“Hello Guitar School.”
“Er, hello…I’m looking for some guitar lessons.”
“Ok no problem, have you played before?
“Er, no….well not really……I’ve had a guitar for years but…….er…….I’m 68 am I too old to learn to play guitar?”
What you have just read is a phone conversation we have with potential students many times throughout the year. When a maturer student calls us they usually have a tone to there voice that almost says, “I know, it’s fine, just tell me I’m being silly and it’s not for people of my age”. It’s almost as if they are asking to go in the ball pool or sand pit for 10 minutes, just waiting for their inner child to be unleashed before being scolded for being unruly and naughty. I am always interested as to the reasons why this would be the case. To my own advantage and sometimes disadvantage, I’ve always believed that the world is a big playground and we should all be allowed to explore it without judgement as long as we respect the other kids playing there. I know a lot of younger people that feel the same so why does this change?
Spending a chunk of time with my students every week, I get the chance to discuss how they are feeling and what motivates them. It is true that a lot of my older students admit to feeling silly for having a desire to play guitar at their age let alone pick the phone up to ask for lessons. Some of them say it is because to them guitar is a symbol of youth and rebellion and a retirees lifestyle generally doesn’t reflect this, although I have taught some that have attitudes to life that haven’t changed since their early twenties. They feel that they will be mocked by family, friends and even us because they are not fitting into societies view of how they should behave. The actual reality is that we guitar tutors don’t care about age. Maybe a very young student is a little too young to start to learn in earnest but a maturer student – age does not matter.
If you are older and you can get past this very first obstacle get ready for the next one. Once you have the courage to decide to learn to play and find help in doing so, your enemy called self doubt will creep in. This can be a dream killer and is where a good teacher can make all the difference. Not learning fast enough, fingers not working, no dexterity, wrong sized fingers, can’t remember etc, etc. For some reason there is this perception that young people learn guitar faster, some people are natural and some are completely unable to play.
It is time the record is set straight.
While it maybe true that you can’t remember like you used to, can’t stretch like you used to or have the dexterity that you used to have, it does not mean that you cannot learn to play the guitar. Everyone, whether 9 years old or 91 years old have a limit to their abilities, that is just genes. Some people can shred, some struggle to find speed. Some people can strum in time but struggle to play anything delicate. This is regardless of age. Age is not the reason that you are having a hard time learning to play the guitar. Everybody has a hard time learning to play the guitar and that is a fact. Not one guitarist have I taught that hasn’t hit a brick wall at some stage. It is part of the process of learning to play.
So what can you do about it. The simple answer is just play. You are unique. Your fingers belong to you and no one else. Your fingers have their own sound to them. Forget about expensive guitars or amps, the sound a guitarist makes mostly comes from his fingers. If you don’t believe me think of this. There are two sets of guitar gear, one very expensive professional gear, the other entry level cheap gear. We have two guitarist, one a beginner and the other is Eric Clapton. First we put Eric on the expensive gear to play Layla. It sounds just like the record. Now we put the beginner on the same gear and ask him to play the same. It doesn’t sound like Eric Clapton. Now we put Eric on the cheap gear. It still sounds like the record. The sound maybe a little thinner but it definitely sounds just like the record. Now we put the beginner on the cheap gear. It still doesn’t sound like Eric Clapton but it does sound thinner. As I said, our tone comes mostly from our fingers. Eric has repeatedly played guitar to create his tone. Eric does not shred. Eric is smart and uses his genes to his advantage. Eric makes the most out of what he has. This makes Eric true to himself and people recognise this honesty in his playing. For the record Eric can’t play Flamenco but that doesn’t mean he can’t play guitar.
So there you have it. We don’t care how old you are, what matters is your desire to learn. Leave the baggage at the door, it will not help you. Be yourself, not someone else and work to your own set of advantages. Most importantly, start playing. It is easier now than ever. If you don’t want to pay for lessons, get online. Learn in the comfort of your own home. Set small goals, achieve them inch by inch and enjoy the journey because believe me, no one has ever fully mastered the guitar. Human lifespans are not long enough, we are all just somewhere on the journey.
Be the kind of person that people like me look up to. Always learning, always exploring, always enjoying life regardless of age. I’m planning on doing the same. If you have a true desire to learn to play guitar and start to learn, it will change your life for the better.