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learning an instrument
Old 8th May 2012
  #1
Gear Nut
 

learning an instrument

I want to learn an instrument, but I'm worried it might be too late to become proficient. Ideally I'd like to learn piano and guitar but I'm already 17 (almost 18) years old.

I begged my parents for a guitar back when I was like 8, we got a classical one and I started learning classical guitar and hated it...quit after a year. Then at the age of 12 I picked up the piano and kept at it for two years, reaching a pretty good level (I remember my teacher being impressed at how quickly I progressed). Unfortunately I become lazy and quit, now with the summer ahead I'm thinking about trying to properly learn an instrument.

The problem is I heard it's difficult as an adult because the neurones in your brain grow at a much slower pace...and that's supported by the fact that there are almost no famous musicians who started as adults. Which is pretty de-moralizing if I want to learn not one, but two instruments.

I don't need to be a virtuoso, but I'd like to be good enough to play in a band (on top of being able to use my skills on my production work). Should I stick to piano/keyboards or learn both piano and guitar? Over the summer I'll be able to play several hours a day, but by September it'd be something like half an hour a day. Is it worth it? Any examples of musicians who started over the age of 18 would be really encouraging too.

People say play for fun anyway, and I would have fun playing but I'd consider it a waste if I could never get really good. I could spend that time learning to mix/master properly, or learning music theory and just basic keyboard skills.

Thoughts? (sorry for the long post)
Old 8th May 2012
  #2
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gainstages's Avatar
Longtime musician and sometimes music teacher here. Yes you learn more easily when you are younger but you are still plenty young. Just go for it - there is no reason you can't become reasonably proficient in multiple things. Don't listen to the naysayers
Old 8th May 2012
  #3
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guitarmax_99's Avatar
 

I agree. Go for it. You have lots of time to go after it if you want.

Two thoughts about being an older beginner.

1. Be patient. It won't happen overnight. Obviously the more time you put into it, the better you get.

2. Be gentle with yourself. Learning an instrument can be very frustrating at first. Stay the course, practice the fundamentals and it will pay off. But be mindful of negative self talk. One of the toughest things about coming to an instrument as an adult is that we tend to fill their minds with a lot of negative self-talk (esp. when we aren't good at something). Be mindful of it. When you start to have negative thoughts, recognize them for what they are (just thoughts) and keep practicing. Interestingly, kids don't "beat themselves up" as much as adults (I've taught both, I know). Kids just keep working on stuff - they are fine with the idea of being a beginner at something. You have to be fine with the idea of being a beginner (if that makes any sense).
Old 8th May 2012
  #4
The whole 'you learn better as a kid' is BS. I took piano at 7 for about a year, hated it and learned only a little. Took it up again at 17 and played seriously for about 3 years (I'm primarily a guitarist) and learned a lot very quickly in that time. Unfortunately I haven't played in about 16 years, but I just started refreshing myself on it. I remember probably 75% of what I learned then, and I'm flying through certain things because I'm able to conceptualize about them when I'm away from the keyboard. I also am more mature now and practice to my weaknesses instead of my strengths. Just go for it, its not too late, just enjoy the learning process and don't expect to get really great right away or you'll get discouraged and quit.
Old 8th May 2012
  #5
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sn0rk's Avatar
 

Dude, go for it! In 10 years you'll be shredding like EVH.. banging chicks left n right! I kid, I kid.

Sent from my ADR6300 using Gearslutz App
Old 8th May 2012
  #6
Gear Nut
 

would it be better to focus on one or try learning both?
Old 8th May 2012
  #7
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prizebeatz1's Avatar
I think you should stick with one. I just quit playing piano a few months ago after about playing for 5 years. Please please please make sure that you are not doing it to impress yourself or anyone else. Go where your heart leads, follow your instincts and you cannot go wrong.
Old 8th May 2012
  #8
Gear Nut
 

You're never too old to learn an instrument. It depends on how much time you invest in learning. After playing guitar for 20 years, I decided to start learning the congas, at the age of 40. I have no grand dreams of playing in a top-notch band. I play music for myself, and I have a lot of fun.
Old 8th May 2012
  #9
Wes montgomery one of the greatest jazz guitarist ever started playing guitar at the age of 19 years old.

Dont worry about your age at all. Below are some tips that will fast track your learning.

#1 take some lessons and get some gigs or playing opportunities.

playing out is the fastest way to learn how play because it kicks your butt into gear to practice.

#2 Get to know some musicians who are better than you or really great. This will also up kick up your learning level.

#3 Play ever day, get into a routine.
Old 8th May 2012
  #10
Here for the gear
Take it from someone who's been where you've been....don't give up! I'm 38 and now learning my 3rd instrument, guitar. Many times I felt frustrated and inadequate but i kept moving forward and i'm glad I did. It's something that you can enjoy the rest of your life!
Old 8th May 2012
  #11
Lives for gear
Guitar is great. Im a long time guitar teacher.

However, if you're gonna get into producing, then piano is where its at.

Arranging, analyzing, writing, transposing, theory breakdown, the piano
is king.
Its all there in black and white. Piano players have such a complete harmonic understanding.
Old 8th May 2012
  #12
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I didn't start learning guitar till 17 and didn't get serious until I was 35. I'm a pretty good hack now. Go for it!
Old 8th May 2012
  #13
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uncle duncan's Avatar
 

Start with the piano and learn about music theory, which makes more sense in front of a keyboard. Specifically, learn the Nashville Numbers system, or at the very least, the numbers system in general - one chord, four chord, five chord. Look for a teacher who is hip to this approach. It makes music production so much easier. Instead of memorizing notes, you're visualizing the structure of the music. It also helps with ear training. If you can hear a melody and figure out how to play it on the keyboard, your set. If you can't, ...um, you might want to consider another hobby.
Old 8th May 2012
  #14
Here for the gear
 

Laura Veirs did not even become interested in music until her 20's, let alone play the guitar or write, and now she has a successful musical career. Just do it man.
Old 8th May 2012
  #15
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edva's Avatar
To be a good musician, you need desire, dedication, and some talent. Age is not a factor if you have these; and without these, you'll never be good, no matter what age you are. If you really want it, you can do it, but you have to make a dedicated effort. Otherwise, five years from now, you'll still be asking the same question.
Old 8th May 2012
  #16
Gear Maniac
 
benherron.rrr's Avatar
I taught myself how to play the piano at 20, and started learning the guitar when I was around 14-15. Although, I have had lessons playing various classical instruments (Violin, clarinet) when I was alot younger so I already had a half good idea of how it all worked, its definitely possible.

I believe that you need a lot of will power to do it, if your heart isn't entirely into what your doing it is so easy to let it go. Beating your self up is a big issue, I have put myself down a lot over my musical ability, both production/engineering and playing/writing to the point of wanting to sell everything and give up, on many occasions. But it is good to be critical of yourself, the way I taught myself how to play the piano was by trying to learn correct technique and taking it a step at a time. I would listen to a song and think "Wow, I want to play something in that style" so I would spend some time figuring out how to play that way and practice it everyday, each time analysing how I was doing and finding out how I could improve, after a couple of weeks-months I would listen to another song that had a technique that I wanted to learn so I would start the process again.

People tell me that I am good at playing the piano, and often look very surprised when I tell them that I basically played the wrong note so many times I eventually learnt how to play the right note 100% of the time.
Old 8th May 2012
  #17
Gear Guru
One of the most amazing reed men I've ever worked with first picked up an instrument as a teenager.
Old 8th May 2012
  #18
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NoVi's Avatar
I might add following: from my experience most people make fast and steady progress in their first months of study. But then you will be sure to hit some walls. And then it comes down to the will (and some kind of stubbornness) to push yourself through and get to the next level.
Old 8th May 2012
  #19
Quote:
Originally Posted by tektonic View Post
I want to learn an instrument, but I'm worried it might be too late to become proficient. Ideally I'd like to learn piano and guitar but I'm already 17 (almost 18) years old.

I begged my parents for a guitar back when I was like 8, we got a classical one and I started learning classical guitar and hated it...quit after a year. Then at the age of 12 I picked up the piano and kept at it for two years, reaching a pretty good level (I remember my teacher being impressed at how quickly I progressed). Unfortunately I become lazy and quit, now with the summer ahead I'm thinking about trying to properly learn an instrument.

The problem is I heard it's difficult as an adult because the neurones in your brain grow at a much slower pace...and that's supported by the fact that there are almost no famous musicians who started as adults. Which is pretty de-moralizing if I want to learn not one, but two instruments.

I don't need to be a virtuoso, but I'd like to be good enough to play in a band (on top of being able to use my skills on my production work). Should I stick to piano/keyboards or learn both piano and guitar? Over the summer I'll be able to play several hours a day, but by September it'd be something like half an hour a day. Is it worth it? Any examples of musicians who started over the age of 18 would be really encouraging too.

People say play for fun anyway, and I would have fun playing but I'd consider it a waste if I could never get really good. I could spend that time learning to mix/master properly, or learning music theory and just basic keyboard skills.

Thoughts? (sorry for the long post)
Do not hesitate. Do it.


[boring bio details follow... can be skipped ]

I desperately wanted to learn how to play something-anything as a kid. I tried piano lessons when I was 6 or 7. My teacher told my folks I had "absolutely no talent whatsoever." When I was 9, I saw the Gene Krupa Story or some such movie and decided, even if I had no talent on the piano, surely I could play drums. So I got into the elementary school orchestra (yeah, you read that right -- back in the fifties, there was actually education money for the arts) but the teacher there said the same thing and finally, politely but firmly told me to put away my drum sticks for good.

Meanwhile, my family had got a small 2 console electronic organ and my dad, a decent keyboardist, tried to show me some stuff, ending up in tears and frustration and my mom telling him he'd have to just let me do my thing on the organ. (And my thing was, sadly, playing melodies artlessly from the numeric notation in the 'easy organ' books and the tiny numbers over the top manual keys -- which my dad had threatened to cover. [You tried, dad! No one can fault you there. ] )

Then I saved from my greeting card sales (back in the 50s/60s people didn't freak out when their kids went selling stuff door to door) for about 6 months and, with some help from my old man, bought a funky guitar. (The equivalent of $120 back in 1964 would buy you an almost unplayable piece of junk.) I bought a series of books and records that all wanted to teach me to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb." I dutifully learned about 8 chords -- with which I 'should' have been able to play anything but still could play nothing.


Upshot: when I got to college I still couldn't play any music. I was writing a lot of poetry but I really wanted to write songs and play. I briefly restrung my barely playable guitar with 4 strings and tried to learn how to play bass. One note at a time? How hard could it be? It didn't fall together. I'd play sequences of notes but they just didn't sound like music. Much like when I had dutifully played all those chords. Going through the motions. Not hearing music.

Finally, in my sophomore year, I moved into a funky old 4th floor walkup apartment with a student friend of one of my teachers. He was a very accomplished player and hung around with other really good players. I decided, surrounded by musicians, it was now or never for me to learn how to make some music.* (My old roomie is now a very successful engineer but I'm not going to embarrass him by giving out any more. heh )

After a day or two of hearing me plunking on my barely playable 'classical' guitar through my closed bedroom door, my roomie took pity on me. He loaned me his '64 Strat (he was really into his D28 at the time) and told me to rig up some kind of headphones so that he didn't have to hear it.

He then said, look, you need to start with the simplest possible thing. Two chords, back and forth -- and just keep playing them as steady as you can, until you can go back and forth without missing a beat. Since I already knew Em and A7 (and they both only required two fingers) and "Down by the River" was one of my favorite songs of the time, he said, those two chords are the jam part -- just keep playing them back and forth until it sounds like music.

And I did. It took weeks -- months maybe -- of going through the motions but then, one day, I thought, just for a second, that it sounded like music. And so I really reapplied myself and pretty soon it sounded kind of like music a lot more of the time.

It was a long haul, no doubt. But I got 'good' enough to be able to start writing during the first 6 months. The money shot, though, was about two years later when the girl I'd fallen in love with in my first year of college came back from a year of backpacking through Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. We ended up on a cliff overlooking the moonlit Pacific and me playing a couple songs I'd written for her. She said she was amazed, since I hadn't even played when she left. It was a very good night in some ways.


Anyhow, I still struggled until one day one of my old high school buddies (who was in the coolest band at my HS, which wasn't saying much but they actually were really cool, hardcore acid rock... named Blue Shift -- after the Doppler Effect color shift; my buddy went on to be a highly respected tenured chemistry prof at a good U; some hippies go far) who saw I was struggling trying to figure out how chords and melodies worked, sat me down at his mom's piano one afternoon and gave me a very basic, half-hour lesson in basic music harmony theory, essentially walking chord triads up the C scale (harmonizing the C scale as the big kids say) and showing me how the scale determines the chords you can construct. (He also showed me the relationship between relative major and minor which was mammoth to me somehow.) Knowing just a little bit of harmony theory was incredibly helpful and deeply informed everything I've done since.


Anyhow, that was 40 years ago. I was happy being a folkie for a while, then got sucked into the punk/new music scene starting in '75, bought my first electric guitar and amp the day "Never Mind the Bollocks" came out. Eventually, I got pretty bored with what punk became and moved on. One rainy day in the early 80s I was listening to some Jimi Hendrix and thinking, Oh, man, this guy is deep. I always knew he was good, but now I think I get it... I was at once filled with admiration and wonder and found myself thinking, But, yeah, I'm the guy with no musical talent, I could never get there. But then I thought, I never thought I'd even be able to make a guitar sound like an instrument. I'll never get to Hendrix' level, but I why I can't I at least head in that direction? Why should I let old fears and doubts hold me back. Basically, that day was sort of the beginning of my 'adult' musical life. And since then, I've tried to not hold myself back or let doubt undercut me (even as I acknowledge my limitations, mind you ).

I'm still no Jimi Hendrix -- but I'm so much farther along that I ever dreamed I could be.



Do it. You can!


PS... Better yet -- consider the cases of a couple of my pals I've met in the last few decades. Neither came from a musical family.

One joined the army during the Vietnam war era. Somehow, despite the fact he'd never played anything, he got a chance to sign up for army band duty and received some trumpet instruction, ending up in the US Army Band after a few years. When he got out he banged around some bands for a while and worked himself up to being the lead horn man in the Ray Charles band. Charles tended to use big name session men in the studio, but when he was asked to play with the Atlanta Symphony, he took my pal and the Raylettes. Eventually my pal quit -- Ray, as is often said, was a hard boss and, to boot, he was taking fewer and fewer gigs as his age progressed.

My other pal was taking beginning business classes at a 4 year college and needed another two units to make his loan quota. Poring through the catalog he saw something called "music theory" -- which he thought sounded all abstract and sciencey and so interesting. He took the class, was a little disappointed that it wasn't very spacey or 'theoretical' to his way of thinking, but did super well and was soon tutoring a few music majors. His teacher said, You're a heck of a theory student -- what do you play? And was amazed to find out that my buddy had never played a musical instrument in his life. The teacher encouraged him to take up an instrument and my pal, who had grown up in a household evenly divided between 60s rock and soul (they're African American) decided on guitar, thinking it was cheap, portable, and you could serenade girls on the college quad with it.

He ended up switching his major to classical guitar, got in the union, did a bunch of gigs, ended up in a rhumba band that ended up being the house band on the old Ali McBeal TV show. (There apparently was a bar they went to often in the show and the band -- who were on full time pay from the show -- were often playing away in those scenes.) He continues playing professionally and teaching. And he's a fine classical guitarist, often taking corporate and event gigs.


Anyhow, don't let fear or doubt or uncertainty hold you back. Do it.
Old 8th May 2012
  #20
Old 8th May 2012
  #21
Just dive in head first. Do it. You won't regret a thing. I picked up the guitar in my late 20's,and never looked back.
Old 8th May 2012
  #22
Quote:
Originally Posted by tektonic View Post
I begged my parents for a guitar back when I was like 8......, ...quit after a year.
Then at the age of 12, I picked up the piano and kept at it for two years.........Unfortunately I become lazy and quit,
This really is the pattern that you need to break.
I firmly believe you can learn anything at any age IF you put in the time and, more importantly, the effort an never, never be prepared to give up because it gets difficult
Old 8th May 2012
  #23
Gear Nut
 

appreciate all the replies (especially the one from theblue1). I've decided to go for it. I also found out today one my favourite musicians (Richard Barbieri) doesn't consider himself to be a technically good player at all...which gave me some hope...you don't need to be an incredible musician to make great music.

I've promised myself I won't stop constantly practising piano/keyboards until I'm 100% satisfied with my skills (which I hope will happen in the next few years)...I'll also pick up the guitar when I can afford one just so I can get to the level where I know my way around a fretboard.

thanks again for all the comments/advice
Old 8th May 2012
  #24
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5down1up's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tektonic View Post
I won't stop constantly practising piano/keyboards until I'm 100% satisfied with my skills (which I hope will happen in the next few years)...
the book you gonna open up has infinite pages. dont get depressed ... but you will never be 100% satisfied.
go and find some people that inspire you and learn from them, and play,play,play ...

this is the biggest challenge in the world ... and its only about yourself

good luck !!!
Old 8th May 2012
  #25
Gear Guru
Quote:
Originally Posted by 5down1up View Post
the book you gonna open up has infinite pages. dont get depressed ... but you will never be 100% satisfied.
go and find some people that inspire you and learn from them, and play,play,play ...

this is the biggest challenge in the world ... and its only about yourself

good luck !!!
True dat.
I don't think there's anyone in the world that is 100% satisfied with their skills on an instrument.
At least, not anybody worth listening to.
Old 8th May 2012
  #26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bristol Posse View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by tektonic
I begged my parents for a guitar back when I was like 8......, ...quit after a year.
Then at the age of 12, I picked up the piano and kept at it for two years.........Unfortunately I become lazy and quit,
This really is the pattern that you need to break.
I firmly believe you can learn anything at any age IF you put in the time and, more importantly, the effort an never, never be prepared to give up because it gets difficult
Right. Nothing to say you can't be a multi-instrumentalist. Not even to say you can't learn multiple instruments at once, to some extent.

But you can't get anywhere without a certain amount of self-discipline.

It's way too easy to get distracted, put something aside, backburner it, and, eventually, all but forget about it.

You need to play a little just about every day and a lot from time to time.

When you play a lot, you are more likely to set yourself up to have breakthroughs. The thing about breakthroughs (satoris, whatever you want to call them) is that they are the very visible result of a lot of much less visible work and thought leading up to them.

But if you at least play a little every day, at least you don't fall backward. (Of course, if you know a lot, it can take more time to service and maintain those accumulated skills -- but by that time, the value of the effort is typically more obvious to the individual.)
Old 8th May 2012
  #27
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Beat Poet's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tektonic View Post
I want to learn an instrument, but I'm worried it might be too late to become proficient. Ideally I'd like to learn piano and guitar but I'm already 17 (almost 18) years old.
I had to chuckle when rolling the mouse over the top title and seeing that pop up in the yellow bubble. You're at a good age to start mate, jump in and have fun!
Old 8th May 2012
  #28
Here for the gear
 

If you want to learn, you will. The fact that you're asking makes me doubtful that you will. Good luck with it though!
Old 9th May 2012
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tektonic View Post
The problem is I heard it's difficult as an adult because the neurones in your brain grow at a much slower pace.
As I understand it (which isn't very far), the primary issue is that myelination stops around the age of 30. If that is the case, you've got plenty of time.
Old 9th May 2012
  #30
Gear Addict
 

Neuronal poppycock...if children seemingly learn quicker it's because they're easier to drill the basic skills involved , whether it's under obligation and pressure , as so much of childhood is , or disguised as games and play...
If an older mind can find the same number of hours to practise and is dedicated to "self drilling", they should achieve similar results, and may have a better ability to conceptualise both the theory, and their learning strategies.
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