Picking up Piano Again as an Adult
April 28, 2024 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I "studied" piano in college and played the flute prior to that complete with music theory classes. I want to get back into playing piano as it by far my favorite instrument but I have questions. If you picked up piano (or any instrument) later as an adult, I'd love your advice.


- I only have a keyboard for now. I don't want to necessarily invest in a piano if I find that I'm not really progressing. Will that be sufficient to learn on?

- How do I express to possible teachers that I'm not interested in being a concert pianist. I just want to learn how to read music again, work on finger technique, and to be able to play for pleasure.

- What kind of time commitment should I expect to put in with practicing and lessons?

- What is the going rate these days for piano lessons? I have found several options for teachers - both freelance and those with a music center but I don't know what is reasonable in terms of costs.

- How long should I expect to be taking lessons? Months? Years?

- Should I consider online lessons?

- Are there any other considerations that I'm missing?
posted by tafetta, darling! to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Keyboard will work. Not ideal but, pianos are expensive and cumbersome.

All 4 of my kids took piano. They had a one hour lesson each week, and were expected to practice 30 mins to an hour a day on non-lesson days, (they did not).

It's been a year or so since the last child moved out and stopped lessons, but I think we were at $60 an hour at the end. Might have gone up near the end, but just can't recall.

And as a lot of our end time was during COVID, online seemed to work pretty well. But, we had had years of baseline in-person lessons, so not sure how that would go for relearning situations.
posted by Windopaene at 12:35 PM on April 28

If you used to play and are returning, consider returning in a "couch to 5k" style vs. jumping in and playing several 3 hour sessions in a week because that's something you used to do. Playing an instrument uses a bunch of muscles in ways that you're not trained for right now, and gradually ramping up your playing with 15 minutes/day and adding a bit every week will save you from over exerting yourself and ending up with repetitive stress injuries. Playing a little bit every day is also better for learning vs. doing one or two marathon sessions each week.
posted by A Blue Moon at 12:43 PM on April 28 [8 favorites]

1) A keyboard isn't the worst, but if you keep going and want to play piano-piano, you will want to look for an electronic piano with weighted keys. They often go relatively inexpensively used on FB marketplace and similar, and can be a reward for sticking with it for a year. They're pretty good these days if you pick the right model, even at the entry level.

2) Just tell them! They'll let you know if that's not in their area of instruction. The way you put it here is great.

3) Half hour lesson once a week, 10-15 min day practice to start. More is counter-productive until your muscle memory starts to kick in.

4) My kid's lessons are $169/mo for an average of four lessons a month.

5) Depends on your goals and where you start and how much you practice. When you say college level, does that mean you started in college or you'd taken lessons and then studied music at the post-secondary level? (The second is the model I'm familiar with.) If the latter, you probably don't really need lessons but could do a few months and then keep practicing on your own (it will take a while for all the proficiency to come back.) If the former, probably in about a 6 months to a year you'd be back to wherever you stopped, if you took 4 years starting at beginner.

Source: Having run an online community for piano teachers for a few years, and playing myself and my kids playing. However take the word of any teachers more, obvs.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:48 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]

I don't know what you have but if it has light springy keys I'd suggest upgrading sooner than later. Unless you are interested in synth sounds in particular, I'd start with a decent weighted digital piano if you can swing it. I started playing synthy stuff as an adult, then got into piano, and it's just worlds different. They are are some niche advantages to light keys or even slim keys, but if you want "piano", it's worth getting a modern "digital piano" with key action that is designed to emulate an acoustic piano (these all fail to perfectly capture the real feel in some way or another, but even entry level weighted keys are light-years ahead of the springy/unweighted keys). Also these days upright acoustic pianos are basically free if you pay for moving (and often tuning), so you might prefer to spend money on that rather than a digital piano. In that case it makes sense to call a company that moves pianos and get some estimates first.

As for what you want to learn, you may enjoy getting a book of lead sheets, and books on how to read lead sheets. Your local library should have something along these lines. Learning how to read and play those is a fun way to learn songs as structures of chords and rhythms and melodies that is very different from classical training. Just ask each teacher before you hire them if they can do what you want (and especially if they can help you figure out what you want).
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:32 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]

$60/ hour seems about right.

Don't even think about getting a real piano. They are expensive, big and heavy, and hard to dispose of. The same money in a keyboard is much more sensible for home use. I wouldn't get anything new until you are hooked up with a teacher since they may have strong opinions.

All music teachers have older students for whom playing is more or less a hobby. Think of it like the pro at a golf course. The lessons are part of the fun, not just a means of getting to the fun part.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:25 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

- I only have a keyboard for now. I don't want to necessarily invest in a piano if I find that I'm not really progressing. Will that be sufficient to learn on?

Yes. Though the kind of keyboard matters, depending on what kind of music you want to play. You can talk to your teacher about that. If you want to play classical piano literature, for example, you should have something that imitates the action of a piano. (Usually the specs will have terms like "hammer action" in them).

- How do I express to possible teachers that I'm not interested in being a concert pianist. I just want to learn how to read music again, work on finger technique, and to be able to play for pleasure.

None of them will expect you to become a concert pianist, so I'm not completely sure what you're getting at here. Those sound like fine goals. If you have any more specific ideas of what you'd like to play, that could be useful information for your teacher.

- How long should I expect to be taking lessons? Months? Years?

That's entirely up to you. At one extreme, you might get a lot out of just a few lessons. At the other, there's also no risk of ever running out of things to work on with a teacher. Piano is something you could spend multiple lifetimes on and not exhaust.
posted by bfields at 5:41 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

I played piano as a kid, although I never had lessons, and then I didn't play again until I bought a (digital) piano as an adult several decades later. As an adult I still didn't see the need for lessons, I just bought whatever sheet music I thought I'd enjoy playing and then figured out how to play it.

I didn't have any schedule, I just played whenever I felt like it and for as long as I wanted. I didn't do anything that I'd call "practice" other than playing the music I bought. It didn't take long at all to remember how to read music - it was just the lower half of the bass clef that had got a bit lost. I was playing well enough to entertain myself pretty much immediately, mostly because I bought sheet music at an easy level (for me) as well slightly more difficult things to grow into.

So I think the answer to a lot of your "how to do this" questions are "however you like!".

I also have greatly valued having headphones for the piano, since I don't suppose my neighbours want to hear me plinking my way through "Comptine d'un autre été" for the twentieth time.
posted by quacks like a duck at 6:19 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]

I'm an adult returner too. Got my RCM performance diploma at 17, went to university and didn't really play for the next 15 years or so and started again in 2016.

I started again by working on my favourite pieces. It took a couple of months to get the agility back; I didn't have issues with reading music. I didn't take lessons. I found an in person piano meetup and have been going once a month ever since. Finding other like minded people really helped me stay motivated.

I would think about what you want to do with piano now. Playing for pleasure is a great goal. Are there certain pieces you really want to play again or learn? Are there other genres you want to explore? Do you want to compose, improvise, play with others? No one's expecting you to be a concert pianist or take exams. You're an adult - you're in charge of what you want to do and your teacher should take your lead.

I would also try to find a piano meetup in your area. Check meetup.com - if there isn't an in person one near you, there are many virtual ones so you can join from anywhere. Having community really helps and gets you motivated and inspired to practice, and a goal to work towards in terms of performing. And you don't have to perform - you can just listen too.

In terms of finding a teacher, it's just like finding any person to work with you: try out a few and see if their style and schedule/location/cost work for you. It's totally ok to move onto someone else if you don't like their approach. Also you can take lessons for as long as you want.

It's fine to start with a keyboard: r/piano on Reddit has some good recommendations. I got a Yamaha Clavinova with weighted keys.

For lessons and practicing, yes one hour lessons are good, regular practice at least four days a week. The hardest thing is finding the time, but sometimes you can get a lot done in even 5 minutes. And once you start you just kinda stay at the piano and it turns in a half hour, an hour, etc. Keep sitting down at the piano and you'll get into a groove of practice and figuring out how to practice. Also download the Tonic practice app - it's free and you can hear others practice and people can listen to you. It's another great way to build community with other instrumentalists all over the world and I've learned so much from listening to people practice. Lots of adult beginners and returners so you are not alone! I do not work for Tonic lol.

There are lots of piano teacher YouTubers to follow too - Ashlee Young and Jazer Lee have a lot of great tips.

Have fun!
posted by foxjacket at 7:51 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

I started learning piano about a month ago. I bought a cheapish keyboard with weighted keys. The other day I got a chance to try a real piano in a friends house and I didn't notice a huge difference. I didn't want to commit to lessons so I tried a few apps. There are several that are well reviewed. I settled on Skoove and I'm still in the free trial period. I'll probably pay at the end of the trial as I'm making good progress and I'm really enjoying it.
posted by night_train at 10:19 AM on April 29

Slightly peripheral to your direct question, but possibly useful, a couple of disconnected thoughts from the perspective of a 55 year old who started taking voice lessons 8 years ago, and is still taking them:

Re real physical piano: What are you expecting to be playing on, and what gives you joy? Most keyboard players I know don't play real physical pianos when they play "out". I get that there's something magical about the physical device, but consider how much of that is a cultural "you should fetishize this particular form factor of instrument", and how much that impacts your enjoyment of the process of playing. My mom recently sprung for an upright Steinway to replace her old whatever it was baby grand, and spends a bunch of my inheritance on someone to keep it in tune. I have a Craigslist Yamaha 78 key that's overkill for what I do with it, but I can store it stacked away, and don't have to have someone in several times a year to keep it in tune. I doubt my keyboard will outlast me, but if it does my heirs can probably get a few bucks for it; it's likely that my mom's Steinway will be donated to someone because finding a buyer at the time when you need to get rid of a piano is hard.

On expressing your "not interested in being a concert pianist" goal to teachers: Lead the conversation with your goals. As you go, be constantly thinking about how those goals are shifting. I went in with a "I want to improve my square dance calling" and "I'd love to sing rock", as we discovered what my voice does well, and doesn't do well, that's shifted to "I enjoy voice for its own sake" and "I want to sing pop better". And it's migrating on from that.

How much/long to practice? I get out of it what I put into it. This is not to say "you should...", it's "figure out what gives you joy". When I have made the space in my life to practice an hour a day I made huge strides forward, but it's likely that without the enforced at-home-ness of COVID I would not have a voice that makes people go "wow", and I would be okay with that, it'd still be better than most square dance callers. You're an adult, you get to choose what parts of the process gives you joy and what parts don't. If your teacher is judgey about that, find another teacher; you're paying the teacher to help you find joy. If your teacher is mostly teaching kids, they'll probably be overjoyed to find someone enthusiastic about practicing.

How long? How long does the teacher's guidance give you joy and improvement? I don't want to say "your teacher is a mercenary hired gun", because in general I think we should be finding ways to pay the people who give us individual attention to help achieve our joys more, but when you hit a plateau with a teacher and don't seem to be progressing as you'd like, find another teacher, or say "Okay, that's given me the tools I need to have fun" or whatever. I expected a year or two, but my teacher is still helping me progress.
posted by straw at 11:34 AM on April 30

I picked up the piano again after ~20 years away. I already had a half-decent digital piano with weighted keys and pedals. I have not taken lessons yet but I play most days and I've gotten much better; I never forgot how to read music or how to practice, so that helps.

The key for me has been graded piano music. ABRSM, RCM, and other organizations put out lists and books of "Grade 1" and up piano music. "Grade 1" may still be a reach for you, but it's a good goal! (Also I don't find these "grades" totally uniform - some pieces/types of pieces are harder for me even if the ABRSM says they're all "grade 4.") Part of me rebels against classifying music this way but it's great to be able to pick something up and know, "OK, this is going to be a stretch but probably doable," or "there's a good chance I can sightread this."

Good teachers should be able to recommend pieces that are in your comfort zone AND pieces in your zone of proximal development that will help you get better, and they will help you be realistic about pieces that are probably too difficult for you to take on at your current skill level.
posted by mskyle at 12:54 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]

« Older Looking for more writers like Matt Levine   |   How do I create full environments on a single... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments