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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!

The Correct Approach Is Essential

Yes, anyone can learn at any age if they use the correct method to learn the guitar. The bad news is that virtually every guitar method on the market is severely deficient in exactly the information that will guarantee success for everyone. Only the very talented and/or very dedicated can learn from the many flawed guitar methods on the market today. The average person is in for a tough time.

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. What all of these methods are failing to address is this: 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.

Tags: beginners, guitar, learn, old, students, too

Views: 26183

Replies to This Discussion

I recognize that physical issues enter into the question when a person really starts getting up in years, but often times this question reflects a fear or reluctance to start something new as an adult. My mother went back to school when she was 42 and studied nights and summers for eight years to get her bachelor's degree -- then turned right around and started working on her master's. Sometimes people would say to her, "I'd love to go back to school, but it would take me 5 years to finish, and by then I'll be over 50!" My mother would always reply, "How old will you be in 5 years if you don't go back to school?"

We can either be 5 years more frustrated at the things we might have accomplished, or 5 years closer to being what we want to be with our lives! And in 5 years one can become a really decent guitar player!!!
Great story James hahaha. Better start late than never for guitar or for anything else!
Very true, James. At any age, attitude is everything! That is why I spend so much time on "attitude" in my teaching work.

Attitude is how we are positioned inwardly, in terms of the way we think about things, the beliefs we hold, the emotions we feel. Consequently, the way everything looks when we view the world and ourselves will be through this prism.

Therefore, attitude is about the most important thing we can work with. When students understand the reasons why they have failed or had trouble learning guitar, and begin to realize that there is a way of practicing that will bring success, they change their attitude!
Great article, Jamie. Thanks for posting. I find all these things to be true with all the students I teach. In the case of learning to play guitar, I found that most people would rather have the solution to their playing problem than complain they started late, which is good!
To add to this, I am 53 years young and started playing almost 5 years ago. I was blessed to be taught by a very respectful gentleman who was 86 years young. While I have a long ways to go with my music studies, I did learn how to read music, which I feel is important to all.
Great post. Thanks for the information. I have been playing for just under 1 year and I am struggling with speed and accuracy. But I can guess this is common at this early stage.

Is it worthwhile getting a scale book or a chord book?

Struggling IS common for beginners, but it does not have to be. If you practice scales now, it will ruin you, as it does so many students. Your fingers must be prepared for the complex motion of scales, and they are prepared by learning the real secrets of left hand development.

Until you can do the basic movements of 1-4, 1-3, and 1-2 across the strings, and then 124 and 134 correctly, with no tension in the fingers, you should not do scales.

Here is a video of a beginner student training the fingers properly

He is being prepared for scale work. If you want to learn more about the methods that will train you correctly, from the beginning, you can check out my workshop forum, where many students are doing just that

What a cool discussion!  I'm 67 yrs. young and started playing when I was in college, but wait, I also quit for about 30 years only playing in the home from time to time.  My advise is to check out the advise at the top of this group discussion.  Practice but make it fun.  Get out and listen or participate in playing circles and open mics.  More importantly, don't give up on yourself. If you can't quite get that song or lick, take one step at a time.  There is a difference in playing music and making music, so make the music you hear in your head and go for it.  Everyone is cheering for you and they want you to succeed. 


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