When I turned 39, I decided it was time to learn the piano.
The first time I went to a piano concert when I was a teenager left a lasting impression in my then young mind. I remember it to this day. The grand piano stood alone on the stage. When the pianist came in and started his mesmerizing performance, the concert hall was filled with hushed adoration. Learning to play the piano has been my dream since that night. It took 25 years for me to work up the courage to finally chase that dream.
It was one of the most terrifying decisions I had to make. I asked myself over and over again if this was the right thing to do. I was concerned about whether I was too old to learn something new at this age. I also had to assess if this was just something brought on by some sort of midlife crisis or if it is something can I can truly develop a passion for. I had so many questions in my mind even before I started my first lesson.
I did a bit of research to find out if there are adult learners out there who actually succeeded in learning the piano later in life. There were many amazing YouTube videos of adult learners documenting their playing progress and it was very inspiring. I also read from the London Piano Institute, adult learners “have the ability to concentrate for longer, expand a lot more mental effort and actually practice a lot longer”
After doing my research, I felt somewhat more confident about what I was about to do. It was a significant investment to learn the piano — lessons aren’t exactly cheap and I had to buy books and the actual instrument to practice on. I worked with a piano teacher and also bought a self-learning app as well as my first keyboard.
It has only been 7 months since I started learning, and what a journey it has been! I haven’t just started learning a new lifelong skill but also learned the following:
- Age is an advantage — Though I often wonder how my life would have turned out had I taken piano lessons at a younger age, I have no doubt that age plays a significant advantage when it comes to learning something new. I like to think that at 39, I now have the emotional maturity to deal with the frustrations of piano beginners. With age also comes other things like the ability to self-motivate and the patience to sit through lessons. More importantly, age allows one the freedom to make choices. It is easier to choose a teacher you like when you’re an adult. If one teacher doesn’t work for you, you can always switch to another one. Often, children who are forced to learn the piano don’t have this luxury. As an adult, I also have the freedom to choose my instrument because I have the financial capacity to buy the piano or keyboard that I like.
- Overthinking is the biggest enemy — Part and parcel of being an adult is needing to analyze many things in life — whether it be for work or for managing the home. As such, the tendency to overthink things is ever-present in adult life. This became my biggest hindrance when I was learning to read notes. I have a good piano teacher who was trying to teach me mnemonics to remember what the notes were on the staff. I made it so much more difficult for myself to learn it because I wanted to know what the notes were right away, just from looking at their position on the staff. I ended up over-analyzing the entire process so my brain couldn’t make the connection between the notes and the speed at which I needed to press the actual keys to be in tune with the rhythm.
- Muscle memory is not a myth — This is perhaps the most surprising lesson of all. At one point, I got so frustrated with my musical learning journey that I wanted to give up. I decided to take a break and just concentrate on learning one piece. I committed to a 10-minute practice session a day for one week to learn how to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow from Wizard of Oz. By the fifth day of that week, my fingers already knew where to go without my brain having to over-think the note reading part.
- Struggles are as important as successes — Learning anything new comes with both struggles and successes — and one is not more important than the other. I learned early on that documenting both can help me advance faster. The practice journal that I keep takes note of where I’m seeing improvements in my piano playing. It’s a great tool to inspire yourself when you see this. I also take note of the areas I find difficult to master — this gives me an opportunity to come back to it and develop new tactics to fix the problem.
- Playing for others is an uplifting experience — Just as recitals are a crucial part of learning for children, adult learners can also gain much from playing in front of an audience. To me, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing in front of friends or family or to an audience of peer learners, the important thing is to just do it. Unlike in practice sessions, when you make a mistake during a public performance, you can’t stop and have a do-over. You go on. You embrace your mistake and move on from it. It is quite a humbling and uplifting experience when it happens for the first time.
With that, I say that one is never too old to learn anything new — be it an instrument or a new career path. Learning the piano at 39 wasn’t just about picking up a new skill for me, it was an opportunity to challenge myself and find out a lot more about what I can do. I highly recommend learning something new, no matter your age. Going through that experience is always worth it.