It’s a question that you may have caught yourself asking every now and then:
“Could I play an instrument, too?”
And I bet your answer comes pretty quickly and is some variation of:
“No, I’m probably too old.”
And thus ends the conversation, at least until the next time the question comes up, at which point the same answer is given, shutting down the conversation again. Well, let me break the news to you - YOU CAN!! Seriously. That’s not just a trite music teacher cheerleader you-can-do-anything voice. You truly can learn to play an instrument or return to an instrument you haven’t played in decades. Here are three examples from my own studio - can you identify with any of them?
Student A - My oldest beginner was 62 when he started playing saxophone. We started from scratch, I mean a completely blank canvas. Not only had he never played saxophone, but he had never played any instrument. One day one, we learned how to put the instrument together, how to make the first sounds, and started on how to read music. After we had been working for a few months, he started bringing in books of music that he saw in the store that looked interesting to him. I didn’t have to work to find material to keep him engaged - he saw to that himself. Was he of professional caliber? Not at all, but then, most people in their 60’s are not seeking to launch a career in music. Playing saxophone was something he thought would be fun to do, and he did enjoy playing for himself, his wife, and a few friends.
Student B - A few years back, I had a new adult student that started taking lessons because she wanted to play with her middle-school aged son. She had played clarinet through high school, but had stopped afterward. A lot of life had happened between high school and parenting a pre-teen, some of which affected her physically. So not only was she coming from a 15 to 20-year separation from the instrument, but her body just did not remember how to do some very integral (even everyday) things. Playing clarinet became not only a fun outlet for her, but a way to connect with her son, and it turned out to be both mentally and physically therapeutic for her, too. She was a solid player, and I invited her to play in a couple low-pressure adult ensembles.
Student C - One of my favorite adult students still comes to see me in my studio every week. She started taking clarinet lessons with me after a FORTY year hiatus from the instrument. Forty years beforehand, she had put her instrument in its case and tucked it away, not to be opened again until her cheerful face sported wrinkles and all of her hair was silver. She had played through high school and into college, though she was not a music major. When she started with me, she was curious to see if she could play again and to see if there was any rekindling of the fondness she had for the instrument so long ago. So, she took her clarinet to the repair shop and had it put back into playing condition, and then started practicing. I’ve got to tell you, she’s an absolutely fantastic student. No joke. To the point that after a while, I convinced her to audition for a local ensemble as a substitute player, and they took her as a full-fledged section member on the spot!
So, you can see that adult students can come in all ages and musical backgrounds. Change some of the details, and one of these could be similar to your own story. Learning to play an instrument can be done, and to a high skill level. You are not too old. But the process will be a little different than it is for children. Understanding what those differences are will help make your learning more successful. In the next post, we’ll look at what you can do to make playing an instrument more rewarding for you as an adult.