Tuesday Wisdom: Am I Too Old To Learn Guitar?

In the 40 years that I have been teaching all styles of guitar, there have been a few questions that come up over and over. High on the list is, "Am I Too Old To Learn Guitar".

Ultimate Guitar

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!

Knowing How To Practice Correctly Is Essential

Yes, anyone can learn at any age IF they know one most important thing: how to practice correctly. HOW you practice is the single most important factor in whether you, or anyone, of any age, will be successful in learning guitar.

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. 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 Andreas, www.guitarprinciples.com.

30 comments sorted by best / new / date

    On the contrary, the guitar and plucked string-instruments have existed for a much longer time than the piano. And the study of how people should play/teach has continued to evolve to this day. Most people pay to have their advertisement posted on the frontpage, this one is merely disguised as an article.
    i started playing a year ago when i was 15 and i constantly felt like i started to old because of 6 year olds on YouTube playing through the fire and flames
    My friend, you probably had one thing they didn't, a childhood...
    I'm 37, started lessons two years ago & have the most diligent of teachers. Now I'm part way through Grade 2 Theory and learing melody & phrasing like it's noone business. As long as you want to learn & have the passion, drive & focus you will have no problem.
    The only requirement to playing guitar is a guitar and the will to play it. The rest is hard work, patience and practice. The more you play and learn the more enjoyable and rewarding it becomes.
    This is the brilliance of something like Rocksmith. As a hobbyist musician who's taking on guitar in my mid 30s, I knew that the physicality would be the toughest part. Rocksmith gives me motivation to pick up the axe every day and just familiarize myself with the fret board.
    I've had guitar students as young as 12 and as old as 50. You're never too old as long as you can hold a guitar, fret chords, play scales and (most of all) have a passion for it.
    the chalky one
    If you have arthritis so bad that you can't move your fingers, then yes, your too old.
    Rodney Rocket
    Picked up a guitar at 42. Have been "ROCK'N 6 STRINGS" for five years now! Started learning with tabs from UG now I'm tear'n it up.
    Well, I've been showing my parents how to play guitar for for a month now, and (fortunately) i don't do the bad teaching habits of what you wrote in this topic! For example, most teachers DO start at the 1st fret or open strings (like mine ages ago). But I taught my first lesson to my parents, asking them to start at the 7th fret instead, haha! However, when you wrote that people give up because of the teachers making students 'worthless', some people can actually withstand the low-confidence boost; if that person is strong-willed. This doesn't mean people should do that anyhow - what i'm only trying to say here is that everyone is different and should be taught depending on that person's personality... and he/she shouldn't be held back AT ALL. If they can get pushed as far as possible, and at the same time they don't feel the pressure, that's the signs of what being a good teacher is.
    Yeah I guess this is why I am very much a handicapped player. I taught myself, using the internet, but after 6 years of playing, I only have like a 60% success rate when trying to change from E Major to B minor for example. It's extremely frustrating to have a bunch of bad habits.
    I have to say, I have failed at this. I decided to take lessons in my 30's and wanted to play. A guitar shop that switched teachers on me and that had two different methods...I got frustrated and quit classes. Then started to play on my own and was doing great til I needed tuning or a guitar string fixed. Neither of which any teacher showed me how to do...so you just stop playing. I'd love to get back in and practice more, but what's the best method? I have a guitar tuner but it still doesn't sound right.
    Time to get back on the horse.....buy a new (cheap is fine) guitar if you don't like (or can't get) the "right sound." It absolutely floors me how good a $120 to $150 dollar guitar can be these days. For those to young to remember, 30 years ago a $150 dollar guitar was good for air guitar and not much else.
    The guitar I have isn't an expensive one and exactly in the price range you mentioned. I know the right sound can come out of it, I just don't know how to properly tune it or what exactly I am looking for. Instructors need to do a better job of that.
    I definitely recommend looking at some youtube videos of how to tune a guitar, and how to change strings. Or you can find someone you know that plays, and ask them to teach you (this would be the best method).
    To quote Jethro Tull here... if you're too old for rock and roll, then you're too young to die!