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Music Adults Will Love

When choosing material for an adult student, first consider whether the piece will sound good played slowly.

Most adults practice new pieces at a slow tempo for quite a while. Sometimes they never gain the facility to play a piece at what might be considered ‘”up to tempo.” If the piece is full of passing dissonances that might sound like wrong notes, adults often become confused and aren’t sure whether they’re playing it correctly.

Next, look for emotional depth.

Does this piece say something complex enough to sustain an adult’s interest through the sometimes-lengthy learning process? One of my students, Sandy, a successful microbiologist, explained, “I don’t want to play pieces that I can imagine a little kid playing. I don’t want anything playful. I want something with real emotional depth. I’m attracted to pieces in minor keys because they stir up more turbulent emotions.” Adult students look for something that reflects their own emotional maturity. I search for pieces that appeal to my own emotions. I screen for details like melodies with unusual intervals and harmonies that use suspensions and rich chords.

Here are some pieces that have worked well for my adult students. 

I’ve had great success with Simply Porter, a collection of Cole Porter favorites arranged cleverly-arranged by Dan Coates. My student Judith, (who happens to be the Dean of the School of Education at UC Berkeley – a very sophisticated learner) loved learning these pieces. She’d always loved Cole Porter and was thrilled to find some arrangements that sounded great and weren’t too hard. She’d previously bought a huge Cole Porter book and was disappointed that the arrangements were just too difficult for her. She also enjoyed learning No Worries by Melody Bober, a lightly jazzy, optimistic three-page piece of fun.

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Streabbog: The Orphan 

The continuous eighth notes in the left hand support the melody in the right hand. The melody is soulful without being sentimental. The left hand is written so that blocking the chords isn’t too challenging. It has enough emotional content and interest to keep an adult satisfied throughout the learning process. This piece can be found in Piano Etudes Level 5 – one of the most useful books I’ve taught. I can’t keep enough copies of this perfect collection of early intermediate etudes in my stock. It’s also included in the Essential Piano Repertoire Volume Five.

I gave the piece Twilight from Elissa Milne’s Little Peppers to my student Rich, a hip Law Professor from Stanford University. He was thrilled with its cool, jazzy sound. Here’s a little snippet of the piece to give you an idea of its level and flavor. 

He is the student who inspired me to write Still Blue – the first piece in Attention Grabbers Book Three. Here’s my student Leo playing it.

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Quiet Classics is one of the most useful books in my studio. 


  • It’s organized into “sets” so it can be can used for church services, weddings, elegant parties or restaurant gigs. The key-relationships and transitions from piece-to-piece are seamlessly planned.

  • It includes almost all the best-loved classics that adults want to play.

  • I’ve recorded all the pieces and you can download and listen to them for free here.

  • I give a copy of this book to almost every adult student as soon as they reach an early intermediate level. The recordings give them extra help to learn pieces that might otherwise be just beyond their reach.

For total beginners, or adults returning to lessons later in life, Beginning Piano Repertoire and the other books in the series are extremely useful. The presentation is clean and simple, with no art. 

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