Can you learn music as an adult? Of course you can. It’s not a question of is it possible or not, the question is how do you learn music as an adult. That’s a very different question that deserves some attention.
Learning to play a musical instrument isn’t a skill that most people learn very quickly. It’s a complex fine motor skill that takes years of concentrated practice to become proficient. Children that acquire this skill almost always have a parent or two that helps them stay with it for many years. Skilled musicians have added up hundreds, often thousands, of hours of practice over the years. As an adult, you need to realize this, and you need to be ready for some work.
The most important thing for any adult who wants to learn music to understand is that daily consistency is the key to success. If you periodically practice, maybe once a week or even every other day, you’ll find your progress to be extremely slow.
Practicing followed by sleep will lead to more progress than anything else you can do. You may say, “Duh, I have to sleep eventually after practicing, so why does this advice matter at all?”
It’s referring to daily practice. The results you get from sleep after practice are more dramatic than the results you get from the actual practice itself. As an example if you practice for one hour one day a week, your results will pale in comparison to if you practice 10 minutes a day 6 days a week.
Practicing for an hour once a week will only net you one post-practice sleep session. Practicing 6 days a week will give you 6 post-practice sleep sessions. Your sleep is more important than your practice, so don’t miss out on capitalizing on your “sleep practice” every night. If this sounds confusing, you need to read “Sleep is the Best Practice” which will show some research and expand on this advice.
Practice For Just 15 Minutes a Day
Are you the type of person that wants to go to the gym and exercise daily, but you have a hard time actually following through? If you’re anything like me, you might get a gym membership and commit yourself to waking up early, or setting aside an hour to go to the gym every day.
When I want to learn something new, or start on a new project, sometimes I’m a bit overzealous. What inevitably happens, though, is I really can’t focus that much time on something on a regular basis.
Maybe the first few days I start out well, but eventually, what always happens is that as my excitement for the new activity wanes, so too does my ability to “find time” to do it.
I don’t think I’m alone in this cycle. So many adults have a hard time “finding time” to practice. In reality, it’s not about finding time, it’s about prioritizing time. If binge-watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix is more important to you than practicing, then that’s what you’re going to do. I could go into depth on how to prioritize your time, but perhaps a more realistic approach is to just commit to less practice every day.
You know that you need to practice every day, so commit to a very small amount of practice. 15 minutes is all you need. Just 15 minutes! If you were to really look through your day and realize how much time you waste watching TV or scrolling through Facebook, you’d find that there is plenty of time to find just 15 minutes a day to practice.
The great thing about practicing so little is it’s not intimidating. Most people can commit to something like this. When you successfully practice every day, it makes it much more likely that your practice becomes a habit. Once you have a strong habit formed, you may want to increase your practice time. That’s great, just make sure that it doesn’t stop you from practicing every day.
Don’t Expect Results Too Soon
Don’t fall into this trap. Adults have a tendency to think that after a few lessons they’ll have enough knowledge to learn on their own. Another common misconception among adult learners is that if you can’t play your instrument well in just a few lessons, somehow you’ve failed.
This is just not true. No one, and I mean no one learns an instrument well without years of practice. Consistency is not just about daily consistency.
It’s about yearly consistency. If you have practiced 15 minutes every day for years, I promise you’ll be good. If you practice 15 minutes every day for weeks, I promise you won’t be good. You’ll get better in those few weeks that you practiced, but if you’re a beginner, you’ll still probably not be good enough to play some of the music that you want to play.
Decide Which Type of Music You Want to Play
You have to have a reason why you want to learn to play an instrument. Motivation is very important when it comes down to learning a musical instrument. Do you want to learn classical, pop, or jazz music? The approach you take, or the teacher you hire, is going to be different with different styles of music. If you have no interest in classical piano, then why in the world would you get a classical piano teacher?
As an adult, you’re likely learning because you want to, not because you want to make a career out of it. It’s important to learn what you want to play then. There are plenty of teachers that teach classical music out there, but there are many that teach pop and jazz as well. Decide on what style you want to learn, and then seek out instruction that will help you learn it.
Listen to Music
Because motivation is so important, you need to listen to the music that you want to play! Even if you are just starting, and the piece you really want to be able to play is too difficult for you to tackle, you should listen anyway. Listening will motivate you to practice.
If you like classical music, but don’t know a whole lot of it, ask your teacher what you can listen to throughout the week. There’s a lot of interesting music out there that I bet you haven’t heard before. The more you listen, the more excited you’ll get about learning your instrument.
Get a Good Teacher
This is really important. Can you learn to play an instrument without a teacher? Sure you can, but it should definitely not be your first choice. A good teacher will make sure you’re not developing any bad habits that will adversely affect your playing. They will make sure you’re not wasting valuable practice time, and they will keep you accountable every week for working through music daily.
When learning a musical instrument, a good teacher is worth their weight in gold.
What If You Can’t Get a Teacher?
Some teachers will say don’t start if you don’t have a teacher. I don’t agree. The argument, like I just mentioned, is that you may develop some bad habits if you practice without a teacher. The idea is, though, that as an adult beginner you’re learning for fun. You’re likely not planning on being a professional performer touring the country. You simply want a new hobby.
That’s admirable, and you can learn a lot on your own. Read everything that you can. Take online courses. Ask a friend with a little more experience to give you some pointers. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn. Again, ideally a teacher is best, but if you can’t afford to take lessons with a private teacher, then Google is your friend.
Learn Your Scales and Arpeggios
With just about any instrument you should really consider spending some time learning scales and arpeggios. If you were to spend 15 minutes every day practicing, you should be able to learn all of your scales and arpeggios in a few months.
Think about your end goal whenever you practice. How will your playing progress once you learn them all? Do you think you would be any better? Of course you would. Music would make more sense to you, and you would be more agile at your instrument. Most adults, and children for that matter, want to focus on what is “fun”. If you only work on fun music, you’ll find progress to be slow.
Learn How to Practice
Everyone should spend time learning, or have their teacher explain, the best ways to practice. This is even more important for adults. If you only have 15 minutes a day to practice, you better make the most out of it. If you haven’t already, you should be reading all of the articles that I’ve written about being a good practitioner.
To be completely honest, very few adults see learning music from beginner stages all the way through being an advanced musician. It’s not because it’s impossible, it’s because life gets in the way. It’s also rare to find someone who goes to the gym consistently every day. It doesn’t mean people don’t do it, you just have to be one of those people who succeed. Be realistic, but work hard and you’ll find that you wake up one day and you’re a musician.
Are you an adult beginner? What have you done to help you practice every day? What has helped you learn your instrument better? What challenges have you faced along the way? Let us know in the comments. Your experience might just be able to help others.