Does A Guitarist’s Age Matter?
This guitar lark is a young man’s (or woman’s) game, right? A perfectly understandable impression which we seem to be continuously exposed to; wether its the multitudes of online videos showcasing the mind melting virtuosity of impossibly young prodigies or backstories of history’s greatest guitarists who all, it may appear, reached their musical peak before becoming old enough to drive.
The truth is, guitarists of all ages are plagued with self doubt, it is actually a universal trait which binds us all - from extreme metal shred heads to those battling with their first chords. The concept of age having a detrimental effect on our progress as players is nothing more than one of many stories we often tell ourselves to support negative reasoning. Facts support that younger and older students have an equal share of individual advantages and disadvantages specific to their time of life and lifestyle. Any perceived physical or mental barriers (slower fingers, slower at learning new skills etc) simply fall into part of that, afore mentioned, self doubt narrative - remember; we are not talking about becoming a competition body builder or gaining a role at NASA! This is guitar, and the beauty of the instrument has always come from the root that anyone can play and now (as we’ll discover) is best time to take your playing further! Let’s take a look at a handful of the many advantages afforded to maturing guitarists. Younger players - take note too! The guitar is going to be a long term companion and there will come a time when a change in your perceptions is the thing which keeps you playing.
If there is a single word which encapsulates the key to achieving your goals on any instrument it is ‘time’. Let’s forget the fabled 10,000 hour rule which puts a figure on the time taken to master any skill, and focus on the quality of time. Those who strive on the guitar have one unifying factor - it is not the number of hours they dedicate to the guitar but how they spend that time. As mature musicians, time management is our first advantage. The ability to work to a plan, focused attention and juggling the array of tasks which daily adult life dishes out, all contribute to the skill of organising tasks such as guitar practise efficiently. Clear and defined goals which are worked towards through intense short practise sessions are the way forward.
There is a myth that some humans are more mentally or physically predisposed to musical prowess - ‘talent’, not a popular word amongst the top musicians for the soul reason that every ‘talented’ musician has invested time into their skill. It is no wonder then that, when any player embarks on a more focused approach to learning, they inevitably get much better!
As we grow older we also acquire the understanding that our time is valuable and the importance of setting aside regular time to focus on what makes us happy is key to a balanced life. I hate to use the phrase (and cringe as I write it) but there is truth in the wisdom that ‘the best things in life are free’. Music and the feeling you get from playing guitar is certainly at the top of this list. It is easier to see the importance of enjoying the guitar rather than submit to any external pressures. If you are harbouring any feelings that it is too late to reach your goals, then change up the way you spend your time with the guitar and you’ll soon see your playing elevated.
Let’s not forget the virtue of patience to. A wisdom we all gain as we grow is the notion that great things build over time. We are reminded of this by the ever present savings, mortgages, career developments and children which require our investment in order to reap the later rewards.
2. Modern resources
There is a good argument to state that now is the absolutely best time to learn or develop your skills as a guitarist. In days gone by aspiring players would painstakingly drop a needle back to the same point on a vinyl record to torturously master a lick or riff. Now, whilst this may be a great badge of honour, it certainly is not the best way to spend our time. Of, course learning by ear has huge benefits to our wider ability on any instrument but the facility and technology to help us transcribe by our ears alone has never been better and is a skill to which there is now a boundless base of modern aids.
Internet learning has provided us all with an almost endless and instantly accessible resource to serve the needs of every taste, ambition and level of guitarist. The music and, more importantly, new music/guitar players ready to inspire and influence us are not waiting to be discovered at the dusty end of an obscure music store. They are at our fingertips. The ability to search for new sources of musical motivation is a key factor in growing as a guitarist.
Here’s another looked benefit of the global internet age - support and community. No matter what your goals, frustrations or positive guitar experiences; at that very moment there are thousands of players who are on the same leg of their guitar journey (young and old) waiting to offer potential solutions or encouraging words. It is worth reaching out an embracing this - social media groups, forums and video/music sharing platforms serve as the perfect way to drive us forward on our guitar quest. Playing the guitar can often be a solitary activity, particularly the practise and development aspect. In the absence of performing with other musicians the best way to gain advise and support is to connect with other guitar players. Remember, we’ll all in this together!
3. Goal setting
As adults, we live and work in a target driven, aspirational society as we grow older we learn to embrace this. We develop a sense of both long term and short term goals and how to work towards them differently. Use this knowledge and apply it to your guitar practise - set a goal for each practise session; this may be to complete a particular video lesson, master a solo, learn a lick or develop a new technique. Imagine what you want to achieve in the next month or the guitar player you want to be this time next year. Set this as your long term goal, use it as a source of motivation and focus on building steps in your daily practise to get you there.
Remember, goals are entirely personal and should reflect what excites you. Don’t feel, however, that you have to restrict yourself or aim for achievements which you feel are befitting to your age - your long term goal may be as specific as learning to play the parts on a particular album from start to finish or it may be rock stardom (why not?). It is worth noting the number of musicians, actors and other artists who found fame in later life - pioneering bluesman Howlin’ Wolf was a farmer until his forties before becoming a prominent name on the music scene. Now household name actors such as Samuel L. Jackson and Morgan Freeman were in their forties and fifties (respectively) before making the A-list. The only limit to your goal is the course of action with which you take to get there.
4. Use your worldly wisdom
The chances are life has thrown you a few upheavals and opportunities to start a fresh. You’ve had to deal with life changes and most likely reinvented yourself a few times. Apply these experiences to your guitar playing. Older players also tend to have a more open mind when it comes to aspects of life. Use these perspectives to branch out - explore new styles and live outside your comfort zone for a while; if you’re die hard blues guitarist, then take a bold move and investigate some metal lessons, if you live and breath all things rock then dip into jazz or country lessons for a week. The guitar world has become an ‘all you can eat’ buffet which we are all invited too so dig in and explore as much of it as you can. There is something fundamentally magical about the idea of a player in their twilight years discovering thrash metal for the first time!
You have also learnt to trust your instincts and give little mind to the naysayers - another benefit of maturing is generally caring less about what others think of us and our actions. Without the social or peer based pressure we are able to focus on the single task of developing our guitar skills and tune out those who are perhaps less than encouraging.
Another mature viewpoint (and this is echoed by every parental chat you were on the receiving end of as a kid) is that anything worth doing is worth doing right. The lesson here is to enjoy the process not the end result, celebrate every breakthrough, no matter how small. Don’t rush and don’t compare yourself to anyone other than the player you were yesterday.
Hopefully this blog has been an encouraging read. Remember that progress gained at any skill is determined entirely by the character of an individual rather than their perceived limitations. If you have discipline and dedication then the skies the limit!