(If you have studied music before, see TRANSFER STUDENTS.)
(If you are no longer a beginner, see BEYOND BEGINNER .)
For children, the educational approach is primarily dictated by the teacher and parent, with the goal of general music education and exposure. Adult students will usually have many more ideas regarding their education, what they want to get out of it, what their goals are, what they want to study, what they do not want to study, etc. Therefore, the student and faculty must develop an understanding and plan with regard to the content and goals of the music education, and this plan should be reviewed and updated at least annually. Below are some of the more important issues that must be addressed:
Interests and Tastes: By the time a student reaches adolescence, the student will often have very specific tastes regarding music and culture. The faculty will always try to provide the student materials that fall within the student's preferred taste, while at the same time try to broaden the student's exposure and appreciation of other styles. Both faculty and student should accept this compromise as the best approach to adult learning.
Clarity of Purpose: Although many students between the ages of 13-18 are very unsure what they plan to do in life (career), they usually have some sense at what level of importance music figures in. If they had several years of substantial achievements (competitions, awards, etc.) then they may still want to keep the option of music open for a few more years. If they witnessed too many peers surpassing them in ability along the way, they will likely choose to keep music as a side interest rather than avocation. Many students realize that high level achievements in music will help them with college applications, and therefore will continue to work hard to accrue a few more honors for their resume. Some prefer to be challenged in whatever they do. ("If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.") Yet others will learn music just to have something to do and to be able to understand music better when they listen to it (educated enjoyment). Whatever your situation, and no matter how often it may change your position, be sure to maintain a dialogue with your teacher so that she/he is aware how much importance you place on music and can adjust his/her expectations accordingly.
Catching Up: For whatever reason, many adult students are in the position of having to catch up for lost time. This is especially true for students under 21 who have a desire to bring their abilities up to their age group (peer levels), whether out of simple desire or in order to audition for music school. As an older student, it is VERY possible to advance in knowledge and ability at a much faster pace than younger students, because a broader knowledge base (education) and maturity will help the student set and achieve important goals. Any student who wishes to progress at a faster than average pace, should consult with the faculty to develop a plan that will achieve these goals. The plan will include specific curriculum items which must be learned (theory, technique, literature), a daily work regimen and key benchmark events (participation in juried evaluations, auditions for ensemble, competitions, recitals, etc.) This plan can be adjusted at any time, or abandoned, if either party feels it is not working to proceed in this way.
Physical and Mental Issues: Age will always provide students the benefit of wisdom and experience, and the hinderance of slower physical and mental acuity. Both these issues continually change over the years, and at a different rate for each person. Regardless of your own situation and abilities, the trade off is always the same: a younger person will take longer to understand something but will be able to execute it more easily, and an older person will understand the task more readily, but find it more difficult to make the muscles execute the action correctly. As we proceed through life, the various activites we engage can create a variety of strengths and weaknesses. For example, typing is excellent for developing finger articulation, but it is a simple finger motion (press - release), so more complicated motions involving control, pressure, speed, and articulating multiple fingers are still difficult actions to master. Playing basketball is excellent for developing right hand/left hand coordination, but does nothing for finger articulation. The activities that fill our daily lives can help us learn music, but at the same time form hinderances because they strengthened only some skills, and not others that are also needed. Acceptance, and understanding of these issues are the first steps toward learning the new skill and becoming a better musician - regardless of your age.
The Long Road: Children do not have anywhere near the sense of time as adults have, and often are quite unaware how many years go by. Their education process (while living at home) is basically 12 years, and they know this from Kindergarten up to High School Graduation Day, without much consideration for exactly how much time 12 years is in their lives. They just know they have to do it, and so they do. If a child begins music lessons at age 7 (2nd grade) and continues until High School Graduation, it is only around age 13 (8th grade) that the student begins to see the time line of their music education. For many this awareness might make them want to quit. For others it makes them work harder. For the remainder, they simply continue the path as they started - laissez faire. Adults NEVER have the luxury of this innocense, ability to live for now or sense of the future. At every step of their study, they will question their progress, they will be dissatisfied with the amount of effort, and they will be unsure of their abilities and the justification to continue. Despite all the efforts made by teachers to explain to adult students exactly HOW LONG THE ROAD ahead is, adult students do not accept it until they have been on it for some time. Further, despite an assurances from teachers that the adult student is progressing well, most will believe they are woefully slow and behind. The following issues address this topic more specifically:
Critical Faculty: The adult has a much more developed critical faculty. She/he knows what sounds right (good) and what sounds wrong (bad). The many repetitions and hard work required to master a technique seem much more than necessary, because the concepts seem so easy to understand. Children are free of this burden. They are developing their critical faculty at the same time as their technical skills, so they happily make mistakes and feel no sense of error when they do things wrong, until they are told so. The beginning string student at age 7 does not recoil from the scratchy sounds or out of tune notes as easily as the adult, and therefore, the teacher is able to keep the student on track toward learning these skills without having to battle issues of approach avoidance.
Days to Years: When an adult beginner is told they can learn in instrument to a minimal level of proficiency in 5 years, the time never seems so long until he/she feels the day-to-day and week-to-week pressures of the routine. Children have daily homework, and daily classes that reinforce the routine of day-by-day learning. The adult daily routine is never as simple, and usually much more demanding. The ability to dedicate 1-2 hours to the study of music on a daily basis, quickly seems to be a totally unrealistic goal. As weeks go by with minimal practice, and therefore minimal progress, the adult soon feels defeated by her/his schedule and loses all interest in study. The adult sense of obligation and responsibilty kicks in and convinces the student that the study of music is not practical or realistic at this time. Most adult students quit after less than one year of study. We hope that the advice on this page will keep many more of our adult students on track and feeling their sense of progress. The section below should help the new student create a manageable schedule that allows them to progress at a reasonable rate, and avoids that feeling of never having time.
Time Management: We advise ALL adult beginners to dedicate 30 mins. daily to practicing their instrument. Make a space in your daily routine in which to squeeze this simple half hour. Before breakfast, after work but before dinner, after dinner before TV, or before going to bed (skip the news at 11:00pm). Whatever works for you, make sure there is a 30 min. slot in your regular day where you can practice and study music. You are free to practice more on weekends, but it should never be to catch up for missing a daily practice session. Then, as you advance you will find that increasing that time becomes easier and easier, commensurate to the requirements of your level (more advanced students need more practice time). After only a few lessons, you will soon be able to divide your tasks into those that require daily work and those that can be saved for weekends when you have more time. If in the first weeks of lessons, you find that you are "cramming" the night before a lesson, you probably never had the time to begin with. If you can correct this situation quickly in those first weeks, you will survive and succeed. If you are unable to manage the music time into your schedule, your life style is simply not able to accommodate it at this time. We have several adult students who are retired, and only because of retirement actually have the time to devote to music study. Yes, being older makes it more difficult - but having the time makes it more FEASIBLE.
Make a Test Plan: If you are unsure that you have the time to commit to music, there is a simple way you can test your schedule before you start shelling out the bucks for lessons. Just schedule the 30 min slot as described above, but use it for something else you have always wanted to do: read the paper, read magazines, special cleaning projects, knitting or crafts, watch a documentary, listen to CDs, etc. If you are able to keep your commitment to this new 30 min/day project for at least 2 weeks, then you know you have the time and discipline to begin music lessons. You simply replace that project with music practice once you sign up. So often testing yourself first is the easiest way to make sure you are ready, and prevent negative feelings of failure later on.