A common question with a simple answer. It’s never too late but age does make a difference. A fact all beginner adults need to consider is the speed at which young children learn is nothing short of miraculous. In a sense if you started after the day you were born you started late. Our brains are actually at their learning peak when we are born. I am sorry to say that our brain’s rate of learning decreases from birth onwards. If you need further proof just spend a few years with a new born and see how much they develop in those early years. If you want a better understanding read the article from The University of Maine entitled Children and Brain Development: What We Know About How Children Learn.
How good do you need to be?
What this means is as we age we need to work harder to gain the same rewards. For instance if you are in your 50s and intend to be the next Van Halen or Satriani you will definitely have a challenge on your hands. In saying that this should not deter you. If you do quality practice for 4 hours a day you may still very well reach the level of some your best loved guitar heroes. On the other hand if being a virtuoso is not your only reason for learning guitar you may be pleasantly surprised at what is achievable at your current age. Most popular music was written and played by guitar players who were relatively inexperienced. A 3rd year level guitar student could probably play most of the Beatles repertoire if required.
The advantages of starting young.
Research on music learning based on age is still relatively rare compared to the research I have found on learning languages but most neuroscientists agree that music and language are very closely related as they use a similar area of the brain so it’s probably a good place to start. Researchers have found that even before birth humans can hear and take statistics on what they hear. During the first 8 months of life babies compile those statistics and begin to filter out sounds that are statistically low. This is how we develop an ear for our native language and explains why adults retain their native accent even after 20 years of speaking a new language. In the following months and years our ability to learn a new language apparently declines or perhaps a better description would be that our brains focus exclusively on the languages heard and filters out the rest. This is partly why adults have a harder time learning a new language compared to a young child and the same can be said about music. Young children are able to easily and naturally develop an ear for music where adults will find it more difficult but adults should not let this prevent them from learning music.
Why adults of any age should learn.
Youth has its advantages but it does not mean music only benefits the young. The fact is that learning music has substantial benefits for adults of any age. For example learning music is an activity that has been found to delay the onset of age related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Good news for anyone of any age. Of course adults will have to work harder if they want to progress at the same rate as a child over say a 10 year period. A child who does the same amount of practice and who is subject to the same environment doing the same quality of practice over a 10 year period will likely end up more advanced. A good comparison might be sport. If a young child goes to a swimming coach everyday for the next 10 years their chances of competing at the Olympics will be much greater than an adult if aged 40 years old. BUT (and this is a very important but) the adult will still be a very fit 50 year old. The same applies to music. Learning music keeps you challenged both mentally and physically. When you give your self an ongoing challenge like learning a musical instrument you are not only stimulating your brain but playing music is also quite physical.
Learning music is first and foremost about the pleasure it brings.
Learning guitar or any musical instrument for that matter among all ages seems to be on the rise. I have been teaching guitar for 25 years and I cannot remember a time when so many people were enrolling for guitar lessons and adults especially. It is also worth noting that music should first and foremost be studied for the pleasure it brings. When you practice you will improve.When you improve you will experience the joy.
David Hart – Program Director
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