by Vaughan Jones violin teacher¬†Alongside losing weight, getting fit, giving up smoking and learning to speak a foreign language, apparently one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions is to take up and learn a musical instrument……which is why in early January, violin teachers and presumably others who teach music very often receive enquiries from potential new students. Many have been given an instrument for Christmas, whilst others are taking it up again after a long break or have simply always wanted to play something but never made it a priority before.
One of the main¬†doubts that lots of adults come¬†with is¬†whether it’s ‘too late to really start’. While it’s true that those who begin learning an instrument as children often do absorb new information very quickly, there are qualities that adult learners often¬†possess which more than compensate for¬†starting a little older. Firstly, any adult who wants to come along and take up the violin is usually very motivated – unlike lots of children who learn because the lessons are¬†encouraged¬†at school, or because their friends are learning or their parents would like them to learn, an adult beginner has often harboured the desire to play for some time, then decided to do something about it and pick up the phone to a local violin teacher.¬† Whereas children often¬†fit violin practice time in around many other activities, schoolwork¬†and hobbies, adults are frequently good at prioritising opportunities to play at home and¬†dedicate time and commitment to improving in leaps and bounds between lessons. As adults often have a clear idea of what goals they’d like to achieve with their playing (perhaps aspiring to¬†play with a local amateur orchestra, play duets with a friend or join in¬†at a¬†folk¬†session¬†down the pub), they can be highly motivated towards improving – taking grade exams is entirely possible, but¬†can be less of a priority than it is for younger learners. Many people¬†wish to learn the violin after being inspired by hearing a beautiful piece of music performed on the instrument – as adults, we often draw on our crystallized intelligence (learning by connecting new skills with what we have already learned or experienced so far throughout life), so with the advantage of a mature viewpoint, adults can often progress very quickly if the violin teacher understands that this is a¬†fruitful approach to take with adults, rather than insisting beginners commit lots of seemingly random facts to memory.
So¬†are there any real disadvantages of starting to learn an instrument as an adult?¬† Really the main barrier to adult learning is usually poor confidence and fear of appearing foolish¬†by making mistakes. Any stringed instrument naturally takes time to master and in the initial stages, students can often feel dismayed that they are not yet able to replicate the subtle,¬†pure tones that they hear on Classic FM. Plenty of adults grimace apologetically as they draw the string across the bow and the sound they make at first is not particularly pleasant or tuneful – but one thing is guaranteed, every great¬†soloist or orchestral leader¬†once sounded exactly the same and experienced the same feelings of exasperation. With time, perseverence, a good teacher and motivation, the personal journey of learning an instrument can become exciting,¬†challenging and rewarding, with surprisingly¬†beneficial¬†side¬†effects on¬†other aspects of¬†life¬†- it has its own joy and age¬†need¬†be¬†no barrier at all.