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Learning a Musical Instrument as an Adult.

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

As a teacher and musician, I often hear adults say they wish they had learned an instrument or wish they never quit playing one as a child. Many times in life we look back and wonder how our lives might have been if we had made different decisions and in most cases there is nothing we can do to change the past but learning a musical instrument is something you can do at any time, any age. The great thing about musical instruments is that there are such a vast array of instruments out there. Huge, tiny, cheap, expensive and everything in between. There are specific instruments famous for playing certain styles and specific instruments belonging to certain countries, traditions and cultures. So, somewhere out there is the perfect musical instrument for you. Remember also, that we as humans are musical instruments because we can sing, hum and whistle. Even if you cannot afford to buy a musical instrument, you could just learn to sing better or join a choir and that would be just the same.

Some of the reasons people do not learn an instrument in adulthood is because they think it will be difficult or they do not think they will have time, but I think if most people were asked what instrument they would love to be able to play, everyone would probably answer with an instrument rather than saying none at all. So I hope that this blog post might inspire some of you to start learning an instrument, or even pick an instrument back up that you used to play.

Mental health is such an important thing, equal to physical health and playing a musical instrument could give you so many positive experiences. You will gain a sense of achievement, you will keep your brain active by learning a new skill, you will impress your friends and family, you will be inspired to listen to more music (which is only a good thing) and you will become more confident. It will feed your soul. If you take a look at your average day, I bet there are 15 or 30 minutes in there somewhere that you could commit to learning an instrument and for some people you might even be able to replace a bad habit or something which is having a negative impact on your life. Yes it requires patience, yes it requires discipline but if you are the sort of person who lives the same life day in, day out, then why not give a new musical instrument a go!

So, you have made the decision to start your musical journey, but what instrument should you choose? I think this depends on a number of factors. You might have an old instrument lying around in the garage or attic, your child or friend might be learning an instrument which you could learn together or you might just have a desire to play a specific instrument. Perhaps you enjoy a certain style of music or a certain artist and would love to be able to make that music yourself, or maybe you like the idea of composing some music.

With musical instruments, it is worth bearing in mind that some are going to be easier than others to play, some will be cheaper than others and some might have more maintenance requirements which you need to attend to, maybe like changing strings on a guitar. If you commit to buying a musical instrument, no matter what your budget is, you have to make sure your instrument is going to be well looked after. Some instruments might also require accessories or other items in addition to the instrument, like a guitar amp or valve oil or a music stand, so make sure to do a lot of research when you are deciding which instrument to go for. Most people do just have a gut feeling. Maybe they heard a saxophone player in a bar or loved watching the bass player in a gig or loved the sound of the violin being played at a wedding. This is brilliant because it will give you the motivation required to commit to it. Having a reason, a goal or a target will really help you along your way. But if you have no idea what to play, but know you want to play something then this little guide might help.

There are four main instrument families. Brass, like a trumpet. Woodwind, like the saxophone or flute. Strings, like a violin and percussion like the drum kit. We can also say there is a keyboard family and a guitar family and then that pretty much covers everything. Now imagine, which of these families can anyone make a sound on, without any understanding of it, and that will give you a little indication of how difficult that instrument might be to learn. A trumpet for example makes no musical sound at all unless you do something very specific but a piano and drum kit can be made to make a sound just by touching them. However, when helping a student decide what instrument to learn I would always steer them away from thinking solely about whether it is going to be easy or hard. For a lot of people the specific sound of an instrument is what made the person want to play it and again, if you are in that position you should go with what you want because motivation is very powerful. Presume learning it will be easy and you will have overcome a battle which many musicians struggle with. You can read more about that here.

The pitch of an instrument, meaning how high or low it sounds always depends on its size. So a flute is a higher pitch than a bassoon and a cornet is a higher pitch than a tuba. Generally also, because of the materials needed to make the larger instrument it will probably cost more to buy the bigger instrument. So just from these simple observations you could do a bit of research, listen to some music and decide which instrument is for you.

Before you go out and buy your new instrument you also need to think about how you are going to learn this instrument. How are you going to learn or re-learn the basics or if you are singing, how are you going to develop your existing singing ability? Again there are a number of things to consider and could depend on a lot of factors but this part might also help you make a good decision on which instrument you would like to play. I have seen students in the past who like the idea of trying a whole range of instruments but my advice would be to try and find one and only one to start with and commit to it because your musical journey will potentially advance further, leading to more enjoyment and maybe even new opportunities.

Finding a teacher might be one of the first things on your to do list, but for a variety of reasons some of you might wish to learn without a teacher. You might like the challenge of teaching yourself or trying to learn from YouTube videos. For some instruments this is fine. The guitar, ukulele or drum kit are good examples of instruments you can teach yourself. They are also instruments which you could get away with learning without having to learn to properly read musical notation which, on the one hand seems like a nice short cut but if you were to advance further you might then get frustrated if you needed to learn the basics at a later stage. It all depends on your goals and what you want to get out of playing a musical instrument.

If you want a teacher, it could be someone local who has advertised somewhere or someone from anywhere in the world if you are happy to learn online. Find a teacher who is a specialist on the instrument you are learning or at least a specialist for the family of instruments, or a specialist in the singing style you would like to develop. You might find someone with many years of experience or could find a student who is studying music to teach you. Ask for their qualifications or if they have any examples of performances they have given or their website, as you want to know that you are in good hands. Try and have a trial lesson first and don't commit to anything until you feel happy that person is right for you. Teachers all have different techniques and strategies so find out what that teachers expectations are because you are doing this for positive reasons and the last thing you want is for it to become stressful.

Whatever instrument you are learning, with or without a teacher, here are some important things to keep in mind which will help you progress faster.

1) Start as basic as possible, don't be in a rush and don't skip any important early steps.

2) Get into a daily practice routine.

3) Never give up, if you get a bit frustrated, just take a break.

4) Never be afraid of a new challenge or asking for help.

I hope this blog might inspire people to learn a musical instrument. It is an amazing feeling and one which everyone should enjoy.

Anyone interested to learn a brass instrument, especially the euphonium please get in touch with me and I would be more than happy to teach you!

Thank you for reading!

Mark Glover


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