The Recreational Adult Piano Student: Experiences from the “Recreational Music-Making” Movement

This guest blog post about recreational adult piano students was written by Doug Hanvey, a piano teacher based in the USA. Like myself, Doug has many years’ experience teaching adults and here shares his thoughts on the ‘Recreational Music-Making’ (RMM) movement.

One of the most interesting trends in American music teaching over the past 25 years is “recreational music making,” or “RMM” for short.

While “recreational music making” has surely existed as long as there have been music teachers and students, RMM was formally conceptualized and differentiated from “serious” piano pedagogy in the late 1990s, when music product manufacturers began considering trends that might impact their bottom line. They took note of surveys suggesting that most baby boomers wanted to learn to play an instrument. But rather than the “serious” motivations associated with traditional music instruction, they recognized that adults were more likely to be seeking “recreational” (i.e. “for fun”) instruction that would not only be enjoyable and help them achieve their musical goals, but also improve mood, reduce stress and burnout, and provide a welcome break from the demands of modern life.

Once defined, RMM soon took on a life of its own. Additional principles were soon formulated by music educators, including:

  • Everyone – not just the “talented” – should have the opportunity to learn to play an instrument.
  • Studying a musical instrument can be a social experience – adults are more likely to have fun and stay motivated when learning in a group setting.
  • Learning an instrument need not involve performance or adjudication requirements, extremely high teacher expectations, etc.

In the United States at least, RMM has now become popular enough to warrant an annual slate of presentations at the American Music Teachers National Association Annual Conference. 

Piano keys

RMM: Thoughts for Piano Teachers

If you’re a piano teacher, do you already teach recreational piano lessons to adults? Or maybe you haven’t yet, but you’ve thought about it? Here are some potential benefits (learn more about teaching piano to recreational adults):

  • Adult students can provide an additional source of income during daytime hours when children are in school. My personal experience is that in our new, hyper-virtual world, with more adults working from home and more in charge of their work schedules, adult students are freer than ever to take lessons and classes during the day.
  • For those who enjoy teaching children but don’t particularly enjoy dealing with behavioral or motivation issues, recreational adults offer a lower-stress teaching experience, as students are mature and 100% self-motivated.
  • Group lessons (if you don’t already offer them) potentially offer a higher level of compensation per hour than private lessons.

RMM: Thoughts for Piano Students

If you’re a prospective recreational adult student and have despaired at finding a piano teacher who enjoys (let alone specializes in) teaching recreational adults, don’t give up: such teachers are out there, although they may not use the term “recreational” or “RMM” on their website or other marketing materials. Here are some things to look for:

  • Their website and/or other marketing materials mention “adults.”
  • They may offer group lessons (though many don’t).
  • They highlight personal qualities such as patience and flexibility.
  • It’s clear you can learn at your own pace in an undemanding atmosphere.
  • They’re likely to teach both classical and popular styles.
  • They may offer creative instruction in composition or improvisation (this may be a little harder to find, however).
  • Recitals, adjudications, etc. aren’t required. Some teachers may instead offer events like “wine and cheese playing parties” in which playing is completely optional – but perhaps more likely after the wine!

RMM: My Experience

My music teaching career has focused on recreational adults, although I’ve rarely used the term “recreational.” While RMM as defined surely describes the approach of many teachers, I believe it exists on an even wider spectrum. For example, I’ve never taught group piano, yet have rarely wanted for adults interested in private lessons.

My experience has also differed in that many of my students don’t fit the RMM student as typically defined. Quite a few have been younger adults, and while many have studied for personal enjoyment, others have had more serious goals. I’ve had students who have wanted to master the piano in order to become music teachers themselves, to perform professionally, to record their own albums or produce other people’s music, to write film scores, etc. That said, many of my students have matched the RMM model: the older adult simply seeking an opportunity to relax, a hobby outside of work, or a way to keep their brain active in retirement.

Whether you’re a teacher of recreational adults, or a recreational adult student, or new to these ideas altogether, I hope this brief introduction to the concepts and trends of the American RMM movement will be useful in your approach to teaching or studying piano. 

Doug Hanvey offers piano lessons for adults in the United States.

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The Recreational Adult Piano Student:  Experiences from the “Recreational Music-Making” Movement