Popular myths have always been the bane of society. For some reason we tend to be swayed by “common knowledge”, whether is has any basis of fact or not. While not all common knowledge is far from the truth, there is no denying the many popular myths that lead to backwards thinking. This is also true in the music world, where old modes of thinking can hinder learning. Here we will debunk one of the popular myths that is held amongst a lot of adults, that in which past a certain age one can not learn as quickly as they could when they were a child.
In reality, there is very little difference. An experienced piano tutor once told me that in his experience in teaching both adults and children for many years, that the idea that a child’s brain is more receptive is simply not true. What does tend to be true is that the child has more time on their hands to learn new things and is not so encumbered by the stresses of life which reduces their “mental clutter”.
When in this state, you are naturally better at focusing on the task at hand, which creates the illusion that children absorb new material much faster than an adult does. What a child may not have that an adult does, however is the desire to achieve something. Many adults have a burning desire to become better piano players, which creates greater focus in those people who are seriously committed to learn. Adults who set themselves to “make up for lost time”, can often outperform in learning speed over children by a significant margin.
Adults who do tend to learn slower than children are those who just dabble in learning piano and do not have the desire in them to stretch themselves. This typical “frazzled” adult living a hectic life will often learn slower, but not necessarily because they don’t practice, but due to the fact that they do not have a burning desire to achieve “quality learning”. There is a distinction between time spent learning and quality time spent learning. The two are certainly not equivalent.
Another issue adults tend to have is negative self-judgement as well as impatience and stress they bring on themselves. Adults may have learned music before and so have formed prejudices from the past which can hold them back. They may stubbornly stick to how something is “supposed” to sound rather than how it is presented to them in the sheet music. Children who have never seen the piece before will not think twice about it.
Adults who have been competent players in the past may suffer another limiting factors which is frustration at not playing as well as they used to. Or even if they haven’t may get frustrated that they cannot play one of a selection of easy songs to learn on piano that “should be easy”. The additional stress from this added frustrating can add to the myth that children learn faster than adults. The adult simply may be so stressed that they give up trying.
So if you are an adult piano player, whether you have played in the past or not, you need to realize that adults can learn just as fast or even faster than children can, however you also need to be aware of some of the common limitations that tend to hold adults back. If you can work through these, there is no reason why you can’t come up to speed on the piano very rapidly indeed!
Learn to embrace your current ability and be open minded about learning or re-learning your way of playing.