Too old to start to learn to play Saxophone or Clarinet?

I am very fortunate to meet a lot of very different people in my line of work. Different ages, different jobs, different everything. But something they have in common is that when people practise their instrument they get better at it. Obvious? Maybe...


So if you turn back the hands of time, even the best players in the world were beginners at some point. Also obvious?


So why do I keep getting asked whether people are too old to take up an instrument? Lots of people contact me to say they have been thinking about playing an instrument for ages, but never felt brave enough, or that they gave it up when they left school. Sometimes, the instrument has been in the attic for ages, calling to them quietly...


The tone when adult prospective students call me is often a little bit defensive, as if people are half-expecting me to say 'no, sorry, you're too old'.


So I'll say it here, loud and clear: you're never too old to start learning to play a musical instrument.


There are tons of people who have started playing music later in life, or who have picked it back up after decades of not playing. The biggest barrier they face is their fear. For people who played ages ago, they often fear being incapable of returning to their glory days. For new players, they often fear simply being incapable of learning to play at all. However, these fears are unfounded. Your brain is the most complicated mechanism known in the universe, capable of essentially infinite learning and adaptation.


And your body? If you can breathe and move your fingers there’s not much holding you back.

In my experience adult learners who commit to learning an instrument make rapid progress with the right support. The fastest learners are reflective, persistent, passionate and resilient. Almost everyone has these characteristics, but some adults are nervous about exposing themselves as beginners, even to themselves - and this can mean that we get frustrated or lose faith in ourselves. However, the reality is that adults never lose the ability to learn.


The only thing that stops an adult student from seeming to progress as fast as a youngster is that there's often lots of other bits of life that get in the way (kids, a job, that sort of thing). But actually, the learning happens just as quickly when you compare them on hour-for-hour practice. In fact, adult learners often make faster progress than children because they know what the music should sound like.

Adulthood is a great time to start learning an instrument. I have many adult students, one of whom is Jonathan. He's in his 70’s and is about to take his ABRSM Grade 5 Saxophone, and he says:


"From your first note, you'll know you are never too old to learn to play. You're already on your way; on an exciting journey. Your destination becoming what you want to make it. Finding a good teacher helps it become all the more rewarding. With the time you can devote, there is an enormous choice of music across every genre. And enough sheet music to retain your interest. It all adds up to an inspiring experience, even with the ups and downs of any learning process. Time to practice is your friend not your enemy. Along the way, you will find new friends, whilst learning to play in ensembles, groups and bands. You will really know your Bach from Bublé, Satie from Slade, and Mahler from Marley. Do join this happy band of music makers. You won't regret it!"

Progress is the aim of adult learning, not achievement. When you were a child, there was a lot of time pressure to achieve grades by a certain age, be it GCSEs or a degree or whatever. There was also a lot of comparison against other children. These two aspects of learning are often the only experience of formal learning that people remember from childhood, and often made learning a horrid experience.


But as an adult, you set your own timescale and you have nothing to compete against until you feel ready. Some people, like Jonathan, love setting themselves targets to play in bands or concerts; other people prefer to work towards self-set goals. It is great to play with other people for a lot of reasons, but there's no penalty for just playing for your own enjoyment. You are the adult, and you are in control. You can work towards grades, set yourself tough targets, prepare for concerts... or not. It's your choice.

To finish: taking up music as an adult is a fun, exciting adventure. There is pretty much nothing to lose by giving it a go. Some teachers even let you hire an instrument :)

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