Photo by Alex E. Proimos

Forever Young: It’s Never Too Late to Learn an Instrument

Photo by Alex E. Proimos

You’re in your car, stopped at an intersection, and glance over to see a young, beautiful teenage couple in a red convertible, laughing, smiling, and presumably taunting you with their youthful future of endless possibilities. In your minivan, now with 299,000 miles on it, you brush the stale crumbs off the passenger seat, glance in the rearview mirror to find a few more gray hairs, and think, “Has life passed me by?”

Too often in my conversations with others, I hear, “I wish I had learned an instrument when I was younger,” “I always wanted to play the violin,” or, “I wish I were musically talented.” Well, for one, as we have established in previous posts, good musicianship has more to do with practice than innate talent. And here’s the other half of the story–the big secret if you will: you’re never too old to become a musician. You may think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but it’s far from impossible.

We’ve all heard of virtuosic performers who started playing before they could even tie their shoes or read. Joshua Bell started violin lessons at age four. Yo-Yo Ma similarly started on the cello at age four, but only after he studied violin and viola for a time. Hilary Hahn began violin one month before her fourth birthday. So it seems that four years old is the magic number to begin playing. But is that really true? If we didn’t start learning at age four, is it not even worth trying?

Answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT

There are plenty of professional musicians who picked up their instruments later in life. But keep in mind that you don’t have to be a professional to enjoy music as an important part of your personal development.

Photo by Dierk Schaefer

Plenty of research supports the benefits of not only listening to, but playing and practicing music as nourishment for the mind and body. Playing music releases stress, rejuvenates and excites unused areas of the brain, and boosts confidence and one’s sense of accomplishment. There are plenty of reasons to play music beyond cashing a check or autographing programs at intermission.

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For adults learning music for the first time, here are a few pointers to remember as you pick up a new instrument:

1. Methods for teaching children are not the same as methods to teach adults. For children, whose gelatinous brains are still growing, musical connections are often formed from scratch in their developing minds. For adults, we use the brain power and synaptic connections we already have to understand new concepts. So if you’re an adult returning to an instrument you played as a child, you may approach it differently this time around.

2. Practice is necessary. Your mom isn’t going to ground if you if you don’t practice or take away your iPhone until you perfect that movement. Simply reading about or watching YouTube videos about your instrument won’t do the trick either. Without that “adult figure” to push you along, adults often don’t take the initiative to practice as often as children do. They don’t attend music classes at school everyday or have the external discipline or academic requirements that demand so many minutes or hours of practice per week. So be sure to set some goals and give yourself a little time to step away from the demands of your day to enjoy a little bonding time with your instrument.

3. Be patient with yourself. Even for children, it takes years and years before sounding “good,” especially on a stringed instrument. Don’t give up if you don’t sound like Itzhak Perhlman after two private lessons or a few afternoons of practice. Relax and enjoy the learning experience, keeping realistic expectations for yourself.

4. Learn some theory. If you don’t read music, don’t be overwhelmed by the prospect! Learning to read the musical staff is similar to learning a foreign language. Challenging, perhaps, but very worthwhile! Consider music theory and the musical staff to be your building blocks for your musical foundation.

5. Find a teacher. Trying to learn an instrument by yourself and without guidance quickly leads to frustration and quitting. Find a teacher, friend, or mentor who will encourage your progress and provide you with the technique necessary for success.

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Now that you’re ready to finally embrace that long-lost dream to pick up an instrument, give us a call! At Kennedy Violins, we are always happy to help. From finding the right instrument for you to learning the basics of rosining a bow to choosing accessories, we are here for you. And as you progress, let us know how it’s going!

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