A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a friend. In fact, it was more of a debate about whether the other side of one’s 20s is a bad time to learn an instrument. While I was against the statement, my friend was completely for it. Now, personally, this could be considered a bias. It’s easy for someone to say that learning an instrument isn’t all that difficult after a certain age if the person already sort of plays one. My friend would have probably had a slightly more realistic view of this as someone trying to do the said task. So, what does science say?
Is it too late?
Let’s cut to the chase… the answer is a resounding ‘no’. You read that correct. It is never too late to learn how to play a new instrument. While it won’t necessarily be the same, or as easy as learning it from childhood, it is certainly not impossible. However, why should it be any more difficult, you ask? Well, lets see. Consider the act of reading a piece of music and playing it. Your brain is performing multiple functions. You’ve got to read the music, understand and maintain the rhythm, draw on your memory to play the notes/chords, and if it’s an instrument like the guitar or ukulele, then your hands also needs to strum the strings correctly.
Unlike learning a language, there is no specific center of the brain that is involved in the process of playing an instrument. Developing and maintaining this coordination is easier to do in childhood than it is in adulthood. As children’s brain cells are still developing, it is easier to form cells devoted to just the instrument you play. As an adult, however, no new cells are formed. The way to learn an instrument is to establish new connections between already existing cells, and then reinforce these neuronal pathways.
This is why, while it may be difficult, it is not impossible to learn a new instrument after your 30th birthday. In fact, there are actually a few advantages!
Why should you pick up a new instrument after 30?
Lets begin with the fact that music has an astounding number of advantages, from being a stress buster to realizing your hidden potential. As an adult, you are more in need of a stress buster than the 12-year-old version of yourself. Therefore, music can be a great release. Learning a new instrument is like any other new challenge, and it keeps those grey cells ticking. It can prevent your brain cells from withering away and actually make you more alert. Patience is the key here. As an adult, basically, you have better discipline and patience to learn a new instrument.
Adults also have a better understanding of music as compared to what a child has, which could be a major game changer. Most kids are motivated by reasons other than their own desire to learn a new form of music. As an adult, you are the master of your own life, and the very fact that you decided to learn a new instrument speaks a lot for your motivation, rather than just a kid being forced to go to their evening class by overbearing parents.
Learning a new instrument can be a daunting challenge. None the less, it is not impossible, despite seeming like a herculean task! I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should not lament over lost time. If you always wanted to drum your way around the world, pick up those drumsticks, give yourself a nice pep talk, read through this article again and get to work!