These days most of my private students are adults. A few years ago there was a healthy split between teaching adults and children the guitar. This included the days in the week I used to teach children at a school.
These days, however, I am far too busy with Guitar Domination to teach in the school and only have a couple of students under the age of 18.
In fact, the majority of my private students are over the age of 40. And this is the way I like it.
This goes for both one to one students and for readers/subscribers/clients from Guitar Domination — my main online resource.
I don’t actually enjoy teaching kids all that much. Not because I am a misery who hates kids. Far from it, I have one of my own now (my 6 month old, Archie) and love kids.
It’s simply because when learning guitar as an adult, they—the adults—make much better students who really want to improve and nearly all of them absolutely love playing and learning the guitar.
The students who I have taught the longest (well over 3 years+ at the time of writing) are all adults. Over 90% of the students who I have taught for at least two years have been adults.
That is an incredible statistic and one that completely goes against the grain of what many believe — that you should learn an instrument when younger. In my experience, that is a complete myth sprouted by those who just assume you should learn younger or those who never give it a go.
Okay, so my experience is only on a small scale when it comes to all the students of guitar in the world, but still there is a valuable lesson to be learned — that is, learning later on in life can be a very good thing.
How many of you have learnt an instrument as a kid and then for some reason completely stopped playing?
There are a huge number of adults over the age of 30 who all learned or started learning an instrument such as the recorder, trumpet, flute, drums, oboe or violin when they were at school.
Only a small fraction, I would say less than 2-5% still play that instrument 10 or 20 years later.
I might even be being generous when I say 2-5%.
It’s my belief that learning any instrument and especially the guitar is better to do as an adult than as a child and here are the reasons why.
#1 Adults are generally way more passionate about playing the guitar than most kids.
The couple of kids I teach these days are both very passionate about playing the guitar. They really enjoy it and regularly practice. Even so, these two I am talking about still aren’t as passionate about learning as the majority of the adults I teach.
Many children learn guitar because their parents encourage them to do so. The parents know about the health and educational benefits of learning an instrument and the guitar is, let’s be frank, way cooler than the oboe or trumpet (no offense oboe and trumpet players).
The unfortunate thing, though, is that many children really don’t care for playing an instrument. They often would much rather climb trees, play sport, or make ropeswings. I know I was that way when I was younger.
I’m not saying discourage your child if you have one. Definitely encourage them, but only if that’s what they want to do. If the child is pushed to learn guitar, they may hate it, and be mentally scarred from trying it out again in the future.
On the other hand, when learning guitar as an adult, they only learn guitar because they have a curious interest (at worst) or a deep burning desire (at best). Even if they start off with a curious interest it often turns into a deep burning desire when they get bitten by the bug which nearly always happens at some point.
This usually happens when they first learn a song they have loved all their lives, when they first play a piece of simple music to a friend or loved one and they recognise it or when they have a really good jam over a few beers with a friend..
Children don’t usually get this feeling, or if they do, it is not as strong. However, when learning guitar as an adult and someone gets bitten by the guitar playing bug, once they do—whether or not they like it (of course they do)—they are guitarists for life.
#2 Adults know exactly what songs and bands they like
I have found that most kids generally don’t have a particular style of music or particular bands they enjoy. Yes, they like the odd song on the radio by artists such as ‘Little Mix’ and those who are similar but for the most part they don’t really know what they like.
Most adults have a big collection of bands, artists and songs they love. Some have these in vinyl, some CDs, some mp3s and some just by listening to the same radio station (most stations play the same songs over the course of a week).
Therefore, adults really know what they love to listen to and, therefore, what they want to learn on the guitar. It’s always much more fun to learn the songs YOU love to listen to and not just practice pointless exercises without a reason or learns songs you have no emotional connection to (e.g. that Bon Jovi song you first heard when falling in love).
Kids without any music they are passionate about don’t have this joy and this is one reason why they aren’t as passionate about the guitar as your typical adult.
I actually think the best time for a child to learn to start playing an instrument is the time when they find some music they are passionate about.
Learning guitar as an adult, you have no doubt built up years or decades of songs you love. Now, what happens when you learn that song you have heard a 1000 times and dreamed of playing?
Yep, you will fall in love with the guitar some more.
#3 Adults enjoy listening to guitar music more than kids
These days it’s a disappointing trend but less and less mainstream music is featuring the guitar. In the 60’s, 70’s and to some degree the 80’s, the guitar was still the prevalent instrument in music alongside drums and the bass guitar of course.
In the 90’s the synths were out and the guitar was back with a bang, but since especially over the last 10 years more and more mainstream music features less guitar, and guess what, most kids are hearing this music everywhere.
Not all guitar free music is bad by any means. I quite like electronica and love bands such as Massive Attack and The Chemical Brothers, but I love guitar music more than anything.
One student of mine who is 14 didn’t really know what a guitar solo is or what lead guitar is and because of this he didn’t really enjoy it when he first heard one — until I gave him a briefing of the best classic solos that is and then got him started with the pentatonic scale.
At first, he actually thought a guitar solo was a bit odd, but he had never really heard one before. Imagine that, being a guitarist and not really knowing what a guitar solo is!
Adults tend to love listening to the guitar and have been exposed to it all their lives whether that be via the music of The Beatles, James Taylor, Guns ‘n’ Roses or Nirvana. They enjoy the sound of the guitar more than a child who has never really heard it before.
This makes them much more keen on learning the guitar as an adult and sticking with it during the doubting days. (Check the glossary for a definition).
#4 Adults have the resources to pay for equipment and lessons themselves
Learning guitar as an adult or as a child for that matter isn’t really cheap. It doesn’t have to cost a bomb but just like any hobby, there are endless amounts of resources that you could flutter away lots of money on. Things such as Guitar Pro and Jamplay (which are both are popular), private lessons, new equipment, magazines, e-Courses and more all add up.
Throughout your guitar journey, you’ll often hit brick walls when, for a short amount of time, you get stumped.
This can be on things such as chord changes or what song to learn next, lack of finger mobility, or ‘why is my rhythm out?’ or anything at all really.
You can plough through this time and hope for the best, ask a friend who plays (a much better option if you can do it) or find a useful resource to help you.
Children and teenagers often don’t have the luxury of getting lessons or buying a specific resource when they hit a brick wall but most (not all though) adults can afford this at various points.
This can make a big difference between massive frustration and giving up the instrument. Children, especially those without guidance from an experience guitarist or teacher, often learn quickly, then get stuck. This can easily put them off, especially, when they have no idea where to turn to.
You don’t need to spend large amounts of money to get good at guitar, but the ability to buy something (even as simple as a metronome or capo) does help.
#5 Adults actually have more free time to learn and practice
Kids and especially teenagers have so much going on in their lives these days that finding the time to actually practice is such a massive task.
Pretty much all the children I have taught over the years have a large number of other things they are doing. Some are recreational such as sports, scouts and other clubs. Some are educational such as revising for exams or after school classes.
Kids seem to be way busier these days than when I was at school in the late 90’s. I hardly remember doing much on an evening apart from playing sports and teaching myself guitar.
It’s definitely different these days. Kids just don’t have as much time as they used to. This is one of the reasons I don’t teach as many kids as I used to. They simply have been unable to make lessons for many weeks, rendering that time useless.
Learning guitar as an adult, students tend to miss about 5-10% of potential lessons with me due to other commitments such as holidays and nights out. Kids, on the other hand, miss loads more (about 30-35%) due to other commitments such as those mentioned above.
Adults, especially those without kids or those with fully grown up kids—which many of you are, find that you have lots more time to practice and to practice properly and really fine tune those strumming and fingerpicking skills.
Obviously, adults like me with young children find that time is at a premium.
But the majority of adults reading this do indeed have more time to practice the guitar than children—surprising, but true.
#6 Adults can understand and apply music theory to save a LOT of time
Music theory is so important as it has the potential to save you hundreds of hours of practice and learning each year.
Learning guitar as an adult, students tend to take on these aspects of music theory better than children, especially younger children. Think of it this way, if a child has only just learnt his or her A-B-C’s, understanding what chords are in a key or what a scale is and how they relate is a huge concept beyond their comprehension at this stage.
On the other hand, those learning guitar as an adult—no matter if they are 20 or 80—have the ability to understand music theory as it isn’t really all that complex especially when taught in a fun practical way just like in my book.
I have found that some retired students initially find soaking up the concepts of music theory a little difficult but with a small amount of practice, they really get on-board with it as soon as they see the benefits of learning the theory and how it applies to the guitar and saves them lots of time. They then begin to love it.
Some of these retired guitarists are learning the instrument while struggling with a couple of physical problems such as poor health or arthritis.
Having a good understanding of music theory (which most younger people and children don’t have) gives them a really powerful advantage over the younger generation.
While the younger generation ploughs through and tries to learn things in a haphazard way, the older and wiser students applies his or her knowledge of music theory and skips past the young whipper snapper with ease.
Brains over brawn definitely works. I’ve seen it time and again.
There you have it, six powerful reasons to help you realise that it is never too late to learn guitar and not only that, but learning guitar later on in life means you will be far more likely to stick with it in my experience.
If you are over 40, like most readers of this blog, you may have (or have had in the past) some doubts about whether or not you should have learned younger. Now, it’s time to realise, nope, now is the best time to learn.
Get cracking, your guitar is waiting for you.