Learning music is a wonderful thing - but of course I’m biased. However, there is one thing that seems common in a lot of discussions and that is age. People think that their child is too young and others think they’re too old. Some people use medical issues as a reason. In this blog I hope to demonstrate that it doesn’t matter the age - you can start music any time; and with some determination you can find a way to play if you think some ailment may prevent you.
Never Too Young
Given access to music at a young age is very important. Even if the child can’t actually hold, grip, or reach an instrument giving them the opportunity to make noise is so important. They can develop a sense of rhythm early on and will eventually bounce in time to the music, they may even start tapping their feet or clapping along.
Singing songs to a baby and keeping that going as they grow up can also help a great deal…but not in a goo-goo-gah-gah childish voice! Letting them hit the table with there hand, or bash their highchair with a spoon is also a great start to their musical journey. Exposing them to lots of different styles and genres of music is also a very good thing, and not turning music down is best!
The youngest I’ve ever taught is three years old and of course you don’t do an hour long lesson! You can help them understand music in a variety of different ways. Methods I use very much depends on the instrument, but at such a young age doing something percussive or singing is usually a good starting point.
By the time the child is able to read fairly fluently they are usually able to start reading music. Before that though there are options of playing by numbers or even using colours and teaching by rote. There are plenty of options available and even specialist places that are a safe haven for babies and toddlers to go and learn. My friend Kirsty has set up a wonderful place in Westbury, Wiltshire - https://www.firstmelodies.com
Never Too Old
It is true that as we get older we struggle to learn new concepts but that shouldn’t deter us from trying. It’s always good to try something new and if you’re prepared to put the time in the rewards will speak for themselves. Finding the right teacher is of course a vital step in all this and whilst there are many brilliant online courses available, sometimes an actual live person with whom you’re able to interact is what you need.
The number of times I hear, “I wish I never stopped playing…” or, “I always wanted to learn how to play…” and vey often my response is, “Well what’s stopping you now?” If I get the reply about being too old I soon correct them on that! The benefits music has (at any age) are huge. Not least of which is keeping the little grey cells ticking over.
One of the highlights of my career (so far) is teaching a person who wanted to get their grade 7 piano before they were 80. This gave us a couple of years. They’d not played in a very long time, but were keen to put the work in with my guidance. We started straightforward to build up the muscles and confidence that they were still able to do it. After about six months of doing this we then moved onto choosing exam pieces. Two weeks before their 80th birthday they took the exam and with a beautiful serendipity got the result on the actual birthday…passing with distinction!
Now this aforementioned person was prepared to put the hours in to achieve this goal. But maybe you just want to play for fun. To that I say, what’s stopping you! Making music is a wonderful way to spend your time and providing you’re able to patient with yourself whilst you learn, well to be honest I can’t think of anything better to do with your free time.
Ailments Prevent Me
I once got contacted by the wife of a professional musician and record producer. She wanted to learn the piano but had been put off because she had arthritic fingers in a more or less permanent “claw” shape with very little flexibility. I pointed out that while this would of course have an impact on her playing, it shouldn’t prevent her from trying. I was able to modify my teaching to help her play the keys and whilst she wouldn’t be able to play lots of notes at the same time, or even very speedy stuff, to begin with she would be able to play some songs that she liked.
The famous jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, suffered a severe accident which left him without the use of left hand fourth and fifth fingers. His doctors told him that he’d never play guitar again but the mans passion was so strong that he applied himself intensely to relearn his craft. While he never regained the use of the damaged fingers he was able to become a master of his instrument by focussing on the ones that did work. This gave him a unique and instantly recognisable sound.
Rick Allen, the drummer for Def Leppard, was involved in a car accident which severed his left arm. Despite losing his arm Allen decided to continue playing the drums for the band. He adopted a special drum kit to help him do this and continues to play and tour with the band to this day. He is ranked No.7 in “The Greatest Drummers Of All Time” list.
I once had a saxophone student who was registered blind. He did nearly everything by touch. I would explain how to play the notes and he'd memorise how it felt and sounded. When it came to playing the tunes I'd tap out the rhythm for him and he'd learn it by rote. Then I'd tell him the notes phrase by phrase. It was an enjoyable challenge and hugely rewarding.
In conclusion, don’t let a little thing like age or a disability prevent you from making music on an instrument of your choosing. Whilst some things will be more challenging than others, if you want to do it you’ll find a way.