I get this question a lot from older students, both beginners and those who took piano lessons when they were younger. It’s a fair question — when we age, we often believe that we are not capable of doing all of the things we once did. And while this might be true when it comes to some physical activities, for most of us, taking up the study of something intellectually challenging — like music — is definitely still possible and even desirable. So, no, you are not too old for piano lessons.
Age is not a factor when I am considering whether or not to accept a student. My experience in teaching older adults has been so successful that when someone contacts me, I don’t even consider their age. I have started beginning students from ages five through seventy-five. The only variable is how I present the information.
So, no, you are never too old to begin piano lessons for your own enjoyment. In a few years, you will either be older and can play the piano — or just older! Of course, you won’t have time to become a concert pianist and compete with those who began lessons at age three! But, you can progress enough to be satisfied with the music you make and, maybe, even share it with others!
Just a note, physical and cognitive capabilities are factors that I consider when accepting a student, no matter their age. However, I have successfully taught students that have cognitive considerations (ADHD, Autism, and various other cognitive limitations), hearing loss, and physical limitations.
The purpose of studying the piano favors adult learners. Most children take lessons as part of their educations. Adults take lessons because they have a passion for music and the piano. So, adults tend to get more out of their efforts than do children.
Adults have more time to practice. Also, older adults have more time to practice and dig deeper into the music in their lessons and in their lives. It’s much more fulfilling. Children are often pulled in so many different directions for academic and extra-curricular pursuits that they have little practice time or are tired when they practice.
Adults have a better chance of storing information in their long-term memory. I have found that adults need to know why and understand the context of a concept when learning something new, while the youngest of children have little or no context at all yet! So, older adults have the advantage of finding meaning which aids in solid long-term memory.
When I was completing my doctorate, and doing research on the brain for my dissertation, there wasn’t much literature on whether the study of music results in cognitive improvements. We suspected there was a correlation between being intellectually active, like playing the piano, and maintaining higher levels of brain activity, but there wasn’t scientific proof.
But in the decades since, more research suggests a connection between the study of music and the delay of age-related brain issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. And a new study just out seems to agree that music study does help certain brain functions.
A new Randomized Control Trial (RTC), reported in Nature shows that even brief periods of music study help the brain better process and understand audio and video information. Whether this improvement is innate among the study participants is unclear, but the study does suggests that music study does allow these areas of the brain to function better in older adults.
Many parents support piano lessons for their children as a way of improving their cognitive abilities which in turn helps in other areas such as mathematics. My own experience with older adult students, some in their late eighties, seems to show that these students perform better cognitively in general because of their disciplined study of the piano. Mine are not scientific results, and even if piano studies were merely a way to provide a period of tranquil enjoyment, reduced stress, and continued achievements each day, I would still encourage older adults to take piano lessons if they have a passion for music.
Nature has provided access to the study. You can read and download the report at the link below.
Nature – An RCT study showing few weeks of music lessons enhance audio-visual temporal processing.