You’re not a kid anymore, but you’ve always wanted to learn music. Maybe you had piano lessons that you regret quitting as a kid, or maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to sing. Is it too late? Is there no hope? There is definitely hope. You can learn to play or sing really well no matter what age you are.
Although you can learn at any age, there are some things that you definitely should keep in mind.
What Are Your Goals?
The first thing to do is to determine what your goals are for learning music. Do you want a fun hobby that you can do in your spare time? Then you’re not too old. Do you want to play well for the enjoyment of others? Then you’re not too old. Do you want to be a concert pianist that tours the world? If you’re perhaps any older than about 7, then yes, maybe you’re too old.
My guess is that you’re older than 7, but I bet you aren’t looking to tour the world as a concert pianist either.
Why Do Professionals Need to Start Young?
Just in case you did want to make a career out of being a professional musician, let’s discuss why it’s important to start young.
The age that you need to start at to become a professional really depends on the instrument and the style of music you are looking to play. You’ll find that just about every classical concert pianist started younger than 7. Many of these started as young as 2 or 3. If you aren’t interested in classical music, other styles of music are much easier to learn if you had a later start.
Studies how found over and over that young children learn at an accelerated rate. Young children have a lot to learn, from crawling all the way up to learning a language. It’s pretty incredible when you really think about it. You don’t have to teach your kids how to speak but somehow they just learn on their own. Professional classical musicians tend to take advantage of this time with very early music lessons.
Can someone who started when they were a teenager ever catch up? Again, it depends. For piano and violin the best performers start extremely young. Professional wind instrument players typically start a little older, but still pretty young. Popular music is less technically difficult, so the bar is a little lower.
Perfect pitch is the ability to hear a note and identify it without a reference. If you’re not a musician that may not sound like a big deal, but it’s actually pretty helpful. Although no one knows for sure, it seems like it can only be developed by young children. There have been no credible documented cases of adults or teenagers learning perfect pitch.
All hope is not lost though. There are plenty of professional musicians that don’t have perfect pitch. It is not a requirement. You can have a good ear for music without it. Realistically, though, it is an advantage, at least for early learning.
Becoming a Professional is Not Practical for Adults
Although it doesn’t happen often, serious children, especially teenagers and college students, practice their instrument for sometimes 4 or more hours a day. These young students also had the benefit of starting lessons very early with that advanced learning capability. If you’re an adult, it’s unlikely that you have 4 hours a day to practice, and even if you did, it would still take years to catch up with kids that did that when they were very young.
If you wanted to devote that much time to practicing, and more for studying, for say 20+ years, then yes maybe as a teenager or adult you could get to the point of professional playing. As far as I know, though, it hasn’t happened before. It hasn’t happened for at least instruments like the piano and violin. It’s just not practical to put that kind of time and energy into something that doesn’t pay you anything.
Taking a Few Lessons is Not Enough
A common misconception with music lessons is you can just take a few lessons and that’s all you need. I’m often asked, “How many lessons will I need?” The answer is a lot. Think years and years. The music you want to play is going to take a while to get to. You need to learn the basics of your instrument, the basics of reading music, and a lot more. It’s hard. I’m trying to be realistic, not discouraging.
With that said, if you practice, you’ll see a lot of progression and you’ll be able to play music that you enjoy much faster. If you make a long-term commitment to lessons, you are much more likely to succeed than if you just plan on taking a few lessons.
Finding Time to Practice
You will not get any better without practice. Period. One lesson a week and no practice equals zero progress. Music is a learned skill. You have to practice often. You should try to practice every day, or honestly you’re throwing your money away on lessons that will do nothing for you.
How long should you practice though? The more the better. I would say at bare minimum you should try to put in 15-20 minutes of practice a day. You’ll get better if you practice that much. It will be slow, but you’ll progress. A half hour to an hour would be even better though. Put your TV remote down, and do something better with your free time! Think of where you’ll be in a couple of years with an hour of music practice a day. You’ll be pretty good. Really, you’ll surprise yourself.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Anyone can learn. As long as you have normal physical control of your hands, and you’re mentally healthy, there’s nothing that is stopping you. Just because practicing seems to be hard for you, doesn’t mean you are incapable of learning music. It’s hard for everyone. Adults struggle, teenagers struggle, kids struggle, and professionals struggle. Those who work through the difficulties are those that reap the rewards.
Don’t Underestimate the Rewards of Music
Now I may have scared you off. That wasn’t my intention. I want you to realize that playing music is ridiculously rewarding. Imagine getting home from a hard day of work, and instead of reaching for your computer to look through Facebook, or reaching for your remote to binge watch another series on Netflix, you can sit down with your instrument and play beautiful music. Wouldn’t that be amazing? You don’t know how great yet either because you haven’t done it before.
Playing an instrument relieves stress. It helps you get your mind off of difficulties in your life. Music has such restorative power that it’s even used as medical therapy for those with special cognitive, emotional, social, or physical needs.
The point of writing this article wasn’t to discourage you from learning an instrument if you’re an adult. I think it’s important to understand reality though. You need to understand the difficulties of taking music lessons as an adult, so that you can overcome them. Be ready for them, so you don’t have to go down the same road as most adult students. You can learn. You can be good. You can impress your friends and family. You can have a fun and uplifting hobby. Maybe you can even get a gig or two and make a couple bucks playing. It’s possible with practice and hard work.