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I love this question because I recently spent a couple months learning the piano as a 32 year old. I learned so much about this experience--I totally understand you might ask this question. With the advent of YouTube, it’s even hard to start learning piano because it already feels too late!
A 30-year old person is capable of learning advanced piano within 2 years. While it’s advantageous to learn as a youth, adults have significant learning advantages that can accelerate learning.
I had piano lessons when I was a kid (I mean… who didn’t), and like all kids I squandered this time in a big way. It wasn’t until I was older when I realized what opportunity I missed.
As a 32 year old I decided to study the piano in a focused way for a short period of time to see if I can make significant progress. I learned three big things.
- I could learn to play piano and sound good if I put the time in
- Adults have huge advantages of learning over kids--to the point where adults can learn the piano much faster.
- It’s critical to set the right goals if you want to achieve them.
So, how does this work? I’ll share my lessons learned in a way (hopefully) that will be helpful for all.
How To Learn the Piano As a 30-Year-Old
A 30-year old is completely capable of learning to play the piano. There’s no window of time as a kid where if you don’t get in, you have no chance for the rest of your life. Our minds are approaching the top condition they will be in for our entire lives. If anything, if you are going to learn piano, this is the time.
The first step is to really understand what you want and create the right goals.
1. Adults Are Way Better At Learning Than Kids
We hear all the time how kids are like sponges--they just learn what’s in front of them and seem to absorb it all.
This is especially true for languages. Kids just seem to absorb words so quickly. Does that mean that you missed the window if you try and learn the piano when you’re 30 years old?
There are some key things to note here that I’d like to point out--you are, in fact, set up better than you think.
First: Language is not a fair comparison. Kids don’t learn how to build rocketships, they learn how to talk because they have strong motivation to communicate. Learning musical instruments such as the piano often doesn’t fall into the strong motivation category for most kids.
If you feel intimidated, it makes sense why we feel this way… we see some of these young whippersnappers on YouTube and they are amazing. It seems kind of unfair because they got to the piano or whatever instrument when they have tons of free time, unlike adults who have so little.
Second: The thing that’s important to remember that these young whippersnappers on YouTube who are amazing at a particular instrument are the exception to the rule because most kids aren’t interested in very productive hobbies. Most kids (like me) took piano lessons, thought it was boring, and our parents got tired of fighting us.
You on the other hand have something that most kids haven’t learned at this time, and that’s the value of diligent hard work.
All the good things in life don’t come to you magically. If you want things, you have to work diligently to get them.
As an adult, you’ve learned this lesson or perhaps you’re starting to learn this lesson. This is the secret to true musicianship. The oddball prodigy does pop up now and again who seems to be good at everything, but for the most part, it’s those who are willing to put the time and diligent effort in that reach their goals.
Adults make fantastic learners of instruments. If you put in time consistently, you’ll learn faster than you could have thought possible.
2. Creating Goals That Won’t Ruin Your Life
When you say learn the piano, what do you mean by learn?
The first question really is: Do you want to learn songs verbatim? That is… note for note? Or, do you want to play the piano in a way that fits a song really well but isn’t note for note?
In shorter terms, do you want to play piano with sheet music? Or with chords?
This is an important decision and can impact whether you love and enjoy playing the piano or if you drop it within a few months.
Learning Piano With Sheet Music
If your goal is to be able to play arrangements of your favorite Coldplay songs, or to play the beautiful classical pieces than you may be more interested in learning how to play piano sheet music.
Learning to play piano with sheet music is the traditional way to learn to play piano.
In this method, you learn the basic technique of the piano through very simple songs that are in sheet music form. You learn to read sheet music and play the instrument at the same time. The books get harder and the technique gets trickier.
The teacher is there to introduce foreign concepts and help you internalize good technique and rhythm.
This is the basic approach that millions of people go through to learn the piano.
The key to success in this approach is to set proper expectations of yourself. Especially as an adult learner.
You are not going to be able to have piano lessons for 6 months and be able to play your favorite songs the way your favorite players play. You should expect 2 years of regular practice before you can play advanced sheet music.
You’ll definitely be able to play many contemporary pieces that are really fun in between then--but again, expectations are key here.
I think this video is AMAZING because someone documented their progress throughout their entire learning journey for 2 years. This is invaluable because it can help you set proper expectations. This person says they practiced 20 minutes a day on average for the 2 years they played. This video starts on month 13.
That’s an excellent example of where you can get in 20 minutes a day for 2 years. Don’t take this as where you will be, because everyone is different--but the time commitment to progress ratio is really well-documented here.
What’s so honest about this is that many of the songs later on are not as impressive as the earlier songs. Throughout your piano learning you will often need to go back to the basics because… you’re human, and it’s really hard not to skip ahead of the fundamentals.
This is example of what learning the piano is like in the traditional method of learning via sheet music.
In my opinion, I think if you’re dedicated and find a good learning method it’s possible to get even farther in that same amount of time.
Okay, so, that seems like a long time for progress. What if your goals are different? What if you want to play the songs you like without having to learn every note exactly but be able to sound good?
Learning Piano With Chords
There isn’t just one way to learn the piano. There are dozens of codified methods. One approach that’s much different is to instead of learning how to read sheet music primarily and playing songs note for note, is to instead focus on learning chords.
A chord is when you play multiple notes at the same time. For example, playing even two notes is considered a chord.
Our music, particularly pop music usually has only 6-12 chords that are repeated throughout the song.
As an example, the old classic “Horse With No Name” was a popular pop song back in the day. The song was very simple and although it had a few musical phrases, what is remarkable about it is that it can be played with only two chords. You could play the chords for this song by playing Em and D.
Playing two chords rather than playing the each note of the song note for note is much easier. But that doesn’t mean it can’t sound really good. If you learn basic rhythms and how to add variety to your playing, you can make a simple song sound interesting and fun.
Pianoforall is an example of one of the many piano-learning frameworks, and I had the pleasure of focusing on it for a short period of time for an hour a day.
In a month’s time of practice, I was really encouraged--it was a new style of playing that I’d not really tried in earnest before and I was able to grow quickly. I documented a before and after here.
Pianoforall teaches you primarily with chords. Day one, you’re learning songs by playing chords. Sheet music tutorials are included but they take the sidelines rather than front and center. Anyway, I really enjoyed the framework and can’t wait to jump back into it. Here’s the course on Udemy.
The point is this: if your goal is to be able to play note for note, it’s important to adjust your expectations of when you will be able to play advanced music. If you learn via chords, you can definitely make progress faster if your goal matches up with being able to play songs in this way.
So what are your goals?
Don’t Beat Yourself Up For Being a Beginner
As an adult, and probably why you are asking this question is that it’s hard to not be good at something. At work in this point of our lives we usually have some level of mastery--so it’s hard to start something completely new that you’re not good at.
Part of starting an instrument of any kind and especially the piano is to learn how to be patient with yourself and have joy in the journey. If you want an instrument that enriches your life and stretches your creative brain than playing the piano will do that, even if you can’t play super fast or all the right notes.
3. You Can Sound Good Quick If You Choose A Good Mentor
I’ve been learning a different instrument every month for the entire year of 2020. You can see which instruments I’ve learned and the results of my journey here on YouTube. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through this experience is that you need a mentor for every instrument. I’ve seen firsthand the difference between trying to go it alone and finding a mentor. Learning from a mentor is the ONLY way to effectively and efficiently learn an instrument.
What or who is a mentor? Let’s talk about potential mentors from best to worst.
- In-person piano teacher: This is best type of mentor because they can give you immediate and direct feedback and they can give you specific things to practice to work on your weaknesses
- Online Course: This is the next best thing in my opinion because the teacher will take you through the learning process step-by-step. I can’t underscore enough how important this is in learning the piano. It’s too dynamic of an instrument and too overwhelming to go it alone.
- Piano Method Book: There are several books out there that guide you through the learning process of the piano. To me these are one of the best ways to learn since you are still learning step by step and following a framework. Alfred’s all-in-one course book series has everything you need as an adult beginner to start learning.
- I still recommend supplementing your learning by learning songs you like if you choose this book… it’s kind of boring to always learn from a book.
- YouTube: YouTube is helpful for many to learn piano, but I will say that I think it’s at the bottom of these other methods. The way YouTube is designed is not ideal for sequential learning. It’s more like scattered learning, jumping from one method to the next. If you do want to learn from YouTube, it’s good to find a few channels you like and stick with them, the less the better. It’s really overwhelming to re-evaluate your learning method every few months.
So what is the opposite of choosing a mentor?
If you just try and plunk out songs you like--you will progress, but this is by far the slowest way to learn the piano. You’ll accelerate your learning much more quickly if you build on the shoulders of those who have gone before and choose a learning method and stick with it.