Piano Teaching: Elders and Adaptations (Part 1-The Players)



Last spring I attended an exciting 6 week course at the University of Rhode in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on “Growing Old Gracefully” where I am also a guest instructor/lecturer on various holistic  topics. It was a fabulous series, except the descriptive word “gracefully” suggested to me ” quiet, polite”  and somewhat, you know  “well-behaved”!  In truth it should have been called “Growing Old(er) Vibrantly” because there was nothing mousey or shy about the attendees whose ages as “elders’ spanned 50-93. What a fascinating, intense, lively and humorous group of people. Curious, challenging, intelligent, vocal and excited to talk about the possibilities of this time of life shifting from defined roles in the family and the workplace to a more unstructured schedule. It’s all open now..and it’s all a surprise! A time to try new things, to travel, make art or music, join a theater group or English Country dance. It’s time to take PIANO LESSONS!

Successful, engaging music/piano teachers know that you cannot teach the same program or method over and over again the same way to all students who are individuals with different modes of perception, different learning skills and different physical abilities right down to the way their fingers move. And it is not possible to teach the same program in the same way for different age groups either.

The young have impatient minds, quick and agile fingers that make many mistakes due to speed, and have many excuses for not practicing (homework, tai chi lessons, sports etc) and sometimes are at the lesson by assignment from their parents without their initial consent! Sometimes the youth are there because they love to play their instrument and it is a joy to work with them and shape that abundant enthusiasm and ability into accomplishment.

Elders come to piano lessons with intent…to try finally to fulfill a lifelong dream to play an instrument, or to come back after many many years of being away from it. Often they come back with one piece of music…usually the one they were working on when they stopped their lessons to go to college, get married, start a career. It is the one song they play over and over whenever a piano momentarily shows up in their life on their travels to the next responsibility. When elders finally come to piano lessons, they come because they WANT to…sometimes a little hesitant and shy, but always with eager anticipation and good humor and they are FUN to be with! It’s a true adventure!

The purpose of this two-part essay is to talk about some of the adaptions that are necessary to implement in your teaching program when working with an older student population to accommodate changes due to the aging process. These will be discussed in Part 2 in the next day or two here on the Piano Mistress site. The mature student population I work with right now spans ages 65-85. And in the past I have piano students who were closer to 90…and “doin’ it!” The name of my program is “Music for the Mostly Mature (or just under!)”.

But for now, I introduce three of my favorite piano students with whom I spend some time each week. We work at their skill level, with their supposed “retired” schedules (they are busier than ever), and with their physical and mental capabilities. We have much laughter at our lessons, always with 15 minutes extra tacked on to the lesson, no charge, for talk about grandchildren and ailments! A total delight!!

With their permission for this article, introducing:

IMG_8279  Leyla, age 75, has been with me for piano lessons for almost 10 years! The quickest fingers that move faster than her mind (hint: Whoa! ), she is an accomplished pianist who tackles every genre of music offered to her..classical, show tunes, new age, dance music, duets etc. She is an avid music lover and also plays bells in her community Bell Choirs here in the Northeast and in Florida. We laugh so much together and have so much fun that I hardly feel like I am working! (Well, we ARE  literally “playing” together).


IMG_8272 Susan, age 68 is the “baby” of the the Elders Group. A very enthusiastic former classroom teacher, she is very organized with her music papers, keeping a lengthy list of each and every song she has  ever played (And she has played SO many of them, classical, popular and show tunes) . She has THE MOST   neat and organized music folder. I was a wandering “specials” classroom teacher and am much more messy than she. Susan has been taking lessons for almost 5 years and her favorite “excuse” when not practicing as much as she would love to (and she does practice) is being busy as a spectacular Grandmother attending all the special events of her awesome grandkids!  Susan also has a partially amputated finger and wears a prosthesis which requires some changes and acommodations at the piano.


IMG_8263  Marion is the elder Elder of this Mostly Mature group. She is 85 years old, drives herself each week to her lesson from a town 30 miles away. Sometimes her knees bother her, but it’s not a dancing lesson so we can work with that. Sometimes her fingers are extra stiff and we can work with that too so that music is still under her fingertips. A former professional nurse, she knows that piano is good for exercising the brain and she knows that joining a swimming class two times a week now is good for her body as well to keep fit. She enjoys going to lunch with her daughters and her delightful young granddaughters. She’s adventurous in her music selection…little pieces by Bach, and easy versions of music and songs from the 30’s and 40’s.  I keep a bottle of “white-out” on the piano to eliminate notes on the page that confuse her or that she can’t reach to make reading easier.

It is never too late to study music and the piano. It requires the desire, good humour, patience on the part of both the student and especially the teacher when the going is slow, and it requires flexibility and creativity to alter the music when necessary to meet the abilities and challenges of the aging process.

Some special hints for teaching Elders will be offered in Part 2 of this essay.  Click “Follow” so you will be notified or come back and check!

From Christine, the Piano Mistress








Check out my other blogs..got a lot going on!

Cooking on:  Sensuous Soups and Suppers: http://sensuoussoupsandsuppers.wordpress.com

Inspirational Ponderings/Beautiful photography: http://thegreeningspirit.wordpress.com

Conscious Creation and Law of Attraction: http://lunchandlearnseminars.wordpress.com












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