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How to Motivate Adult Students

Whether it is to fulfill a life-long dream, relieve stress, or pursue an interest, more adults are taking music lessons these days. Teaching adults can be a completely different journey from teaching children; there are many differences, some of which are handled by the method books you choose, but here we'll focus on motivation and communication. In this article we discuss these areas of difference and also offer tips and secrets to deal with some of these challenges.

In this article, I sat down with three music teachers to get their thoughts and experiences on the topic.


We have to make sure we are encouraging and motivating to both our adult students and our child students. I have found certain things help me when instructing adults. When trying to motivate adults:

  • Emphasize how specific skills can be a part of their every day life. Adults are practical and goal oriented (playing for their children and grandchildren can be a great goal to strive for).
  • Encourage further exploration and investigation in their craft (adults have the ability to dig a little deeper than children).
  • Create an experience, not just a lesson. There is a reason why they are picking up music at a later age, make it worthwhile.

“Most adults are self-motivated to learn music. I think teachers should find a way to meet their adult students where they are, and encourage added motivation - even in the simplest form. For example, if your adult student loves Journey, you could suggest learning a few Journey songs on their instrument so they could show off to all their friends at the next family party.” – Alfa Garcia (Piano Teacher)

“A child can be motivated by multiple things. If they see a teacher performing on stage, the “cool” level just went up in their book and that’s all some of them need. Others need to know when they get to play the drum set instead of just a snare drum. They see the end goal so they work harder. With adults it is a little different. A lot of it is self-motivation. You can only tell them so much, but they have heard it all before. They are older, wiser, set in their ways. But it does help to remind them that you went through the same process, just at a younger age. For adults, I always recommend go seeing your favorite band perform.” – Kevin Jimenez (Drum Teacher)

“Motivation in adults is a bit more focused. There is a clear understanding of what is expected of themselves primarily and so they are either in or out. Kids are a little more unfocused and are more invested in just showing up for their parents/teacher sake. There aren’t clear expectations of self and more invested in pleasing teacher/parent.” – Krystle Tugadi (Voice Teacher)


Communicating with adults and communicating with children can be different when it comes to teaching. Adults learn differently, so the approach in teaching should also be altered. Everyone learns and communicates differently and you should always try to gauge this and try to adapt your teaching methods to each student. But in my experience I have found some similarities in many adults.

  • Encourage them to question - to keep them engaged. If one of their main reasons for taking up a musical instrument is to feel a sense of community and interaction, make sure the social aspect of learning is there.

"I think it's only natural to communicate with adults differently. Kids don't respond to overly complex language. Also, kids will need different analogies (one I like to use is the metaphor of "vegetables" when I'm talking about scales or technical exercises that are necessary and helpful, but a little boring." – Garcia

“I have to be more encouraging with the young ones and remind them that I went through the same process. With the adults I can laugh more because they are also laughing at their own mistakes.” – Jimenez

“Communicating with adults is easier, straight forward as they are a little more aware of their bodies and because of more life experience. Image understanding is a little more attainable as well. An even dance between playful and practical exercises has been useful. With kids, play and more grandiose imagery to understand the capacity of what their bodes can do has been vital. It keeps them engaged and allows for more doors to understanding functionality of practice.” –Tugadi


There are some challenges in teaching music lessons that is specific to adults.

  • Although some adults can be more motivated because no one is forcing them to be there, some adults don’t have as much time to practice. Maybe they still work full-time jobs, or they are busy with their kids, some adults only practice when they can.
  • Some adults are never pleased with their improvement or their work in progress. This can be for many different reasons. But if they took music lessons as kids, maybe it was the way they were taught. Maybe the idea of being “punished” because of their mistakes is engrained in their heads. *We should also keep this in mind when we’re teaching our kids today.

“In my experience, many adults arrive at lessons feeling that they already know many of the skills they need to learn. The challenge is in getting the adult back into that ‘blank slate’ state of mind, so they can start building technique from square one, rather than being informed by what they already know. Another challenge is time. Many of my adult students work and/or have young children, so it can be difficult for them to focus during lesson and to find time to practice.” – Garcia

“The main challenge is their patience. Their mind already knows what they have to do but their body is still adjusting to the new mechanics. They have an understanding of everything, which can make them frustrated very easily. Another thing I have noticed in my lessons is they will try to play it extremely fast. Kids already try to do this, but learning quickly is not the right way. Adults keep doing it due to being stubborn. Another thing is their practice. They have work, kids, etc. So practicing is very limited. So when they come to lessons, sometimes we are practicing the material there a lot of the time.” – Jimenez

“The main challenge with adults is getting them to be open to the idea that ‘teaching an old dog new tricks’ is not always true. They can learn new tricks if they open themselves to it. “ – Tugadi


Every student is different, and you should always try to cater to every individual’s needs. But in my experience, there are certain tips that apply to many of my adult students.

  • Be extra encouraging. Many adults have not taken classes in years. This can lead to some apprehension. Show that you are there for support.
  • Treat them like adults. Sometimes we coddle our younger students. We all can be sensitive at times. Never make your adult students feel like you’re talking down at them.
  • Be flexible. Introduce different options in material or in the way they are taught (adults like to be in control of their learning, so give them that possibility).
  • Be efficient. Most adults are busy with work and their families. Make the most of their time.

_“Have a discussion early on about their goals and what they'd like to gain from lessons. This ensures that they get what they want from their time with you, and it'll help you tailor lessons as needed. As an instructor, you also have to be realistic about your adult student. Many of them aren't looking to become a concert pianist or professional vocalist; many times they just want to learn a skill that they missed out on in their youth. The trick is to find the balance between keeping lessons essential and worthy of their time, and finding a way to let music fit into their busy schedules. Keep in mind that adults usually have busy lives with families and demanding jobs. The ones who take the time to seek out musical instruction have already made a decision to dedicate time to music, even if they struggle with finding that regular practice time at home.” – Garcia

“Make the lessons fun. The first few will be a little boring, because they need to have some basics. I have a book with many play alongs. Sometimes learning songs brings more results with adults. They realize what they need to work on and practice the material given to them.” – Jimenez

“My tip for teaching adults is using real world application approaches and image work.” – Tugadi

If you are a teacher with both child and adult students, Better Practice has many features that are enjoyable for all. And it isn’t just a practice and assignment tracker; it’s the best motivational tool.