You get a phone call and it’s a potential new student… an adult piano student… let’s call her Recreational Rhonda. She’s 54. She played piano about 20 years ago and hasn’t touched it since. Her mother-in-law just passed away and she’s inherited a nice piano. She’s inspired to start up again.
Sounds great, right?
But… Recreational Rhonda works shift work so is wondering how you would be able to work around her schedule. She’s not keen on classical music (“My mom forced me to play out of those old boring books and I’m not into that”) and she’s totally blunt about her lack of musical ability.
Teaching Piano Lessons to Adults
This is a very common scenario; and one that has some piano teachers inventing full studios and writing her name on their pretend waiting list with invisible ink; she’s not your “cookie cutter” 8 year old student. But for those of you wanting to build your studio, or for those of you wanting to tap into a unique niche to expand your student list or switch up your studio hours, Recreational Rhonda is your opportunity.
Here’s how to find success with adult piano students like Recreational Rhonda…
Be Flexible, But Set Expectations
For many adult students, a touch of flexibility is in order. They have work and family commitments that our young piano students just aren’t dealing with. For this reason, it helps to offer a spot in your schedule that allows you to be flexible with your scheduling (my adult students come either at the start or the end of my teaching day). With this flexible time slot comes the ability to then offer Recreational Rhonda different choices in how lessons with you will happen (every other week, on a rotational schedule etc.).
However, with this flexibility needs to come clear expectations. Make sure you are forthright with payment expectations, missed lesson repercussions and discontinuation policies; and by clear I mean have it in writing and discuss it face to face before you begin.
Work Within Your Adult Piano Student’s Goals
As piano teachers of children, we don’t know exactly where each of our students will “go” with their musical career. Some may be destined for college studies in piano, some may become piano teachers themselves… and some may become an airline pilot and never touch the piano again. Because we don’t know, we’re bound to offer them as comprehensive of a piano education as we can muster.
However, Recreational Rhonda knows exactly where she’s “going”. Discussing her personal goals for her piano lessons helps you to then zero in on exactly what she needs from you to reach them. If she only wants to chord along with her husband while he plays the guitar, she’s not going to need to know about Sonatina form. Most adults have a clear idea of what they want out of their lesson experience. Tailor her lessons to her as an individual.
Create Opportunities for Instant Gratification
Adult students are more needy than your teenagers when it comes to this aspect of teaching piano lessons. Adults are busy. Adults are hard on themselves. If they don’t feel some sense of progress and enjoyment early on they’re quick to pull the plug. Choose your material and set your pacing with this in mind.
I’m a big fan of using lead sheets with my adult piano students. It gives them that “full” sound they’re looking for, with music they recognize… but they only really need to be able to read the treble clef. Because Recreational Rhonda is in this just for enjoyment, it’s okay if her bass clef reading skills are sub-par for the time being. If she can produce something within the first few lessons that sounds like music and that she finds enjoyable, you’ll have her hooked. And once she’s hooked, then you can work on what you think she needs to know.
Make Use of the Friend Factor
Recreational Rhonda can be a hoot to teach. Adult students like Rhonda usually respond well to humour and a casual approach. If she didn’t practice that week she doesn’t want to be made to feel guilty about it (because if she does, it’s easier to just cancel the lesson). If she just can’t master a certain skill, she appreciates a good laugh about it and the chance to puzzle through it at home (rather than spending weeks working on that one ability). She wants to look forward to her lesson time as a chance to revel in the fun that is music and the enjoyment that is your company.
Recreational Rhonda’s sometimes get a bad rap – “Adult students are inconsistent, never practice, don’t show up and quit after a few months…”… heard that before? It doesn’t have to be so! Switch up your approach, and Recreational Rhonda may just become Long-Term Linda.
Looking for more “How To Teach Piano” instruction? We’ve got an entire blogging series dedicated to this subject including “How to Teach Piano to Newbie Natalie”, “How to Teach Piano to Anthony Ants-in-his-pants”, “How to Teach Piano to Perfectionist Pete”, “How to Teach Piano to Mr. Casual McTryitout” and much, much more! Check it out.