Currently my studio consists of about half adult students, most of whom came to me as complete beginners. Being an adult learner has many challenges, and many adult students find learning the violin more difficult than expected. However, there are quite a few advantages to being an adult learner which I feel are important to recognize. I hope these will encourage both those adults who are currently grappling with learning the violin or viola, as well as those who are considering starting lessons.
Advantage #1: Adult students learn cognitive concepts more quickly
Adult students can be taught the “nuts and bolts” of music fairly easily. How the staff works, the relationship between note values, and the general rudiments of music theory are generally assimilated very quickly. As a rule, adult students are usually eager for explanation and appreciate knowing the “whys” and “hows” of what is being taught which affords them the advantage of rich understanding early on.
Advantage #2: Adult students have longer attention spans
While learning an instrument at a young age has its benefits – attention span is certainly not one of them! Adult learners tend to be more focused on the task at hand, and will painstakingly repeat things until they master the task. Adult learners also see the benefit of focus and have most likely learned this necessary skill at some other point in their lives. This mental endurance serves them well as they seek to learn a new skill.
Advantage #3: Adult students don’t tire as quickly
There are many physical aspects to playing an instrument – some of which require use of muscles not normally employed on a daily basis for everyday tasks. The adult student generally does not have as much of a problem with these physical demands and can play and practice for longer periods of time without tiring, thus building more quickly the endurance and muscle tone needed for their instrument.
Advantage #4: Adults understand that anything worth doing requires hard work
Adults come into their first lesson ready and willing to work – children come into their first lesson ready for fun! While both work and fun are part of learning an instrument, and something I endeavor to incorporate into the lessons I teach, a good work ethic is one of the great advantages to being an adult. The teacher can then hone that desire to work hard into practical tasks that yield results, which is when things become fun!
Advantage #5: There’s no “3rd party”
Adults are the one taking the lessons, paying for the lessons, practicing for the lessons, and getting themselves to and from lessons. Adults know what’s going on at all times during practice sessions at home and can communicate that from a first hand standpoint to receive helpful feedback from their teacher at lessons. Adult learners communicate directly with their teacher at all times. This cuts down on a lot of external communication time that often takes place with younger learners reliant on their parents for guidance, support, transportation and finances.
Advantage #6: Adults have previous musical experience
Whether or not an adult has taken formal music lessons before, they have had the benefit of being exposed to music in one or more capacities before they decide to learn an instrument. Most likely they have had general music in school, maybe even played an instrument in a school ensemble, and most certainly have listened to and been an appreciator of music for years, perhaps even participating in musical endeavors in their church. This offers them a rich bank of information, usually yet untapped, for them to draw from as they begin to piece the new musical knowledge they are learning into order in their own minds. This previous experience shows itself most frequently through the insightful questions that adult students ask. More often than not “light bulbs” go on for them as they suddenly realize how bits of information fit together to form a whole. It can be very exciting for adult students to finally understand things they have been exposed to for years but have never had explained to them!
Advantage #7: Adults are full grown
Adults have completed the growing process and are fully mature physically. While this can be a set back, as adult students are therefore not as flexible as children, they benefit from the fact that they don’t have to worry about adjusting as their bodies go through the normal changes of adolescence like young children must eventually do. They will play on a full size instrument right from the first lesson, while children must struggle with re-familiarizing themselves with a bigger instrument as they grow. Bigger instruments get fuller sounds than their smaller counterparts, which can be a great encouragement to the adult learner as they seek to make beautiful music.
Advantage #8: Adults are more easily taught how to practice
If you’ve read some of my other blog posts you may have noted that I emphasize quality practice, which is just as much a skill that needs to be learned as the skills one is trying to master learning an instrument. Children are often reliant upon parents to help them with this task – a skill the parents might not have acquired themselves yet. Adults on the other hand, being firsthand recipients of the learner process as discussed in Advantage #5 and having more developed cognitive capabilities as discussed in Advantage #1, will be able to learn this skill more quickly. Because the skills required to learn an instrument can only progress in proportion to the practicing skills employed by the learner this is a great advantage for the adult student!
Advantage #9: Adults are their own problem solvers
Being an adult affords one the history of working through many problems of various sorts. Adults have had to solve difficult dilemmas and understand the benefit of approaching a task multiple ways to find the best solution. These same problem solving skills are helpful to the adult learner as they will encounter difficult road blocks in their learning. While they have their teacher during lessons to help them overcome difficulties, their teacher will not be with them during their daily practicing. In between lessons the student who is their own problem solver will be able to progress more quickly. Adults have a one-up on children in this area – and will tend to persevere rather than melt in frustration when things get tough.
Adult students: You may wish you had started learning your instrument earlier – but I hope this list provides fresh insight as you consider the many benefits of being an adult learner!
Emily Williams is the creator of Strategic Strings: An Online Course for Violin and Viola Teachers