of private lessons
- Avoiding the time, effort and cost of travelling to private lessons
- Learning at your own pace, thanks to the option of repeating video lessons as often as you like
Playing Classical Music
If you wish to play complex classical music then the recommended approach is traditional piano lessons with a music teacher. This almost invariably involves learning to read the abstract language of traditional music notation, (i.e. the dots and lines of sheet music). You would usually expect to learn for several years before being able to play classical pieces to an intermediate or advanced level.
Playing Non-Classical Music
If you wish to play non-classical music then there are a number of alternative ways to learn which are much easier than traditional methods, and which get much faster results. Songs can be learnt within days and weeks rather than months and years.
These alternative methods include:
- Standard Lead Sheets
- PianoTabz Lead Sheets
The benefits of using chords and lead sheets, compared with using traditional notation, are:
- Playing songs you love on piano
- Making rapid progress from beginner to advanced level
- Playing confidently, either for yourself or for family and friends
- Memorising songs easily
The secret to making piano easy is learning ‘patterns’. This is why non-pattern-based song sheets such as traditional notation are not very effective for popular styles of music. The vast majority of non-classical music is built on a small number of very simple patterns. Combining these simple patterns can create impressively complex-sounding music whilst being relatively simple to learn.
This is how many pop stars are able to play to a professional level without formal training. Indeed, this is how Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote and performed such piano classics as ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Imagine’. When you understand these patterns, you can make incredibly rapid progress on piano and move, easily, from playing in a beginner’s style to playing in an advanced style. You will also find you can memorise songs.
Lead sheets expand on the method used by Paul McCartney and John Lennon to include the melody. This means you can play the ‘tune’ on piano instead of needing to sing it. PianoTabz style lead sheets take this one step further with extra techniques and patterns.
The benefits of using PianoTabz lead sheets include:
- Understanding song sheets within minutes
- Enabling beginners to play songs incredibly quickly
- Having just one song sheet for both beginner & advanced styles
- Helping you learn how to play by ear
- Enabling you to improvise
Playing By Ear
Playing by ear is my favourite way to play as it allows me to play songs almost instantaneously without the need for sheet music, even if I’ve never played the song before. This is great for parties where people shout out their favourite songs and I’m able to play them straight away (as long as I’ve heard it before, of course!)
Contrary to the popular belief that you have to be ‘born gifted’ to have this skill, it can actually be taught, with a high degree of success, using the above-mentioned concept of ‘musical patterns’. Naturally, it takes some practice to become fluent in playing by ear and so, for this reason, I recommend that beginners start with PianoTabz lead sheets. These teach the foundation skills which lead to the ability to play by ear.
Learning to play the piano is not only great fun, but it is also a wonderful way to keep your brain and fingers active. To avoid frustration, it is important to choose the appropriate method for the style you wish to play. In summary:-
- Learning complex classical pieces on piano takes a lot of commitment and requires you to learn traditional notation.
- Learning popular songs on the piano, however, can be much easier than you think thanks to lead sheets (or chord sheets if you are playing to accompany singing). PianoTabz style lead sheets are designed to make piano easy for beginners; people who struggle with notation; and people learning later in life.
Get Your FREE Online Lesson
For a free online workshop sharing how to use PianoTabz lead sheets, simply click here.
About the Author - Declan Cosgrove has over 40 years of piano experience, which enabled him to create the ground-breaking DecPlay method which has helped thousands of students aged 50 – 90+ learn to play piano without ‘reading music’. Inspired by Paul McCartney’s method of playing, DecPlay is so effective it has been awarded a patent as well as being featured on the BBC.
Browse more Mirthy articles by clicking here.
Mirthy offers expansive calendar of activities each month, covering everything from cooking classes and educational lectures to music concerts and fitness sessions.
Click below to see our upcoming events!