Adult Piano – Online Group

Adult Piano – Online Group

Adult Group Zoom lessons on Tuesday mornings. Take up the piano as a new hobby or pick up where you left it, however many years ago…

Join Joanna on Zoom with other like-minded adults and challenge your brain with the support of your group to keep you going!


How I started my group teaching:

February through to May 2021 and a lockdown which saw 6 dedicated students come together for an hour twice a week with the goal of achieving their Grade I piano. 

Music Network invited the Nation to take up the Grade-1-a-thon Challenge, in aid of the Music Network Instruments for Older People project.  Starting in January 2021 the goal was to enter the Royal Irish Academy of Music Grade 1 in the Summer sitting, learning a new instrument and beating the lockdown blues – raising money along the way!

Pitch & Pulse Piano thought this was a brilliant idea, put together a Challenge Package and put it out there – initially thinking it would be people local to Longford who would respond.  With my Piano Package Challenge getting caught up in the overall Grade-1-a-thon promotion, my reach extended further than Longford, with the majority of participants hailing from Dublin!

The six candidates:

  • National School Teacher who had done some piano when she was younger, and despite being utterly convinced that everything had entirely fallen out of her head, muscle memory seemed to remember some of her scales!
    Also found it to be the most mindful, relaxing break from the pandemic. 
  • Stay at home Mum whose daughters had both started the learning the piano with me using the Dog and Bird method.  As a child she was told that she had “no ear for music”, so even though she would have loved to have learned how to play a musical instrument, she didn’t.  I disagreed with this idea of having “no ear for music” and started her lessons.
  • A Dad whose three sons had been learning with their Mum – Grade VIII pianist – and had started with me to follow up with exams.
  • A retired nurse who had always wanted to play the piano and had started many times but never had the patience to finish a piece properly.
  • A musical mom who thought…if my kids can do it, I can do it!…and found it to be a great bonding experience 
  • A solicitor with absolutely no music experience or knowledge at all but who needed something to survive another lockdown with 3 young boys and both parents working from home. 

Using experience gained from past adult students, they key factors in putting together the Piano Challenge Package were:

  • Timeframe – with the deadline for RIAM exam entry in March, we had to have enough work completed at that stage to decide whether or not to commit to entering.
  • Practise Schedule – some adults, in my experience, are notoriously bad for committing time to practising, so we needed more than once a week to ensure that everyone was playing the piano at least twice a week even if they didn’t get any other chances to play.
  • Dedicated time – Despite lockdown, people are still time-poor. I hate that phrase, I think it’s an excuse and if people want to do something they will make time.  So, I made time for my candidates by scheduling two 1-hour group lessons per week.
  • Speed – factoring in the short timeframe and the need to keep what we were doing engaging I decided to set my expectations of them from the outset and keep the pace going.  By having a barrage of information ready for the first lesson, available for them to refer back to in the student’s page on the website the pressure was immediately on.

I will admit to never having run group piano lessons before.  I could never see how working with different abilities would meet individual requirements.  However, because we were all working towards the same goal, with the same pieces there was less room for falling behind.  Plus, a real advantage, turned out to be PEER PRESSURE!!  No one wanted to be the one holding the others up so everyone really put in the extra effort!

The Schedule had monthly targets and using a selection of material from various methodologies the programme had us starting the first Grade 1 piece, Menuet in A minor, Johann Krieger mid-February, 6 weeks after our start date of 11 January 2021.  By breaking everything down into small sections nothing was too daunting or overwhelming and the moral support within the group really played a significant part in helping everyone to stay the course.

After the initial 3 months everyone had all the scales and three pieces chosen on for the exam and felt they’d be ready for the summer exam.  Weekly sight-reading and theory tests using shared-screen PowerPoint ensured a rounded music education. The aural observation sessions provided much good-humoured laughter for all – no such thing as a non-singer in Ardagh Music Room!!

Lockdown of course meant no in-person exams, everything had to be recorded and uploaded to the RIAM website.  Each teacher had to assess theory, aural and sight-reading and submit their grades for their own students.

The recording sessions at home had to be done all in one sitting, scales and pieces straight through.  Interestingly children didn’t have quite the same outlook to this as adults.  Children would do one or two takes, maybe three depending on the level – but the thought of re-doing scales over and over was off-putting!  Most adults, however, were of the opinion that they could do better than the last, so were recording and recording…  was it a case of better is the enemy of good enough or perfectionism?

I think it’s a good thing to do it over and over then select the one you feel is best.  I wondered how I would approach it if I were doing an exam now – but I’m so last minute, it would be done the morning of the upload deadline so I wouldn’t have a choice!

We were well ahead of schedule and the hour had naturally divided into two half hour sessions with 2 candidates in each session.  For some it had got to the point where pieces were being over-practiced so we recorded and shelved until the upload date and moved on with new pieces.

So, towards the end of July – out came the results!!  Of course, everyone  passed with flying colours:   2 Distinctions (90+), 3 Honours (80+), 1 Merit (70+).  Excellent achievement all round!

What’s more exciting is that after a well-deserved summer break (not from practising though!) everyone has come back to focus on Grade II.

What a fabulous, musical, talented, dedicated gang!!

Previous adult learners:

Mary Fallon

Mary started with me in September 2015, a retired National School teacher she had lots of creative plans to keep her days full.  Although Mary had done music as a subject in her own schooling and taught Primary school music, in her own words, it was rusty and would need complete revision or re-learning! 

To begin with Mary didn’t particularly want to do exams, preferring instead to learn simple versions of songs she knew, such as Amazing Grace, Greensleeves and other pieces we found.  As well as the pieces, Mary was working through scales.  Learning the piano completely from scratch involves using lots of finger muscles that haven’t had to be used before, so plenty of scales practice loosens them up and gets them used to the shape and feel of the piano.  After a few months I felt it was time to give Mary a challenge and enter her for her RIAM Grade I exam. I felt that in giving Mary this goal to aim for not only would she have something specific to aim for, but it would also give her an idea of how much she had progressed and ensure that we were able to keep moving forward.

Over the course of the next 5 years Mary worked through pieces, scales, also developing her theory and aural skills as the exam system required.  The exams ensured Mary was constantly progressing, but she was also developing a large repertoire of own choice pieces in between exams. She was always ready to perform at the Ardagh Music Room Christmas Concerts, over the years experiencing the annual event progress from small numbers in my music room to the larger numbers in the church.

Whilst Mary was coming to Ardagh Music Room for lessons she became a Grandmother for the first time, and several more times over since!  Her sons bought her a fabulous piano for her birthday reinforcing her commitment to playing.  In June last year Mary decided she had achieved what she intended to in coming to me for lessons, she is able to sit down at the piano, choose a piece, learn, and play it.  I am always here if she ever has an issue, but I’m pleased to say she hasn’t, so I must have done something right!

I hope that Mary is enjoying her piano every day and continues to share her enjoyment with her family.

Pádriag Fahey

Pádraig started back playing the piano in 2014, having learned when he was younger but couldn’t remember what Grade he’d reached or what level he was at.  The reason for coming back to piano was that Pádraig had two young daughters and wanted them to grow up with music in the house.

We started with scales, to loosen up the fingers and re-familiarise himself with the piano keyboard.  Working quickly through beginner books and past exam pieces we decided he was about Grade IV level and so that RIAM exam would be our goal.  As a member of An Garda Síochána and having an ever growing family, finding time to practice was always a struggle but the pieces and reading the music came quite easily – catching up with the scales was a big challenge – there are a lot!

Having achieved an Honours in Grade IV Pádraig continued working though, up to Grade VI, when he decided to explore different genres of piano music of his own choosing – particularly enjoying pop, blues and some boogie-woogie!  Throughout Pádraig’s own musical journey his family was growing.  His two daughters began coming to my Early Years music sessions in Longford Library back in 2016 and continue with me today, Mia, the eldest, having just passed her Grade 1 on the piano and Hannah likely to take the exam soon too!  I am delighted to say that during lockdown lessons have continued with the next two siblings, Sean and Conor exploring Dog & Bird during our Zoom lessons.  Mia, Hannah, and a very dapper looking Sean in his bowtie, all contributed to the Ardagh Music Room Christmas Concert.

Pádraig still potters around on the piano with the children, having great jamming sessions – still preferring the blues and boogie-woogie styles.

Louise Walsh

Louise started with me in July 2017 having received a Gift Voucher from her husband Ciarán for her birthday!  In his own words “the gift that just keeps giving”!  As an infant primary school teacher incorporating music in the classroom was an every-day skill and Louise.  She had learned to play when she was at school and was able to play a small bit but wanted more formal, structured learning.

We immediately started working Grade I giving Louise a target goal to aim for.  By entering into an exam, it focusses learning to a timeframe, often finding time to practice as an adult is very difficult with work-life and home-life to balance.  Louise was building a new house at the time with the piano in the family home and a small keyboard in her own home.  Trying to get home to practice on the piano always proved challenging! 

Working through the scales required for Grade I, Louise’s hands and fingers were quite rigid through not having had to be as specifically dextrous as the piano requires.  Daily practice of scales not only strengthens fingers but develops muscle memory and flexibility and the brain is the whole time learning the keyboard and the finger control required to play the piano.

With an excellent Honours pass in Grade I, Louise skipped onto Grade III, then to Grade V and is currently working towards her Grade VI.  Lockdown meant she had limited access to her piano and so had no full-size keyboard to practice on, so last Summer she invested in a digital piano and is practicing regularly for long intervals now – when she’s not putting together her online class videos for her Junior Infants!

Louise is aiming to sit the Grade VI exam in the Summer next year, so plenty of time to polish up her pieces and the numerous scales required for Grade VI.