This is the first in a series of interviews with adult piano students. Teri returned to piano lessons in her retirement with the intention of learning to play jazz.
What’s your background with piano?
I studied piano off and on from age 6 through my sophomore year in high school. Then went back to it for a couple of years in my late 30’s. This was all classical training. Now in my studies with you, I’ve been focusing on jazz piano.
What inspired you to return to lessons as an older adult?
I love jazz and wanted to learn about this idiom and, in my fantasy, learn to improvise!
Did you have any fears about the learning process?
Always fears. I’ve never felt I was learning fast enough; somehow I ought to be able to absorb more quickly and remember better. I have never completely conquered my performance anxiety, but I often recalled Pablo Casals once saying that he never got over stage fright. Meditation helps. Also I have had to admit that new learning and memory are more difficult with advancing age.
What has been your biggest challenge as an adult studying music?
The biggest challenge as an adult advanced in age was coming to terms with the changes in ability to learn and absorb. It had been 40 years since I played piano. One remembers (or thinks one remembers) being much more adept in absorbing new learning. This plays to a certain lack of confidence. Though, for me this isn’t new. Also my playing technique when I started studying with you wasn’t good. I had to pay a lot of attention so I could learn to play more fluidly and with better tone. I had no idea how hard it would be to change old habits.
What kinds of musical creativity have you tried?
I’ve been focused on learning the foundations of jazz: chords, chord progressions, voicings, etc. We’ve done a little bit of improvisational playing together on two pianos. I’ve enjoyed that immensely when it was free form and feeding off one another.
How has learning to be musically creative been useful or satisfying?
I don’t know that most would consider learning the foundations of jazz “creative” but it has been very stimulating for me and I loved digging into the details. I could see from this work that arranging would be a lot of fun.
Has learning more about music theory been helpful?
Learning about music theory has been one of the greatest pleasures of my adult life. In all my music education over the years, violin and piano, I had no such training. Having immersed myself in this effort with you makes me realize that not studying music theory from the beginning was a huge loss.
Do you have any tips for adults who are considering studying the piano?
Be curious, be kind to yourself and be happy with the small steps, small victories. Remember that music supports us is many ways: the brain, the soul, our happiness.
Learn more about my online piano lessons for beginners (with a focus on adults).