How old is too old to start learning a musical instrument?

Image Credit: Calum MacAulay

Isn’t it too late to learn a musical instrument once you’re an adult? That sounds like a convenient excuse…

Look, nobody said learning a musical instrument was easy. It demands an annoyingly high amount of focus and works your mind and muscles as hard as learning a TikTok dance routine to prove your youth. But does age make a difference when trying to learn a musical instrument?

Don’t be put off starting to learn a musical instrument as an adult, just because you didn’t as a kid and now feel like you’re too old to start. The biggest challenge for adults starting to learn a musical instrument is self-motivation, because learning any new skill from scratch requires great patience.

As an adult, no one’s going to force you to practise. With busy lives, it’s easy to make excuses and quickly forget the guilty feeling of skipping the daily practise sessions because nobody will notice (except the neighbours).

Adults are so used to pressure to do the best they can, whether that be in work or personal lives, that this can hold them back from throwing themselves fully into the task, scared of failing or embarrassed at the thought of being overheard struggling to improve. Yes, it will probably sound horrible to begin with, but everyone has to start somewhere.

There’s the freedom of being able to approach the instrument in a creative way, not restricted by school-like lessons, learning whichever songs and style of music most appeal. The independence of adulthood also offers the freedom to learn whatever instrument takes your fancy, from the banjo to the sousaphone.

(Can’t afford an instrument? Carve yourself one out of a spud.)

There are numerous advantages to learning music after childhood. Adults tend to take a more pragmatic, organised approach to tackling the new challenge – seeing the wider picture, learning the theory, history of the instrument, watching endless YouTube tutorials and performances.

The biggest factor for success is putting in the practise time and working hard at the instrument. A workout for your brain, although it’s true some instruments are considered easier to learn than others. Structure offered by taking music lessons might help – again, being an independent adult means they can go in any direction desired, there’s no right way to learn.

Doesn’t mastering anything new become impossible past puberty as the brain ages? Apparently not. Studies into starting to learn music at an early age “provide little support for a sensitive period for music” and little evidence that “early training has a specific, causal effect on later performance and achievement.”

Besides, learning music is good for your brain. Monitoring a group of over-60 year-olds taking up music lessons saw gains in memory planning ability, and other cognitive functions, compared with those who had not received lessons.

So the answer is, it’s never too late to start learning to play a musical instrument. You’re only as old as you feel.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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