May 13


Sight and hearing challenges – tips for senior citizens learning piano


May 13, 2021

Article by Kathleen Nicholson and Declan Cosgrove

Health Issues When Learning Piano - senior citizens learning piano 

If you have reached retirement age and you have no health issues at all you are indeed very fortunate, so count your blessings daily. Most people have at least the odd one or two niggling conditions, so it seems right to address some of these, and the effect they may have on your piano playing.

Age related low sight

It is quite likely that the majority of people over the age of about 45 will need spectacles for reading, even if they have never needed to wear them before that age. If it is just reading glasses that you need you may find that reading the music in front of you is not easy. This is because your prescription will have been fixed for reading print at the distance at which you would normally read a newspaper or a book, and that could be nearer to you than the music on your piano. If you find this to be a problem speak to your optician. Some people have a special pair of spectacles just for reading music, which makes life much easier for them.

By the time you reach your sixties and beyond it is quite likely that you will be wearing varifocals, or some people prefer bifocals, but you may find that even these are not ideal for reading music, so again, do discuss the problem with an optician. It might be a good idea to take some music with you when you go for an eye test, and then the optician can see the correct distance that you need from which to be able to read it. He/she can then give you an accurate prescription.

If you are viewing music sheets from an online course like , you have the option of viewing the song sheet on a screen (computer, tablet or mobile), which enables you to zoom in, to increase the size of the music. There are also option on increasing the size of the music when printing it out.

If you are using sheet music books, you should also make sure the notes on each page are large enough. If you look at various copies in any music shop you will find that the size of the printed notes can vary considerably, so if possible avoid any very small music. Music for beginners, and easy versions of songs tend to be bigger anyway, so very small music is unlikely to be a problem for you until you are more advanced.

Age related hearing loss

Age related hearing loss deserves a mention because of the way it might affect your piano playing. It is estimated that 40% of people over the age of 50 have some degree of hearing loss, and that figure rises to 70% for those over the age of 70. Hearing loss is something that creeps up on older people very gradually and usually they are not aware of it in the early stages. Also many people try to hide it when they first become aware of it. They are likely to say that they can hear perfectly well but ‘other people don’t speak clearly these days’, the classic words of those who are not hearing as well as they should.

The reason for this is that hearing loss is not simply about volume, but more about the frequency levels of the spoken words. If you have any age related hearing loss you will probably be missing out on hearing the high frequencies and this is where the consonants are heard. If you are not hearing consonants clearly you will struggle to hear what is being said.

Hearing aids today are often so very discreet that most of the time nobody will notice you are wearing them. What they will notice however, probably even before you are aware of it yourself, is that you are mishearing things that are said to you, often asking people to repeat things, and needing the television turned up uncomfortably loud for other people. These are the things that make individuals appear to be showing signs of ageing, not the wearing of almost invisible hearing aids. In fact almost certainly there will be some people known to you who will be wearing hearing aids, but you have never noticed.

Challenges using hearing aids with acoustic pianos

If you are aware that your hearing is not as acute as it once was, do not worry that you might be tone deaf. It would be very unusual for it to affect your ability to gauge the tones you are hearing, so don’t be afraid to sing or be part of a choir. You can still do that. However you do need to be aware that hearing aids might affect how you hear your piano. In fact it is unfortunate that acoustic pianos are not always ideal for wearers of digital hearing aids.

Digital hearing aids are so sensitive that sometimes they pick up the vibration of the strings as the piano hammers strike them when the notes are depressed. This can cause the wearer of the hearing aids to hear a ‘twangy’ tone, causing the piano to sound as though it needs tuning. It is very unfortunate for those who have a much loved piano to find this is happening. Some people try to wear the more old fashioned acoustic aids for piano playing, but these are extremely difficult to obtain now. They would probably have to be made as a one off for you and would therefore be very expensive, even if you could find some firm that would actually make them for you.

There is no real answer to this apart from admitting that, for hearing aid wearers a digital piano might be a better option. You will find that some experienced piano dealers know this to be the case, and will actually recommend that you try a digital piano to see if this suits you better. If it gives you a more satisfactory sound then do not despise this option, because if the sounds you are hearing from your acoustic piano are uncomfortable for you, you will not have much pleasure in playing it. Remember, playing the piano in retirement should always be fun and bring you joy, not displeasure or frustration.

In recent years, digital piano manufacturers have made improvements in the way their keyboards ‘feel’ and have a range of ‘semi-weighted’ keyboards that mimic the way acoustic pianos feel. Click here for details on digital pianos and keyboards suitable for senior citizens 

Beethoven's progressive hearing loss

Don’t forget you are in good company if you have hearing loss. Beethoven struggled with progressive hearing loss, but wrote some of his finest music when any residual hearing had almost gone. Mind you, he did ruin some good pianos by playing them so forcefully to enable to hear himself, they sometimes gave way under the strain. That is one example you will not want to follow!

Statistics from National Statistics Population Data UK 2018 and Hearing Link UK.

I could read a bit of music and play tunes in my right hand but didn't know what to do with my left hand. 

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At 59 yrs I had never played an instrument and was unable to read music (having tried several times).

Within weeks the DecPlay system enabled me to play songs I love on piano.

It's great that I don’t need to 'read music' in order for me to play and enjoy the piano every day.



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