Can An Adult Learn to Play A Musical Instrument?

Not sure if this is more IMHO or GQ so please feel free to move if in wrong forum.

I was thinking of taking up a hobby and have always wanted to play the guitar. Problem is I’m already late twentysomethingorother. Is it possible for an adult who has never played a musical instrument to learn to play one with any degree of skill? Anyone here ever learn to play an instrument from scratch after their 25th birthday?

Yes, and it is extremely rewarding. I wish I’d stuck with it as a kid, but I didn’t seriously begin until I was almost 30. I remembered nothing from my earlier fumblings, so it was indeed “from scratch”. I do not play other instruments.

My advice… get a good guitar! Don’t let anyone talk you into getting a “starter guitar”. It will be much easier to learn, and you’ll enjoy it more, and produce a better sound, if you start out with a quality instrument. I recommend Taylor guitars, personally. I have 3 of them, from mid-range to the absolutely incredible Cujo. I also have a nylon-string Wechter and an electric Fender, as well as 6- and 12-string “beaters”, etc., but the Taylors are my passion.

Make sure to get a reputable shop to set up your new guitar. Find a good instructor, or a book you like, and some friends you can play with who don’t mind that you’re new to it, and have a ball!

Dude, you are so “In”.

[checks Amp’s location]


There ya go. They wouldn’t have a nationwide organization to teach adults to play musical instruments if adults couldn’t learn to play musical instruments.

…and those are “seniors”, too, who are learning to play the clarinet. Not young whippersnappers.

You may be the only person there who still has his own teeth. :smiley:

There are a lot of people that pick up an instrument later in life. Just like everything else, it may be a little easier if you are a kid, but it can be done. And from what I have heard, the guitar is fairly easy as far as musical instruments go.

If you get a private instructor, make sure you two like each other, communicate well, and generally mesh well. Otherwise, you’ll pretty much be throwing money out the window.

Good luck! :slight_smile:

OK, you guys talked me into it. I’ll do it! I’ll rob the Quik-E-Mart! D’oh! I mean I’ll start looking more seriously into it. Anyone know how much a good guitar would cost me? Like what Sample_the_Dog was talking about? Not actual prices but rough estimates?

Sure! I took up the pipes at 39. Wouldn’t say I’m that good a player, but I’m having fun with them and getting better all the time.

And here’s a link to a self-confessed old fart who learned to play the pipes in his 50s.

[Re-reads OP]

“Late twentysomethingorother”! You’re not an adult - you’re barely out of the babe in arms stage!

Sheesh! kids these days!

I started guitar after I was 25. I’d had two years of piano lessons when I was around 10, which helped with my understanding of theory (transposing, chord progressions, etc.) but gave no advantage for the physical aspect of playing.

In the beginning, it’s tough. You’re asking your fingers and brain to do things they haven’t had to do before. Patience with yourself and a high frustration threshhold are helpful assets. Progress will come.

Reasonable quality acoustic guitars can be found in the $300-500 range. The advice of a knowledgeable friend and/or certain internet discussion forums can be invaluable. One source of the latter is the Mudcat Cafe ( – Under “Lyrics and knowledge,” do some searches on “beginner guitar,” “buying guitar,” and the like).

Good luck, and have fun. I sure do.

I dunno if I’d sink a ton of money into a guitar before I started playing at all. My local music store sells pretty decent beginner models for about $120 new with warranty.

A few simple guidlines to make things easier:

  1. if your goal is to just play guitar then do just that. Too many people can get sidetracked with attempting to learn elementary music theory and how to read music. Stick with learning some chords and then learn a few simple songs and how to strum them and be able to change chords as needed. This can be the tough part ; switching between chords, but persevere it comes real easy if you take it slow.

  2. listen to and learn a few simple beatles songs or anyone else that you might be fond of. If you like the song and want to learn it search for tabs on the internet , they can be very helpfull once you understand them.

3.try to at least hum if not singing aloud with any song you learn
soon it becomes easy to change chords and continue singing along. If you want to learn to really play guitar ie scales, theory, sight reading, be able to play melody or lead lines etc etc. that is a tall but not impossible task. But you would need to dedicate a lot of practice time to attain that level of competence, although not completlely out of the question if you happened to take some sort dedicated and studious approach to it. My point is keep it simple strum and sing. Learn the simple stuff before going to to bigger and better stuff

  1. One of the the toughest parts is getting past the “divots” on your fingers. This too will come to pass once you get past the pain. Once again go easy a build in to it gradually

  2. Don’t give up and enjoy

I’ll venture that nobody learns to play the bagpipes except as an adult.

Buying used might be the way to go, especially since the resale market is low right now – good for buyers, bad for someone who buys new, gives it up, and wants to sell the instrument. Go to a reputable shop, play the guitar (wouldn’t do eBay), have them set it up for you if/when you make a purchase.

I still advise against a “starter” model. The action won’t be as good, which will make it more difficult to play, it won’t stay in tune as well, it won’t sound as good. Once you start fumbling around on fretboards, you’ll see that on some models your fingers will play notes easily by resting on the strings, while on other models you have to press harder. The latter guitars will make your learning much more difficult.

Have the dealer play a few models for you. Ask his/her opinion – just don’t try to press him/her into making your decision. Ask other players in the shop… just be prepared for an earful. :wink: Bring along a friend who plays, if you can.

To further cut down on price, look for a quality guitar with cosmetic flaws, dings and such, that don’t affect sound quality. (No cracked faces, warped necks, or bridges pulling off the face, of course.) Do check some resources on buying/choosing a guitar as mentioned above.

I’m not sure I agree with that, Sample. I took up guitar late in life (though I learned other instruments before) and found that a HARDER action was better for learning on.

It’s the same theory that leads me to recommend that a rookie get an acoustic instead of an electric to learn on. The acoustic will be more demanding at first but will make everything easier after you get the hang of it. And dear God playing an electric is child’s play after learning on an acoustic.

So put me in the ‘used’ category, at least at first. Check to make sure the neck isn’t warped and the strings aren’t too far off the fretboard and you should be OK.

I understand the initial concern that learning as an adult is harder than as a child but, like I said, I did it and so can you. But, as with anything, you get out of it what you put in. Practice conscientiously and you’ll be amazed how quickly you gain ground.

I taught guitar for five years to people of all ages, and I heartily encourage you to get started. As an adult, you probably have better learning and organizational skills than you did as a child, not to mention full-size hands.

I would second the recommendation to avoid a lot of reading and theory at the outset – it’s more important for an adult to get their fingers moving. It’s sufficient to learn the names of chords, and to read tabulature.

You are correct that guitar is one of the easier instruments to reach the first rung on (as opposed to, say, violin).

Have fun!

I learned very basic piano (and sightreading) at four or so and picked up the trumpet at 11, so I have the background in music, but I found the guitar to be really hard. I think you’ll be better off with no musical background.

I was looking for MUSIC to read, and chords had completely escaped me. I only learned enough piano to be okay with the right hand, and there aren’t a lot of chords for brass instruments…

I need to pick up that trumpet again.

FilmGeek, who is 25.


Lots of kids learn - bagpipes are increasingly seen as a way cool instrument, much more fun than the piano, for example. What kid wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to make lots and lots of noise, and then look innocent and say, "but mum, I’m practising!

Minimum starting age is around 7, when the hands are big enough to cover all the holes on the chanter.

A book that might be a good read.

If you’re not even sure in the first place that you even want to learn to play the guitar, IMO there’s nothing wrong with getting a cheapie acoustic guitar at a place like Circuit City, Toys R Us, or K’s Merchandise. They usually run about $100-120, as noted, and if you look around you can sometimes find them in the $60-70 price range. Then if after a week or so you decide “guitar” isn’t for you, you won’t feel guilty about having dropped $300 on it, or on having spent weeks combing the want ads for a good used guitar.

Bleh, Duck! I’ll admit that I don’t have much experience with cheapo guitars, but I can only imagine how awful those things must be. Even if Amp finally learned a chord it’d probably still sound horrible. No, his first experience with a guitar should be a good one so that he wants to continue with it. Perhaps you could just find a friend who could let you borrow one for a week or two, Amp? Everyone plays the guitar nowadays anyway. It shouldn’t be too hard to find someone who’s willing to help you.

I took piano lessons for a year when I was 9. HATED it. Switched to violin at 10 and loved it. Switched to viola at 15 and loved it too (played throughout high school and college). Tried to teach myself guitar when I was 18, thinking it would be a cinch, and FAILED miserably.

I’m 26 now. After a four year haitus from playing, I decided to go back to the piano. Despite having had a formal course in music theory back in high school, I couldn’t name the notes in bass cleff (the left hand), and I could only play a few simple ditties on my right hand.

Now I’m pretty good at it and enjoy playing a ton. The thing that has made it easy for me is that I only play songs that I like. I don’t pick songs based on their difficulty…I pick songs that are recognizable and fun to play. That way I’m motivated to practice. Also, it’s easier playing a new piece when you know how it sounds beforehand.

The thing to remember is that it’s not going to be easy at first. You’re going to suck in the beginning. It will be hard remembering the fingering. It will hurt moving up and down the fingerboard (the callouses will come in time). Some of the chords are going to seem impossible (like the F chord…bleh!). You’re not going to sound musical at first. This is where having a teacher will help you. A good instructor will give you confidence and their presence will motivate you to try. Taking lessons will also force you to practice. Sometimes you need that “force” in the beginning when you feel frustrated.

If the guitar doesn’t pan out, there’s always the piano. You could get a nice keyboard for a little over $100. The great thing about keyboards is that there are no strings that need to be tuned or changed and they are fun at parties, where there’s always at least one person who can play something. Personally, I think it’s easier playing the piano than the guitar but YMMV.