Friday, March 21, 2008

Why It Is No More Difficult to Learn the Guitar at Age 50 vs 15

One comment I get frequently is “it must have been a lot harder to learn the guitar when you were in your 50s than in your teens.” I have to admit, this is something that weighed on my mind when I contemplated learning the guitar later in life. My experience however was that it is equally hard to learn at age 50 as at age 15.

I found an instructor early on and I had the benefit of observing a beginning player scheduled in the slot before mine. Although he was in his early teens I saw we both had the same issues. We both seemingly had mittens on our hands given our speed and dexterity at the time. We both had sore fingers as we built calluses on our fingertips. We also overcame these impediments at roughly the same rate for about six months until my younger counterpart began pulling away from me.

My first thought was “there it is, he’s got a 35 year advantage on me and it’s finally showing up.” I commented to my instructor one day that his student was really taking off to which he indicated that 9 hours of playing a day will do that for you.

Learning the guitar or golf or any other skill is a matter of storing information in your brain’s neural tissue. The way this happens is through practice. Rocker turned neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin indicates in his book “This Is Your Brain On Music” that 10,000 hours of practice rather than talent is what makes a virtuoso. In fact, reading this book may be one of the best guitar accessories for aging wannabe rockers as it shows the connection between music and brain function and how that is what determines your musical progress vs your physical age.

If you are in average health there is no evidence supporting the assumption that picking up a guitar later in life would be more challenging than earlier in life. It is just a matter of training your brain (practice) and you already have decades of experience doing that.


Ross said...

Don't let age hold you back. The great rocker Chuck Berry is in his 82nd year and still rocking. said...

Yeah, but chords are boring. (Unless you want to form a geezer band.)
So wouldn't one need to learn to read music too?

VintageP said...

Absolutely. I realize I was focused more on the physical elements of guitar playing. Part of learning the guitar is learning the rudiments of music theory, which provides the basis for reading music as well as improvisation. It is still a brain exercise though that works for a 50+ brain as well as a 15 year old brain.

The Piano Wizard Queen said...

Age is never a barried in learning any istrument. What is basically needed is constant, regular practice in order to hone your guitar skills. For those of you who want to learn to play a guitar AND read notes as well, you should try Guitar Wizard. Guitar Wizard is a video game so you'll have lots of fun learning the guitar. Within a month, you would be able to learn to play guitar and by the time you reach the fourth level of the game, you would be reading notes as well. You can learn to play virtually any song with Guitar Wizard. Guitar Wizard is coming out this fall. For updates, please visit the Guitar Wizard website.

JD Campbell said...

To GOINGLIKE60: Check out music that has diagrammed chords, showing the finger positions. Makes chords much easier. Also check out Very handy. Also, I cannot stress enough: learn to play a bar chord, also known as a "movable" chord. I'm 54, and have been playing for 41 years, but I still believe that if someone can do it, so can I. So if I can do it, certainly so can you.

Anonymous said...

I'm Handicapped and have had 7 strokes and a cerebellar infarct, which destroys your ability to remember to some extent.

All I know from this experience is that keeping learning keeps you young, keeps your mind alive, and for me, keeps me alive.

I'm beginning to play better now than I did when I was 18. I practice more now too.

I'm more afraid to stop playing than to play bad.

Hope as you all get older you remember to keep on keepin on. That's what rocks.
Cheers, Gary (GuitarGomer)

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