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chicklit's avatar

Is it possible to become a great musician at an older age?

Asked by chicklit (212 points ) May 22nd, 2011

Let’s say someone has no background whatsoever in music. Is it possible they can still learn all about music theory, composition and play an instrument with ease? I had a conversation with a friend who thinks it’s highly unlikely. I argue that you can, that it’s all dependent upon whether or not you’re serious about it. Thoughts?

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18 Answers

incendiary_dan's avatar

You just have a bit of a steeper learning curve. Muscle memory is easier to form at a younger age, and joint inflammation can effect how lots of instruments are played. Nothing actually stopping it from happening, though.

BarnacleBill's avatar

If you have natural talent that was never developed, you probably can. If you’re average, you can probably become technically adept, which is not the same as “great” but probably more like “proficient.”

Axemusica's avatar

Many instruments take something called time to learn how to play. I would have to only concur with @incendiary_dan and say that the learning curve would be quite steep. Also muscle memory is a huge factor when playing an instrument. I would go as far as to say it’s possible, but highly unlikely.

On the other hand though, someone that’s been experienced as a musician through a lengthy period in there life might be more adept to pulling this off later in life than the latter.

wundayatta's avatar

Of course you can—if you practice enough. I have heard radio stories about people who have done this. I doubt if it will take longer than it would if you were a kid. Kids have to learn how to read music at an age where it is very hard. You won’t have that impediment. You will also have a great deal of background knowledge that will help you learn more quickly.

How well you do will be based, in part, on which instrument you choose. An instrument that requires only hands to control will probably be easier than an instrument that also requires breath. no matter what it is, though, you have to practice and practice and practice.

marinelife's avatar

According to the book Outliers, what you need is 10,000 hours of practice to become great at anything.

Axemusica's avatar

@marinelife that’s neat. So I averaged mine with 4hours a day (which is probably much more than that, but I’m doing a low number because there are some days that I don’t play) over the 16+ years I’ve been playing equals out to about 23,360 hours of play. I imagine it’s a much higher number than that since there have been quite a few days that that’s all I’ve done is play my guitar.

@wundayatta learning to read music is an option. After having practiced well over the 10K mark as @marinelife mentioned above I still don’t know how to read notation. It just looks like sticks, dots & lines to me, but I can listen to anything and mimic it with just about any instrument that doesn’t require breath.

dxs's avatar

I don’t think so. Coming from a musical standpoint, you can learn an instrument and theory to an extent, but I feel that you are too old to start anew and expect to be great. Many years and immersion as a child leads to great musical performers of the days. It’s kind of like learning a new language—once you get to a certain age, your brain just can’t remember these things. Of course, there are prodigies also, and you never mentions your specific age.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I hope to be playing this someday on my harmonica ;)

JLeslie's avatar

I knew someone who took up guitar in his 40’s. He plays in a band now. It’s pretty cool.

mcsnazzy's avatar

You can if you set your heart to it. Music like anything needs practice to be good at. However, unlike some things,,,music takes a lot of time. You have to learn the notes, learn to read them, and then apply them to an instrument. Then you must be able to build skill on said instrument. I have been playing piano for 11 years which is more than half of my life. I still can’t master the art of sight reading. However, I joined band at school and play clarinet. I have only played for 3 years. Usually, I get about 125 hours in a semester, maybe more, and then practices after school, and then performances. This is about 400 hours in the past 3 years. Since then , I can play fluently, and I have won 2 awards. I have also played the music for West Side Story which is extremely challenging. So, depending on the amount of time, the person, and the type of instrument, I would say yes. I can play clarinet well and I have only played for 3 years, however, it only deals with the treble clef where piano deals with bass and treble and requires different skills.

stardust's avatar

I believe if you put the time and dedication in, you most definitely could. I usually associate Great with natural talent, but who knows. Anything’s possible really :)

perspicacious's avatar

Yes. Great is great regardless from where it comes!

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Rarebear's avatar

Of course. It just takes hard work.

bea2345's avatar

Anything is possible. You can achieve much if you try.

gondwanalon's avatar

With a lot of hard work and dedication you can become a good musician at an older age. To become a great musician you must be lucky enough to have “the gift” that no amount of hard work can achieve. You either have the gift of a special inherent natural talent or you don’t. Do you have the gift? Why not go for it and see? Nothing ventured nothing gained.

_zen_'s avatar

I read all the answers and I especially like @gondwanalon ‘s – but great is a very relative term. Genius is thrown around a lot, too, and a lot of youngsters, who are indeed amazingly gifted musicians, show that you don’t necessarily need 40 thousand hours of practise. If you’re gifted.

An average joe who is middle aged and suddenly picks up the guitar should take a zen-like aproach and really enjoy the journey. It’s rare that he’ll reach the top of the mountain. Not impossible – for anything is possible – just highly unlikely. If he had had the gift – it would have presented itself in his youth; he wouldn’t have been able to control the desire and urge to play.

Methinks an average middle-aged joe picking up an instrument for the first time should approach it with a lot of patience, and humour.

AshlynM's avatar

It may depend on how much older we’re talking. Also if there are any mobility, hand eye coordination or joint/muscle issues.

Take the piano for example. I’m not well educated on arthritis, but I would imagine someone with this type of condition would have a difficult time playing the keys and sitting for a long period of time. Not to mention the hours of practice piano requires.

To an extent, yes, anything is possible, especially with a lot of hard work.

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