Is it ever too late to learn guitar?

“Is it ever too late to learn guitar?” is something that a lot of people ask themselves when they’re considering taking up the instrument. Many regret not having learned an instrument at school, or not having stuck it out.

Some worry that they will now find it too difficult. The implication here is that learning to play an instrument is easier for children than adults. Is there any truth to this though?

My view on whether it’s ever too late to learn guitar

Over the years I’ve taught many hundreds of guitarist of all ages. Some had been playing guitar for many years and some were complete beginners. I can honestly say that I don’t see any clear relationship between age and ease of learning.

Some children learn quickly; some more slowly. Some adults learn quickly; some more slowly.

What does make a difference to learning guitar then?

Too late to learn guitar?Far more significant than age is how much time a person is able to put into learning the required skills and material. Adult life is filled with many different commitments whereas most children have a lot more free time. Or at at the very least their commitments are generally optional.

Another factor is how the lessons are paid for. An adult will fund guitar lessons from their own pocket, so depending on their circumstances may feel that they can no longer justify the expense and abandon lessons in order to save money.

Although the same could be argued for a child’s guitar lessons, generally most parents put their kids’ interests before their own.

Benefits of learning guitar as an adult

If it isn’t ever too late to learn guitar, are there there any advantages to learning guitar as an adult? Yes indeed. To start with, adults are generally far better at knowing what they really want than children. Most children try out a  plethora of different hobbies and interests in the space of just a year or two.

If you take up guitar as an adult the chances are that you’ve had plenty of time to think about it. As long as you can put aside the time, and financial concerns don’t interfere too much, then you are more likely to commit to it long term and find the experience a fulfilling one.

Adults know music better than children!Another benefit in learning guitar as an adult is that adults are familiar with a great deal more music than most children are. Being taught music you already know and love is often far more satisfying than the child’s experience of being taught music that they don’t know, by artists that they’ve never heard of.

Even entire styles of music may be unfamiliar to a child. An adult that hasn’t been trained in music or guitar playing, may not be able to explicitly explain what ‘jazziness’ is but almost all adults can recognise it.

Then there is music theory. Music theory is so fundamental in taking a person’s musicianship to the upper levels; and adults have time on their side here too. Many technical concepts in music such as harmony and rhythms require a level of mathematical ability that is beyond most young children.

In this area most adults have a great advantage in that they can get into the inner workings of music with relative ease, rather than having to make do with playing an anonymous series of notes and chords.

For more on why music theory matters read my article ‘‘Why learn music theory?‘.

Positivity and learning guitar

Guitar practice and moraleThere is one more crucial factor that relates to learning, which might affect adults more than children: morale.

Morale and practice are self-perpetuating. When we practise we progress and feel good about what we are doing. With morale high we are then far more likely to clock up still more high quality practise time, and so the cycle continues.

Conversely, if we don’t practise, we become only too aware that we are not progressing and morale takes a nosedive. With morale low, guitar practice feels like a chore that’s done out of guilt, rather than being a life enriching pleasure.

For some adults, if they don’t practise, morale can sink so low that it becomes more appealing to walk away than to continue to feel bad about it. An adult is acutely aware that what they are doing is optional, and is costing them money. So why would they continue indefinitely if they weren’t enjoying the experience?

Things are a little different for a child. A child can be gently pressured by parents into practising their instrument on specific days without anyone getting upset. Deals can be struck to reward good progress.

If poor progress is made for a few weeks most children won’t dwell on it as an adult might. In addition, the child is free from any concerns about expense. Under these circumstances it’s far easier for a child’s morale to remain relatively high, even with only slight progress.

So is it ever left it too late to learn guitar?

I would say no. Whatever age you are, learning the guitar, or any other instrument, is a calming, fulfilling, genuinely life enriching skill that is there for the taking. For most people the question “Is it ever too late to learn guitar?” is simply the wrong question.

You do however, need to find ways to make enough time to practise in order to make progress and keep the negative voices at bay.

A well-structured practice regime and practice log are invaluable tools in this respect. If you don’t have one you can sign up here for a free copy of my ebook on effective guitar practice.

Practice sessions don’t have to be long but make your practice sessions enough of a priority that they don’t keep getting neglected in favour of other things that really could be done at any time.

Don’t have regrets about not having taken up an instrument sooner. We could all feel this way about any new interest or skill we were to take up. As for leaving things too late, does anyone really feel that it’s too late to learn to paint or take up golf or to study history? Of course not, and music is no different.

Whatever your age, if you have a desire to learn guitar, do it now. Don’t leave it for another five years.


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