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Part 1. Adult learners - it is never to late! Part 2. Teachers, "pay attention!"

How should teachers approach the adult learner?

Why is this important? Often adults were not able to pursue a musical education due to financial, educational, personal, and a whole host of reasons. Once adults are established on their career paths, they find that they now have the time and financial resources to pursue their musical endeavors. It is my hope that this discussion lead achieve two primary goals. First, it is not too late to pursue your musical dreams! And Second, for teachers to support, mentor and coach the adult learner in ways that are conducive to adult learning and goals.

These are my thoughts and experiences, I look forward to hearing yours!

Part 1.
Believe in yourself
Don't give up
Invest in a good instrument
Find a great teacher and move on when you are ready
Look for opportunities to play and live your dream!

Part 2.
Teachers often started as children and expect that their pupils irregardless of their age, need to follow the method they were taught. Basics are important, but approaches need to be modified for the adult learner...here are some of my thoughts based on the last 15 years of my journey as an adult learner....

1. Determine motivational level
2. Determine goals
3. Identify the amount of time the adult has to practice; acknowledge life-work constraints
4. Support the dreams of your adult learners


  • Those are great points. 

    Personally, I think teaching adults can be very rewarding (for any instrument - not just flutes). I totally agree that their motivation levels vary, and schedule comes into play. Also - good points on identifying the goals and dreams of the student.

    However, I also think that when teaching adults (or even college level students), it's possible (and important) to incorporate discussions about musical intention and awareness - even if the student is not particularly advanced on the instrument. I think this is something adults can grasp a bit quicker than young students, and the understanding can really help with their motivation.

    Adults have the benefit of having a bit more "life experience," and I think that gives them an easier general ability to understand relationships. Understanding relationships can help with understanding how to create music with other musicians. 

    As a loose example, you can compare dynamics to having a real life conversation. An adult will likely grasp the concept that groups of people will typically talk at the same volume together... if one person gets louder, often the group gets louder, etc. That sort of comparison can vastly improve how the student will approach playing with others in an ensemble. 

    Maybe that's just my method, but I've always found that adding a little "philosophy" or "awareness comparisons" like that can often help an adult-student relate what they are doing, and ultimately I feel that drawing comparisons to things they already understand advances how they approach the instrument. 

    If anything, I think those "ah ha!" moments help with motivation. :)

  • Great info both from Ellen and Carmolio.   Thanks!  I'm 64 and really was not able to take the flute seriously until c.a. 50.  I found it challenging as so many young folk around me were already way past my skill levels and were less than patient with me.  I joint the New Horizon Band (for 50+) and it was a great help.  The level of play was less demanding and our conductor was/ is a great teacher as well.  For the past 3 years I have joined a community band where the level of play is difficult for me.  But, I play with some wonderful souls who are supportive and caring.  Even at my age now, I feel I'm still learning, improving and it feels good.  I'm glad that I went back to the flute and re-initiated my dream of being able to make beautiful music.  Thank you both for your great comments. 
  • That's one of the beautiful things about music - you'll never run out of things to learn. Every time you get better, you discover something else to learn or explore. :)
  • BAJ
    edited February 2014
    I am approaching 65 years old in April 2014 -- took up the flute in 2009 on a lark. Yes, I had toyed with flute in Junior High but got discouraged when I was placed in band after only 6 months of lessons (with the remaining members having had instrument training for at least 2 plus years). My Mother was disappointed since my older sister was very musical (i.e., professional string player). Mom always said "you'll regret not continuing". Well, at Mom's 100th birthday in November 2009 (and, only having my new flute since August of the same year) -- I was at least able to remember enough to play Happy Birthday to her. She passed the following March but it gave her joy hearing my Sister and me play together (or, I should say, me trying to play). Last year (at the encouragement of my private teacher), I found New Horizons Band -- ensembles for those "mature" adults returning to an instrument or taking up an instrument for the first time. I enjoy every minute of Concert Band and recently took on the challenge of New Horizons Jazz Band -- both out of DePaul University here in Chicago. Prior to taking up the flute, I was an avid (though not very good) tennis player -- they say "tennis is the sport for a life time" -- but, what happens when those legs may not move as good as they used to???? (I'm not to that stage yet -- but, someday will be).  I used to say -- cannot do this or cannot do that with you since I'm doing tennis -- now, my friends (tennis and otherwise) are used to hearing me say -- nope -- cannot join you today -- need to practice my flute!  My motto now is "music is for lifetime".  At least, when I'm no longer able to move on the tennis court, I'm confident I will still be able to generate some type of sound. And, as I say, music keeps the brain alive and one young! I say it is never to late to take up a challenge of an instrument!
  • The pieces that are played by my present concert band, "Mid America Freedom Band" are much more challenging and I often find myself lagging behind.  I think that much of it has to do with confidence or, the lack there of.  When I bolster my confidence I do much better.  When I'm timid and listen for other more accomplished players, I then faulter even more.  So, I've tried to position myself to the far left of all the other players so I only have myself to depend on for enterences etc...  I agree with BAJ, music if for a life time.  I can't wait to be fully retired when I can dedicate more time for practice.  

    Thanks to all for the words of encouragement!   

  • I'm a former professional trombonist with loads of experience who had to quit playing in the early 1970's due to injury. I've spent the last 30+ years earning my living without music. Now as I approach retirement I've started playing flute for fun and in June I will start taking private lessons at a local community college where learning is free for those 60 years and older. I must admit to a little fear of how it will go. What should that first teacher/student interaction include? Will a classically oriented teacher be tolerant of my jazz roots/experience/& goals (although short term goal would be playing in an adult community band). I know I need to learn good fundamentals and I just hope I can have a good re-pore with this professor and learn and grow.
  • If I had an additional life, I'd be a trombonist. Great to hear of a trombonist swapping to flute though!
    If you can find a teacher who is skilled and you get on well with, then they will of course be open to your jazz background. In fact, they will probably be appreciative of the skills that you have that they may not!
    Good luck with the lessons.
  • The Civic Band I play in, our oldest member just turned 91. He plays trombone.

    And 'axes, we had a gentleman who started with us playing bone. Since there were upwards towards 76 of them, he switched to flute. After a few years, we started vying with the bones for biggest section. Being an engineer, he switched to bassoon (saying it's perfect for an engineer as it's the single most complicated instrument in band!).

    And don't be fearful. Just go in ready to explain your bone and jazz history. Like Jane said, a goo teacher will appreciate the skills you already have.

  • Nice points. To add onto this, in the US musical education has been cut dramatically in the schools. There are fewer opportunities for young people to play. For this reason alone, I can see teachers seeing an increasing percentage of adult learners in their studios. Adult learners have different expectations and issues than younger students. So teachers need to embrace what could be a demographic shift in their studios in order to continue as educators. 
  • edited July 2015
    After getting my degree as a voice major, I was a university choral conductor for 41 years. However, I also played oboe in high school and college and continued playing for another 15 years.

    I retired eight years ago. Now at the age of 72, I bought a Yamaha YFL 481-II (H) flute and will begin studying privately next week. I chose to go with flute to avoid having to make any more oboe reeds.
    I am looking forward to this new challenge and to many years of music making in the coming years.
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