It’s Never Too Late To Learn How To Play An Instrument | Coursera Community
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It’s Never Too Late To Learn How To Play An Instrument

  • 10 August 2019
  • 11 replies

  • Music Community Leader
  • 768 replies
We usually think of learning how to play a musical instrument as something children do. Those adults who already play one, have usually played their entire lives.
For those courageous adults who have decided to learn to play an instrument recently, what have some of your challenges been?
Would you recommend everyone to learn how to play something as an adult?
Anyone thinking about playing an instrument but afraid to try it?
Please share your thoughts about being an adult and learning how to play a musical instrument.

11 replies

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I've started learn piano at 30+. Why not?:) Most difficult to me is play with two hands at the same time.
I would not recommend everyone. Just do it if you want to, as I did
Two years or so ago at the age of 75, I decided to start playing the recorder. My first instrument cost just £18 courtesy of Ebay, which was also the source of secondhand tutors - incredibly just slightly more modern versions of publications I could dimly remember from my school days. After a couple of months and able to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep and simple scales I joined a local recorder group.

My first encounter did not go well. I turned up 30 minutes late, and as one, 25 ladies stopped playing and stared - unable to believe the sudden appearance of a man in their midst, let alone one clutching his newly acquired tenor recorder. "Just play the first note in each bar until you get the hang of it," the group leader airily admonished me. Yes but first try and find which bar. I endured an hour or so of torture while playing hardly a note.

During the coffee break I was approached as if I was a recently landed alien. However, I dutifully turned up once a fortnight for the next few months during which time I learnt the names of my newly acquired companions, but not a lot else, although I did start to follow what was going on even if I couldn't play much of it. Many times I asked myself what was I doing there undergoing self-inflicted torture.

Gradually however, by practising every day, I became able to play the simple parts of pieces, although as the repertoire was always changing I was constantly presented with new challenges. Now two years further on I play with two other groups as well as with ad hoc gatherings in group members' houses. I've also started to play a bass recorder (different fingerings AND a bass clef).

To anybody of any age, but especially those of more advanced years who might think that the time for new pursuits was passed, I can offer one or two words of advice and encouragement. The key to learning any instrument is PRACTICE - set aside an hour every day. It doesn't matter how old you are, your fingers and brain can cope with learning something new quite easily as long as you persevere. And it will increase dexterity and hand/eye coordination.

Secondly, learn the language of music. You can find courses of basic music theory easily on Coursera.
Learning the language and jargon of musicians means you don't feel alienated when talking to other musicians.

Lastly and probably the most important - play with other people. they will give you the support and help you'll need when you feel like giving up - and you'll make new friends, at any age.
@aaaz , how inspirational to have started the piano! I agree, two hands is quite the challenge. Sometimes I “cheat” and just play the chords or root of a chord in my left hand so it sounds more impressive if I play the melody of a song with my right hand.
It’s certainly a challenge to have to read two different clefs too!
You need to feel so proud of yourself for doing this, I hope you “persevere” as @Vernon suggested. Practice really works, even if it is frustrating at times. For some reason even if I feel I couldn’t play well one day, like magic, the next day it is often better.
@Vernon , your story really moved me! To begin with, playing recorder is one of my favorite instruments to play. It’s lightweight, easy to take everywhere and sounds so beautiful. I love playing Renaissance music and have acquired quite the collection of music from that era.
Last spring I performed with an Early Music Ensemble. A few pieces called for tenor recorder which I needed to learn. The finger spread was challenging and I needed to practice many hours to get all the notes, especially the lowest ones. So to hear that you not only picked up a recorder to play, but a tenor recorder is so impressive!!! It does have a beautiful, mellow tone and is a pleasure to listen to when you practice. ( I once taught myself the oboe and almost got divorced, LOL)

I hope your story inspires others to play an instrument, at any age!
The description of your first ensemble meeting was so amusing. I could just picture the expressions of the ladies as they were confronted by not just a new musician, but...a man too! It’s so wonderful that you persevered and continued, and didn’t run away!

Your advice is excellent.Practice is most important to getting better and enjoying playing. And finding people to play with is the best motivation! Thank you so much for such an uplifting story and discussion.
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I specialize in beginning music lessons for adults. One of my students is 81 years old. She was talking ukulele lessons from me and one day said to me that she wanted to start learning more about music theory. We added music theory to her weekly lessons. She has an unbelievable work ethic. Practices and if she doesn't understand or forgot something, between lessons, she'll call or email me. I had another student, in his mid-60's that came to me for both instrument and theory. I've posted numerous articles, on my educational Facebook page and wrote about it in my blog, about the benefits of adults, especially older ones, learning how to play. Never, every stop learning and using your brain. I'm in my mid-60's and I'm going to be starting drum lessons in the near future. Something I always wanted to do.
Aside from a few self made disasters trying to teach myself guitar out of a Mel Bay book, I didn't really pick up guitar seriously until I was about 27. In some ways I wish I had started much earlier, in others I think maybe I wouldn't have had the focus and concentration when I was younger. We'll never know, I guess.

I don't know how many of you remember the old Mel Bay books, but if you do you will likely get a laugh out of this song:
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@Halla I remember them. I still have them in my collection.
I used the Alfred series, also quite boring for a kid!
I have been tinkering on the keys of a piano since i was 3 yrs old. I am now 56 and I play by ear. I compose music and write songs for six choirs. My fear is learning notes and everything that ive missed all these years. I have made several attempts to get a private tutor to teach me. For some reason i havent been able to complete it. I do want to learn to play in all the keys. It seems complicated because i've been doing it the wrong way for so long. I don't read notes. I love listening to classical music, jazz piano and many other genres. I play gospel and but would love to learn to play and write other genres.
@Aunt Laura There are a couple of fundamentals of music theory courses on Coursera. I haven't looked in to them myself, but being self paced they might be of some help in your learning to read and write notation.
It does seem complicated when it seems that you have to relearn everything, but I suspect that a lot of it will be just simply learning the names for what you have been doing all along. And some of it will indeed require new ways of doing things.
I know I started with classical guitar, which does have very specific ways of holding your hands and fretting and picking. I hadn't thought that i was that immersed in it, but I have been learning blues styles lately and many of the things that I need to do to fret a chord or pick the strings just seem jarringly wrong to me because I learned another way. Anything requiring the thumb over the neck to fret, for instance, and I have been having a hard time with palm muting with the fret hand because it feels 'out of position' to me. I am, however, slowly getting it. Just keep working on it, I think is the key.
And we seem to be about the same age. As another friend of mine puts it, is it too late to learn something new -well it will only get later if I wait.
Good luck with it. And if you look into those Coursera music classes, do, please, let us know how you find them.
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@Aunt Laura you have the desire to learn so go with that. I'm finding that most adults our age, and you and I are about the same age do have a little bit of fear about trying something new. Just remember you are doing it for yourself. @Halla suggestion about a theory course is a good one. I've taken the theory course from the University of Edinburgh and the four course specialization in Developing Your Musicianship from Berklee. Great courses. There are also great instruction books on playing piano or returning to the piano written specifically for adults. Might want to look into those too. They include theory. Just a note, I've already mentioned my 81 year old student but I have a new student, that just started last month. He's 59 and always wanted to learn to play both the piano and guitar but he's starting out on the piano. Finally living the dream. He's doing great and really into it. Enjoy the journey and go for it.