For some time now there has been an increasing enrollment in adult piano lessons. This includes absolute beginners and people who have taken lessons as a child and decide to return. More recently, there has been an almost explosive escalation in this trend. In general, well over fifty percent of the inquiries piano teachers receive are for adult lessons. While there may be multiple factors at play, three appear to be the most significant.
Playing for Time
Over the last five years, research widely reported in the media suggests that keeping the brain active, such as learning a musical instrument, may delay the onset of dementia up to five years. An example is a report written by Elizabeth Landau for CNN in 2013 with the title Playing for time: Can music stave off dementia? Awareness of these research findings is fueling this heightened interest in adult piano lessons.
This research informs us that brain stimulation may counteract changes that occur because of cognitive decline. This will allow a person to function for longer. Brain networks strengthened by musical engagement compensate and delay the detrimental effects of aging, a process called cognitive reserve. The effect is more pronounced the earlier in life a person is musically engaged, but it is still possible to modify the brain in an older person who is already showing signs of decline. Harnessing this neuroplasticity provides us with the greatest hope for dealing with the cognitive decline in advanced age.
Debunking Outdated Beliefs
The second factor behind this increase in adult enrollment is the debunking of outdated beliefs. Prior to about the 1980's, if you expressed an interest in taking beginner level adult piano lessons, in all probability, this would have been received with laughter and ridicule. The belief was that we must learn to play the piano as a child. Since that time, research in neuroscience has completely debunked this belief. We now understand as adults we retain a high degree of neuroplasticity, or capacity to learn, throughout our lifetime.
A frequently asked question is, do children learn to play the piano faster than adults? The answer is no! In general, adults learn faster than children. The most important factor that determines the speed of learning is the amount of practice. Adults have greater ability to understand the complexity involved in playing the piano and progress quickly with focus and daily practice. It has taken time but many have freed themselves from imprisonment by this outdated and erroneous belief.
Saved by Technology
The third factor at play is the impact of technology. One barrier that prevents people from taking piano lessons is the availability of an instrument for practice. In this situation, digital pianos are a blessing. The early models of these instruments were disappointing, to say the least, but this technology has improved by leaps and bounds. Many of the current models on the market are fine instruments. I would argue they are better than most upright acoustic pianos. The post titled The Digital Piano (Game Changer) explores this in more detail.
On a practical level, equipping ourselves with an acoustic piano is a major ordeal. Purchasing an expensive acoustic piano and moving this heavy honker into our home is daunting. Not mention the problems encountered with a neighbor (or family member) complaining about the noise. Many of us live in apartments and condos and where this is a significant problem. The digital piano offers an attractive solution.
The statistics about the aging population are staggering. The number of Americans 65 and older with Alzheimer's will nearly triple by 2050. The numbers will increase 5 million from 13.8 million. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the annual cost of dementia in the United States in 2050 will be $1.2 trillion! Perhaps we have found yet another rationale for encouraging and supporting our youth to engage in music education.