The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Older adults can and should start music lessons — but they must also choose the right teacher and have appropriate expectations. | March 4, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

A lot of my friends and acquaintances say they would like to learn to play an instrument in their retirement years.

And much as I try to convince them to start lessons, they often decline with all sorts of reasons – should I say excuses? – about how it is simply too hard to pursue music lessons at their stage of life.

And I understand because I am an adult music student myself, albeit one who resumed lessons after many years and considerable proficiency as a child and a teenager.

Well, starting or resuming music lessons, as an adult especially, can be a tricky business.

Just ask one of us.

But I have never read a better explanation of what it means to become an adult music student or how to go about becoming one than the story by Daniel J. Wakin that appeared in last Thursday’s edition of The New York Times.

For one, it used a string player – cellist Cassandra Gordon (below), now 73 — as an example, and strings are among the most challenging instruments to start later in life, or even early in life.

For another, the story was candid in covering the rewards and the challenges that adult music students face.

But the story also covered what specific traits to look for in a good and successful music teacher for adults, which is quite different from what you look for in a teacher for children.

So if you are interested, or if you know someone who is interested, is studying music as an adult, read this story. Then send on a link to the story and maybe this blog, which has also posted other stories in the past about adult music students.

Here is a link to the latest story:

What has been your experience as ana cult music student?

Many of us would like to hear.


  1. At age 65 my daughter bought me a guitar. It has revolutionized my life.
    Is there a music conservatory for seniors?

    Comment by becky — September 29, 2014 @ 11:37 pm

    • Wow, really cool, many courses
      in youtube,

      Comment by jazzy — May 11, 2015 @ 4:21 am

  2. […] Classical music: Older adults can and should start music lessons – but they must also choose t… ( […]

    Pingback by A blog for music students, parents and enthusiasts | Reed Pros — June 1, 2012 @ 1:18 am

  3. I am an adult piano student. I have been studying with the same teacher for at least 17 years, and I can’t imagine NOT taking lessons. The NYT article is correct that adults have to find a teacher who understands that adults have a full life and may not come to the lesson as prepared as either one would like.

    My favorite lesson is the first one right after summer break when we review repertoire and chose a solo and a duet to work on for the year. I am committed to playing on the studio recitals with students of all ages. For one thing, it’s a great joy to me to see the progress of younger pianists in the studio from one year to the next and to be able to share my delight in their musical development.

    I also believe it is important for young musicians to see adult students and to know that we make mistakes, get nervous during recitals, and overcome performance anxiety just like young people. It’s not very often that adults get to be on the same level with kids, and it’s good for both sides, because musicality matters, not age.

    For you teachers, here are some ideas to consider to encourage your adult students to play for each other: (1) Don’t use the “R” word – call it a “Soire” or “Musicale”; (2) Make it an adults-only evening; (3) Serve wine; (4) Play duets with your students – there is safety in numbers; (5) Don’t make adult students play their music from memory unless they want to – our greatest fear is going blank in front of everyone.

    Comment by Emily W — March 4, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

    • I agree so very much! Adults need to model these semi-brave behaviors for young people. I let everyone use music if they want to, and allow anyone to memorize everything if they want to. There seems to be little ground in between these two poles. I do use the word concert instead of recital. It’s only a little better, but it is different.

      Comment by Michael BB — March 4, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

      • Hi Micharl,
        I have enjoyed all of your observations and suggestions.I I agree with them — and so does my outstanding piano teacher who teaches both children and adults, and both very successfully.
        Thank you for all your kind and helpful responses. I am sure they interest many, many readers.

        Comment by welltemperedear — March 5, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

    • Hi Emily,
      Thank you for responding in such detail and with so many helpful observations and suggestions based on your personal experience.
      They all make sense to me, and many them are followed b own teacher.
      I can see why you have stayed with the same teacher for 17 years.
      Happy practicing and playing!

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 5, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  4. Well, Michael, I’m 71 & not a student but rather a former music teacher who recently played JSB’s Minuet in G Major on my alto recorder for the annual staff dinner @ Marriott Madison W Hotel & Conference Center. And despite my age, I’m not in the least concerned with perfection. In the Bach, despite practicing during my all night job the day before, I messed up the 2d theme that begins on a high E. And I really didn’t mind. As long as I’m not getting paid to play, I can live with the fact that perfection is something seldom attained in this life.

    Comment by Larry Retzack — March 4, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

    • Excellent! I wish that more adults could view their music with the genuine Pursuit of Happiness atitude of the Original Amateurs. Too much professionalism in one’s carreer or childraising, and the goal of enjoying learning music gets clouded over by the same high standards that adults expect of one another in business, etc. I’ll take as many returning and new adults with your take-the-plunge attitude as I can get!

      Comment by Michael BB — March 4, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

  5. Jake,

    My older sister is 76 and last year began taking piano lessons, simply for her own enjoyment. She played flute in high school but claims she didn’t know what she was doing. After about 6 months, she’s reading kybd repertoire faily well for a beginner. As an ex-music teacher, I’d say her greatest flaw is that she tries to play almost everything too fast. She’s gotten to the point that her teacher has asked if she’d like to appear in a student recital but she declines . . . which is OK, actually. She really wants to do it just for her own pleasure which is perhaps the best reason. If I weren’t working 3 jobs, I’d like to take French horn lessons. The musical muse is really good @ any age.

    Comment by Larry Retzack — March 4, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

    • Item # 2. I cannot get ANY of my adult students to play in recitals, concerts, workshops, you name it! Of course, they insist that their children do so, but what is good for the young geese apparently is anathema to the older ganders.
      I think that the activation of the Musical Imagination, or The Mind’s Ear, is the most important single accomplishment for any adult student. Kids are used to making errors, but adults want things to be perfect, or at least under their control. If my adult students would only stop checking each note for pitch accuracy, as they play them off the page, and would pay as much attention to the Rhythms they are making as to which keys they are pressing, Music would occur much faster, and with less angst.

      Comment by Michael BB — March 4, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

  6. MBB here. I have LOTS of info on this topic, which I will share in small pieces. Item #1. Adults have one thing on common with juvenile students, but really, only one thing, which is they hafta WANNA play music REALLY bad in order to learn to play music GOOD. Desire and an innate musicality are essential to adult and juvenile success. More later,

    Comment by Michael BB — March 4, 2012 @ 9:44 am

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