There is a bit of long-accepted wisdom about learning to play an instrument that may not be true: the idea that one must learn to play an instrument in one’s youth or all is lost is probably just one of those things that “ain’t so”.
Dr. Gary Marcus, at the age of 38, decided to take up the guitar. At a young age, he had tried to learn how to play the recorder, but the music teacher quickly decided that there was a definite lack of aptitude in Marcus, and there was a kind of mutual decision made that maybe his talents would lie elsewhere.
Eventually, the video game “Guitar Hero” caught up to him, and he found that maybe he wasn’t as un-musical as he had previously been led to believe. After a while of playing the game, and developing some rhythmic skills, he decided that instead of putting a lot of time into learning to play a fake guitar, he would try to learn how to play a real one. He admits that playing the video game gave him the confidence that he could try to learn something new, from square zero.
I guess that goes along with another old rule-of-thumb: whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.
He wrote a book about learning to play the guitar, called Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning. Dr. Marcus, by the way, is a professor of psychology at New York University, and is an expert in learning processes.
He did find that while learning an instrument when one is older can be a bit more difficult — there are habits that have to be unlearned when you’re older that probably are not there yet for young learners — he found that the secret is to just learn in smaller chunks, by taking things a little bit more slowly.
You can read about Dr. Marcus’ experience with learning to play the guitar here. He admits that he really had to devote himself to the project, but that it was truly worth it.
The next time somebody comes up to me after a Sacrament Meeting performance and says, “Oh, it would be so nice to be able to do what you can do”, I’ll just look ’em in the eye and say, “You know, you really can, if you really want to.”