Learning an instrument at YOUR pace

It’s self-evident that rushing things is very rarely a good thing. In fact, it’s fair to say that most things come out best if you take your time over them: really invest in them and think carefully about what you’re doing.

This is certainly true when it comes to making music. Many of the skills required to learn an instrument (such as piano or guitar) need to be developed specifically for this purpose; they’re not part of the average person’s repertoire of everyday abilities. Such skills include:

  • Understanding historical, conceptual ideas about pitch and rhythm.
  • Grasping how these concepts are communicated in writing (requiring the ability to read music / TAB, and correctly interpret what other musicians are trying to say through this medium).
  • Applying the above knowledge to the physical, muscular mechanisms of the body: pressing the correct key or picking the right string accordingly.
  • Being able to manage this multi-faceted process within a fixed time frame, as determined by the tempo and rhythm of the music.
  • Coordinating many different muscular actions simultaneously to, for example, strum a rhythm with one hand, while making a chord shape with the other.
  • Make subtle adjustments to a variety of variables (such as the length or volume of a group of notes) in order to communicate something meaningful and understandable by audiences and other musicians.

So, it’s not at all surprising that a student taking up an instrument for the first time can expect to count their progress in months and years, rather than the days and weeks that many people hope. That’s not to say that learning a musical instrument can’t be immediately engaging and fun. But, the process of learning and mastering musical performance must be enjoyed in and of itself, because it is a very long process indeed. Some people have estimated that a student needs to put in around 10,000 hours of focused practise in order to become ‘competent’ on an instrument. I can’t say for sure how accurate this magic number is, but it surely takes time and dedication to get to the point when a student feels confident enough to perform, especially as part of a group.

And, the rate at which people learn is itself widely variable. Naturally, children and young adults tend to be quickest to pick up the concepts and physical skills they need to accurately replicate performances that they have observed (in writing, on YouTube or by their peers and teachers). But, older adults tend to have the necessary patience to really understand what they’re trying to achieve and work through things in a logical manner.

So, whatever your age, as long as you have the time in your life to regularly pick up your instrument (or sit down at it), play as much as possible, and make sure that you dedicate some practise sessions to completing clearly set goals, there’s no reason why you can’t take great pleasure from learning to become a musician. And, like with so many things in life, you really do get out of music what you put into it.. just don’t try to rush it!

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