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Melanie Spanswick - Play it Again

Playing an instrument seems to be much more prevalent in our childhoods than it is adult life. Here we have an interview style blog from Melanie Spanswick looking at relearning and revisiting the piano as an adult. Linking to her series Play it Again, Melanie talks about how music can fit into our adult lives and how this series can help you along your way.

Why should people learn to play the piano? 

The love for and study of music encourages a special emotional outlet; it opens the world to our ‘creative’ brain. Learning to play the piano can open the door to our soul and provides us with that satisfying, happy feeling, especially when we find a piece of music that we love or that brings back particular memories.  

There is a large cohort of adults for whom learning to play the piano is one of their important goals in life. I have met so many who never had the chance to play as children and want to make up for this fact despite being older. It’s wonderful to witness their determination, motivation, and commitment.

I see this first hand in my Facebook group, Adult Piano Returners, which now has nearly 22,000 members; group members, who hail from all around the world, enjoy posting videos of their playing, even if they are relative beginners, sharing their experiences of their piano lessons (if they have them), as well as asking for tips and practice suggestions. We have a substantial number of excellent teachers within the group to answer questions, too. Even though the piano is a solitary pursuit, by sharing their learning experience in this way, they meet like-minded souls and enjoy camaraderie, and most members make real progress alongside forging new friends. It’s an online ‘piano club’ or ‘piano meet-up’. I try to keep this group a ‘safe’ haven for those who are perhaps less confident about their playing so that there is a pleasant, warm, encouraging vibe within our group community.

As a general rule, the adult beginner will usually find the movements necessary to play the instrument more challenging than a child; in a similar manner to those training to excel at sport, when playing any instrument, a child finds it easier to apply and assimilate repeated movements and can also have an amazing ability to negotiate complex note patterns because they are that much more flexible physically. This doesn’t mean that adults can’t play well, it just means that they might be more limited in terms of movement. Some children will also tackle seemingly complicated music with a sense of ease, because they aren’t aware it’s tricky, and they tend to apply a helpful non-emotional approach to learning, too.

However, piano playing is a great hobby and offers numerous benefits for the adult player. Mental stimulation is highly beneficial, keeping the brain active. Alongside the necessary physical movements, memory skills are required, which will certainly help retain the thought process of adults; an attribute that can fade over the years. Multi-tasking is the name of the game when learning the piano, and the more mature learner may find this difficult at first, but in my experience, they tend to adapt fairly quickly. Adults will frequently ‘understand’ the concept behind learning and grasping note and rhythmic patterns more quickly than some children, especially small children, and will often move through beginner piano methods quite swiftly. But they can also become frustrated, wanting to learn it all ‘yesterday’ as I call it! Patience is the name of the game as it can take a long time to comprehend and implement the countless components required to play a piece.

How can learning the piano fit into adult life?

Playing the piano can certainly fit into an adult’s working week. It just depends on priorities. If you make piano study of significant importance, then you’ll always keep that ‘practice date’ with yourself. And you’ll feel good achieving it, too.

If time constraints are an issue, start by deciding just how much of your precious time you can allocate every week. To make progress, you will most certainly need to practice. No practice usually equals no progress! It’s best to practice little and often. Try not to leave it all to the day before your lesson, if you are taking lessons. A constructive plan might be to practice five days per week. Set yourself a time limit; if you are a beginner, 20 minutes per day should make for a good start.

Some find it easier to do this early in the morning before they go to work. I have a student who goes home at lunchtime and does a 30-minute practice session before returning to work in the afternoon. Leaving practice until late in the evening will probably mean you often skip it, so when you decide to practice during your day is of significant importance.

Where and how can an adult start learning?

In my experience, if you are a beginner, you will learn a lot more by having a piano teacher working with you than by learning alone. You may choose to have a weekly lesson, or, if funds are an issue, a monthly lesson – and you may choose to learn online, which will offer the added benefit of being able to study with teachers around the world. It doesn’t matter which route you select, but what is of considerable importance, is that the teacher sets you off in the right direction, corrects potential technical errors and posture, and gives you the appropriate encouragement to continue on your journey.

If you are ‘returning’ to the piano after a long break – which might be of 20 or 30 years – my series Play it again: PIANO can be most a beneficial piano course to implement into your practice regime. This graded series is set over three books and takes students from Grade 1 through to diploma level via a set of three volumes. Each one consists of plenty of technical help and guidance, and there is also a series of free online videos to complement the course; these appear on Schott’s YouTube channel.

The volumes feature a total of 60 piano pieces to work through. These pieces are graded progressively, with a select ‘group’ of works within each section. They hail from different historical periods, from Baroque to Contemporary music; these include plenty of well-known numbers such as Fur Elise and the Moonlight Sonata (first movement) by Ludwig van Beethoven, and the Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer by Scott Joplin. Play it again: PIANO contains a wide variety of composers. Every piece has at least two pages of practice tips and advice, and the pieces are all annotated with fingering, pedalling, and tempo suggestions. Many adults in my Facebook group are using these books, both with and without a teacher, and have found them incredibly useful. We will be releasing a new book in the series during 2024, which will focus on the beginner to Grade 1 level.

 How should adults learn to structure their practice time?

My series, Play it again: PIANO, serves as a great ‘tool’ here, as it does structure your piano practice due to the copious practice tips and advice centred around each piece. I also offer technical help, such as the inclusion of scales and arpeggios in the key of each piece and exercises designed to help circumnavigate note patterns within the chosen repertoire. Rather like a good teacher, the book helps you through each technical and musical challenge and if you practice as suggested, then you will be using your practice time in a valuable way.

If timing your practice feels challenging, why not use a stopwatch, so that you know exactly when your time is up? During that time, aim to focus completely on the task at hand and try not to let your mind wander – it’s easy to do this. Turn off your phone and unplug that tablet or computer. Allocate your allotted time during your session carefully so that you have achieved several tasks within it and are pleased with your accomplishment for that day. If you pay attention to the timing of your practice, you won’t go too far off track and will make good progress throughout the week.

Is anyone ever too old?

I think that no one is EVER too old to do anything. We witness pianists who play for fun in their nineties, and therefore age shouldn’t even be a consideration. If you are fit and willing, then you will find a way to start learning, even if you have to begin with an old keyboard and learn via YouTube videos! If you have the desire, just begin in some way and you will find out what you need to do and learn to achieve your dreams. Come along and join my Facebook group; you will enjoy the atmosphere and have access to an immediate piano-playing community that will encourage and help you on your new adventure.




Melanie Spanswick (schott-music.com)

Series: Play it again: Piano (schott-music.com)