Taking lessons past age 66 - what should I expect?
This is slightly an inner response to the other thread on playing music being a childish exercise, which I'm not sure why that thread is getting so many responses.
I'm going to recap what I wrote at the end of this meandering piece as a bookend.
Are there age related limitations that I should expect, yet not use them as an excuse to give up, and not BEAT MYSELF UP about them.
And I'll add this: I know I'm better off than not taking lessons past the age of 66.
What I experience is frustration.
What I experience is some sense of improvement.
What I experience is a sense of inadequate improvement.
What I experience is some small gains in the music I already play (intonation, dexterity).
What I experience is sometimes wanting to avoid stuff causing the frustration (currently Minuet 2 in Suzuki 1, and some by ear stuff I'm working on).
What I experience is "I'm just paying money for something that I'll never be able to play up to speed nor perform live because I've started too late and ......" other inner critic stuff.
It is decidedly UPHILL. Which, it's supposed to be.
I'm learning to read (for the last 5 months), but often cannot hear the melody in my head when I read it on the page, unless I know the work already. I like to commit melody to memory so it becomes a sort of "by ear", or rather "by mental ear".
I have age related memory issues and ADHD, which limits my working memory and my ability to concentrate. I sometimes miss small details. Still, I'd have to say that I've developed melody memory and other music skills over the last 20 years playing other instruments by ear.
This is a meandering post, and not sure where I'm going with it. Just a post out of frustration, and not progressing as well as I'd like (I play music with someone who's played for 29 years, and he's a little competitive). My ADHD limits my practice time, but I've increased from 10 min/day to 50 min/day through a software program that I wrote that keeps practice items within view and logs total time practicing them.
And to bookend my opening comment, are there age related limitations that I might be up against that I need to give myself a bit of a break on, yet not give up by using age as an excuse.
And am I fooling myself to think that challenging my brain with music is going to have benefits far beyond just playing the music itself. Like staving off further memory issues and mental and physical decline. Not that 66 puts me at death's door.
As someone also learning a new instrument, at 70, let me balance your comments by saying that while my memory is trashed, I have a much better understanding of process, and at directing my efforts, than I did when I was at 12, so my learning is more efficient. My attention is short, but I know how to get more done in less time. I'm never going to advance to a professional level, but I'm not doing this for that reason, and have no delusions about that.
Hi Michael. I checked your profile and followed the link for the violin builders workshop. I see you have Anya Burgess as a teacher. While I do not personally know her, I know, to some small degree, some of the folks she plays music with (Magnolia Sisters). And I'm from South Louisiana. I know she's a transplant. I recently read an article or interview of her.
No, I'm learning trumpet. I already play a number of things with strings, and a couple with buttons. Trumpet is as unrelated to what I know as I could find, and I never even held one until two months ago. I'm doing it for real: good horn, good teacher, lots of good practice.
I've heard some scientists start learning Chinese in their later years to keep their mind fluid, since it is so so very different than their current language.
I think that for learning string-instrument playing skills there is a "curve of potential" you can grade yourself on. That curve is shaped like the trajectory of any object propelled by a single impulse (ball, bullet, etc.) into the air at some angle. The vertical axis is the potential level of skill and the horizontal axis is your age. I'm quite certain of this. This "curve of potential" is definitely not the same for all people.
"am I fooling myself to think that challenging my brain with music is going to have benefits far beyond just playing the music itself"
I am also 66 but I still want to remind you that slow progress is normal (unless you are a super talent) when you learn the violin. Frustration has been growing and subsiding all along my "career" as an amateur violinist. So don't automatically assume there is something about your age that causes it.
I think the only good excuse is "I don't practice enough." Anything else is lame.
@ Roger, I am working through a Suzuki book, where they do expect you to memorize the pieces. However, I can see where if something gets lengthy, that won't work. Focus and practice is a hurdle, you're right, but I've developed a "mental prosthesis" to help me. And I practice in smaller time periods and stack them up during the day. So, 50 min/day in 10 or more sittings is what I'm doing.
I strongly believe that studying and playing classical music helps decline the aging processes. Perhaps other types of music does as well, but most of those musicians that I know lived very unhealthy life styles and were around a lot of second hand smoking and such. I know quite a few classically trained older musicians and all of them are doing exceptionally well physically and mentally. My Mom died from dementia a few years ago so one of the reasons I restarted was to keep my brain as stimulated as possible as well as to be a practice buddy with my now 9 year old daughter. I am now 50 and also enjoy the challenges of playing the instrument. I do not feel at this point that I have any age related issues that are impeding my improvement. It has helped me with hearing music differently, making my left hand more useful, and I feel more alert and sharper in general. It also gives me a different purpose in life down a different trajectory that is not related to my profession or other hobbies that I can always enjoy with my daughter.
I happen to be a physician who deals with dementia patients on a regular basis. I won't quote the research, but physically and mentally challenging activities seem to have a positive, perhaps preventive effect. I have been involved with music since age 8: piano, trumpet, guitar. Over the last 25 years I have played trumpet and guitar in various semi-professional groups. As a personal challenge, at age 60 I decided to pursue the viola and secured a teacher--likewise a Suzuki man, but he allows fiddle tunes and other things as well. I made it clear up front that my desire is not really to take the viola public--it is purely a personal challenge. The frustration for me is that I know the music--I can rip it off on guitar or trumpet--but the limitation on the viola is the radically different technique. To me it is like a golf swing with lots of moving parts: stance (position), grip (bow and left hand), swing (bow action). My analogy would be that I am still hooking and slicing and not getting much in the fairway after about 2 years. That said, I have personal patience to stick with it, and fortunately a patient teacher. I am going at it in very small bites, and that is what I think works best for an older neurologic system.
"I am working through a Suzuki book, where they do expect you to memorize the pieces."
On a simple behavioural level, like any other activity, motivation to learn violin narrows down to carrots vs. sticks (reward vs. punishment) ratio.
I think it’s more important to enjoy the process of playing an instrument rather than expect goals. For me , practicing is a pure joy and my form of meditation. I can practice for hours and hours because I just love it so much. Of course, I want to get better (don’t we all) but I’m just enjoying the moment.
I totally agree with finding activities that make you enjoy the process of playing. I started flute a year before the violin. When I was learning the flute, my "flute world" has only my teacher, my group class and I. I didn't quite get along with my teacher, nor I can produce the tone quality I wanted, so it really not rewarding. At one point, I was close to giving up. On the other hand, in my "violin world", I have my community orchestra on top of other things. I really enjoy playing with the group and feel very motivate to practise to make my effort count in my section.
"Why is your teacher insisting (if that is the case) on using a pedagogical teaching methodology basically aimed at pre-schoolers for a mature adult learner?"
"most methods are aimed at preschoolers. But it doesn't matter how old you are--if you're a beginner, you have to begin at the beginning, right?"
I chose Suzuki, because I wanted that progressive nature of the pieces. I like to know what's coming and why.
I agree with Roger. Adults do not learn the same way as children or adolescents.
Twinkle Twinkle may sound easy, and an adult may think they're "above" it, but frankly I don't know what they're expecting if they're a beginner. The Brahms concerto? As I said, you gotta pay your dues.
Mostly very slow progress is the bug-a-boo.
If I were a *raw* beginner at 66. I would not pick the violin as my instrument. There are other instruments ( piano, guitar) that are easier to learn in the beginner stage and much easier on the body. They just might give you the same health benefits.
OP, I'm gonna be straight with you. I teach a lot of adult beginners, and many of them have been similar ages to yours. And the reality is this: late-stage adult learners learn slower. They just do. Too many memories competing for space inside your brain, not to mention priorities competing as well. And on top of that, you have ADHD which makes it 10x harder to learn effectively when it comes to a task which requires such long periods of focus. You can't learn the violin easily, period, but especially not if you can't pay attention for more than 10 seconds, and that's just how it is.
Thanks for the reality check Erik. I appreciate straight talk. My attention span is a bit more than 10 seconds, though, unless something is really frustrating.
Mr. Ford, I share many of the situations described in your original post. At a similar age, but having played for 25 years, I feel stuck somewhere around year 3. I have not taken lessons in years.
Are you saying I've been doing it all wrong, and I should be playing my violin with a hockey stick? I could put an eye out. Well, someone else's.
Wooden or carbon fiber, wait, metal. Son file?
Congratulations on your interest in learning an instrument. Lots of good advise above. I would suggest that you learn to enjoy the process and don't focus too much on the results. If you can learn to enjoy practicing the rest will take care of itself. It can be a grind but is so worth the effort when everyday's practice time is appreciated for what it is.
What has age got to do with it?