12/5/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

You’re never too old to learn something new! After her recent success in learning to play piano using an app as her instructor, writer Terri L. Jones offers tips for seniors learning a musical instrument.

After years of just dreaming about tickling the ivories, strumming a guitar, or banging the drums, you’ve decided to take the plunge and finally learn to play that instrument. But how do you get started?!

Pick an instrument

If there’s an instrument you’ve longed to play, like the violin or guitar, your decision is easy. If one style of music moves you, like classical, bluegrass, or rock, you can choose among the style’s common instruments. If you simply want to engage with music, try some of the easiest-to-learn musical instruments, such as ukulele, harmonica, and guitar.

Choose your style of learning

A senior couple enjoying music and together time as the man is learning to play a musical instrument - a guitar. Image by Aekkarak Thongjiew

Of course, you can learn to play music the traditional way by hiring a private teacher. For seniors learning a musical instrument who have challenges with transportation or cost, there are many online options for mastering those skills at your own pace and a lower cost – from apps like Pianote and Fender Play to YouTube instructional videos. The downside is you won’t get individual instruction as you would with one-on-one lessons, and online learning requires more motivation and self-discipline. However, it could be a great starting point and may give you the confidence to move on to private lessons down the road. Be sure that if there’s a membership or subscription fee for the app, you can try a few lessons for free before signing up.

Set goals for yourself

Seniors learning a musical instrument have a variety of motivations and goals, from simple mental exercise to possibly joining in jam sessions. Once you decide which style of learning is best for you, set personal goals. Start small, such as learning scales, and then move onto larger goals like mastering your first song or developing the confidence to play with others. But even those larger goals can be broken up into smaller chunks, such as learning a few measures at a time or playing just the melody and then adding the chords, so you feel like you’re making progress and don’t get discouraged.

Related: Benefits for seniors learning a musical instrument

Practice, practice, and practice some more

For any student, including seniors learning a musical instrument, practice is key. Maybe start with 30 minutes a day. If that’s not doable, break up your practice into a couple of 10 to 15 minutes periods whenever you can grab some time.

The more you practice – and the more progress you see – the more you’ll want to practice. Just remember that practice does not immediately make perfect. (In fact, your playing will probably sound pretty terrible for a while!) Instead, shoot for simple improvements and you won’t be disappointed!

Assess and critique

Speaking of improvement, it’ll be difficult to gauge how you’re doing if you’re using apps or videos. One way to objectively evaluate your skills is to record yourself – whether you’re playing a whole song or simply trying to master a single skill – and then listen back to what you’ve played. This strategy helps you not only pick up on mistakes but also revel in your progress. You can compare your performance to earlier videos to really notice the changes.

Related: The magic of music and friendship – Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett

While it’ll take a lot of courage, you can also invite other musicians to listen and critique your performance, maybe even jam with them when you’re feeling up to it.

Don’t give up!

Our most important advice is to keep at it! It may be frustrating at first – and you may think you’ll never get it. However, with time, playing that instrument will come more easily to you. Before you know it, you’ll be playing something that sounds like a song – a great feeling of accomplishment!

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones