Teaching adult music students

adult music lessons

Teaching adult music students

Adults seeking piano lessons is on the increase. Keeping adult piano students over a long term is difficult. Research suggests adults will stop piano lessons due to dislike of repertoire (Written, 2006).  What strategies can be employed in repertoire section for adult students which will keep these students engaged and motivated over a longer time span?

adult music lessons

Teaching adult music students. Why do adult students drop out so easily?

This requires a quick investigation of adult motivation. The motivation for a task depends on its relevance as well as perched benefits. Adults students tend perceive benefits such as enjoyment, fulfilment and musical skill development.


Self-Efficacy is a factor in the motivation of adult piano students. High self-efficacy is believed to be a fundamental belief in instrumental learning (McCormick et al., 2003; McPherson et al., 2006). Self-efficacy relates to the challenge of the repertoire selected and the perception of success by the student. A high perception of success leads to more persistence and effort. 


Explicit goals and musical tastes are easy to see and evaluate. The difficulty lies in understanding the internal thoughts, processes, and perceptions such as self-efficacy and values beliefs that underlie learning of the adult music student. The key is for the teacher to maximise their understanding of those internal student beliefs to better support and encourage adult students in their learning.

The author (Coutts, 2018) found that adult students tended to only practise repertoire that they liked and were familiar with. The students tended to practice pieces which were relevant to their goals such as exam preparation or repertoire from a favourite style such as jazz. 

Repertoire Selection

Adult students tend to choose repertoire which is above their current skill level and experience. If the repertoire too easy, there is little value in the perceived task and the motivation to practise is low. If the repertoire is too hard, although the motivation to practice is high, the perception of success may dwindle. This leads to low satisfaction and fulfilment, and prevents many students from continuing to try.

The challenge is allowing students to select repertoire which contributes to their sense of self-fulfilment which has to be balanced with the increased autonomy and ensuring repertoire is appreciate for the student’s level. Some increase in difficulty is useful in providing the type of challenge needed for adult students, although it requires careful selection to ensure the challenge is not too far beyond the scope of the student’s skills and ability.

Furthermore, (Coutts, 2018) found some adult students can tend to focus on the learning of notes and rhythms and neglect the development of expression and articulation. This could be described as a technical approach to the perception of success.

Other Issues

Other issues are the selection of repertoire or ‘books’ of favourite styles, which are not pedagogically sound. These types of ‘song books’ are comprised of a range of repertoire, although they are not well-suited to the cumulative development of instrumental skills.

Coutts (2018) found over time lessons increased in discussion about repertoire choice, goals, aspirations, and an increase in time exploring these things together. Expectations and perceptions about abilities can heavily impact motivation of adult students. Discussion and collusion on repertoire selection is vital for continued musical growth.

Ideas of repertoire completion and success may differ when working with adult students. Success comes in many forms. Teachers need to nurture these opportunities for success with adult students, no matter how varied these perceptions of musical success are to those of our own.


Coutts, L. (2018). Selecting motivating repertoire for adult piano students: A transformative pedagogical approach. British Journal of Music Education, 1-15.

McCormick, J. M., & McPherson, G. E. (2003). The role of self-efficacy in a musical performance examination: An exploratory structural equation analysis. Psychology of Music, 31(1), 37-51.

McPherson, G. E., & McCormick, J. M. (2006). Self-efficacy and music performance. Psychology of Music, 34(3), 322-336.


© iteachpiano 2018

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