In the 40 years that I have been teaching all styles of guitar to every type of student, there have been a few questions that come up over and over, and seem to be the cause of great concern and anxiety for guitar students. High on the list is “Am I Too Old To Learn Guitar”.
I have been anxiously asked this by a 28 year old, a 38 year old, a 46 year old, and let’s see…off the top of my head, I can remember students at age 52, 65, 77, and finally, good old Frank, who I taught when I was in my 20’s, and he was 84!
So, I have some experience with this question, and more importantly, with the answer.
I am going to tell you the answer right up front to set your mind at ease, just in case you are one of those guitar students desperately attempting to remain hopeful about your chances of success: yes, anyone can learn to play the guitar, at any age, period. That is the truth, and I know it, because I have done it over and over and continue to do it. However, as with everything else in life, the devil is in the details!
The Correct Approach Is Essential
Yes, anyone can learn at any age if they use the correct method to learn the guitar. The bad news is that virtually every guitar method on the market is severely deficient in exactly the information that will guarantee success for everyone. Only the very talented and/or very dedicated can learn from the many flawed guitar methods on the market today. The average person is in for a tough time.
This is because the biggest obstacles to learning guitar are physical obstacles, meaning, getting your fingers to actually make movements they have never made before, and getting them to do them smoothly and quickly. What all of these methods are failing to address is this: when you learn guitar, you are really attempting to teach your fingers, hands, and arms new abilities. That means you are not really learning “guitar”, you are actually engaged in “body learning”, and so, you must know and follow the well established laws of how the body, meaning your muscles, nerves, and brain, actually learn to do new and unfamiliar movements.
For instance, one of the laws of body learning is that all movements must be practiced extremely slowly, with great focus on relaxation throughout the body. If you do not do this, if you allow your shoulders to tense when your fingers are stretching, that tension will stay in the shoulders and be reinforced every time you practice. It will feel “normal” to you and you will not know your shoulders are tense. All you will know is that you cannot control your fingers.
This happens to a large percentage of people, of every age, who try to learn guitar. It will tend to happen more with adult students, and seniors because they have had more years to acquire tension in their bodies even apart from practicing guitar. However, if a student knows how to practice the necessary finger movements in a way that does not allow excess tension into the hands, arms, shoulders, and the rest of the body, they will be successful at learning to play, no matter how old they are.
Learning According To The Body, Not The Guitar
Guitar instruction is a dis-organized, unscientific, and, compared to piano or violin, a young and immature profession. Many, perhaps most, “guitar teachers” are not teachers, they are guitar players. There is a vast difference. Guitar players know how to play the guitar; guitar teachers should know how to cause other people to play the guitar. However, most of the people I have met who have failed at guitar have taken lessons, sometimes for years. They were told they “had no talent”, the fact is that their teacher had no knowledge of how to teach. Unfortunately, such “teachers” often write the method books that the unsuspecting guitar aspirant buys and places their trust in.
Such books are often merely collections of guitar information, pages full of chord diagrams, scales, songs, etc., with no information about how to actually get your fingers to be able to do these things. Worse, the information and exercises are given according to the how the guitar works, not how the human body and human hand work.
For instance, all guitar books begin by teaching you chords or notes in the “first position” at the “first fret”. By custom, the area of the guitar fingerboard furthest from the body is called the “first” position. So, everyone assumes that a student should learn that “first”. The problem is that this requires the arm to extend farthest away from the body, which requires the deltoid muscle in the shoulder to work hard to support that weight. This effort, especially in the beginner or older student, will inevitably cause muscle tension throughout the body, even to the point of the student holding their breath! After that, everything locks up and the student will be either unable to control the fingers, or will struggle to control them, which is really no control at all. They will become either a failure at guitar, or a handicapped player.
The older guitar student will suffer the most from these flawed guitar learning methods, and, being insecure of their own potential to begin with, will blame themselves.
It does not have to be this way. There is a method of learning guitar that is scientific, is based on the laws of body learning, and works for everyone. It is called “The Principles Of Correct Practice For Guitar”, and you can find out more about it by following the link.
I wish you all success in your sincere desire to learn to play this most beautiful and rewarding of musical instruments.
by Jamie Marie Andreas