7 tips for adults picking up a musical instrument
February 5, 2018, 12:26
Is it too late to pick up a musical instrument when you’re on the other side of your thirties? Absolutely not, say Classic FM’s Alexander Armstrong, Lucy Coward and John Suchet.
It can seem like a daunting task, starting a musical instrument from scratch or choosing one you haven’t touched in 20 years. But think of it this way: Now that you’re out of school (and your parents are no longer struggling), you’re learning a musical instrument for YOU, and only you.
Here are some tips to make those first few months of practice a little less overwhelming.
1. Dedicate some time each day to practice
“Little and often” is a cliché, but when it comes to practice, it really works.
“Just make sure you persevere,” says Alexander Armstrong, who has returned to oboe after a 25-year hiatus. “Quite often it’s what your muscles remember when you’re not playing that will help you.
“So if you don’t understand, persevere. Put the instrument down, come back another day, and you will find that you have broken it.
2. Find new music to play
While it might seem like a good idea to jump straight into Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto, which you absolutely nailed at 17, you want your instrument to feel like a fresh and exciting new hobby.
“If it’s a bit fresher approach, you won’t feel like you’re slipping into a wet old bathing suit. It will be new and exciting,” says Alexander.
“So don’t dig up the books you learned from the first round. Go online or to a good music store and find yourself a new book. Maybe a beginner, something you can get through quickly.
3. Have your instrument serviced
If your instrument has been on the shelf since school, follow Alexander’s advice and have it repaired.
“There’s nothing more depressing than trying to play with a key that doesn’t work or with stale rubber around your keys,” he says.
Having the instrument serviced will help you play to the best of your abilities, without being held back by technical difficulties.
4. Give yourself a reason to work
Giving yourself a reason to work is an excellent way to give meaning to your practice. Last year, Lucy Coward took over the vocals as part of a project to perform at Classic FM Live at the Royal Albert Hall.
“It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea,” says Lucy, “but it really kept me going. I had such a sense of pride when I finished that performance.
OK, maybe the Royal Albert Hall stop isn’t a very realistic first goal. But to give you something to aim for, consider signing up for a local music night, joining a band and playing at their next gig, or even hitting the streets for half an hour. Butterflies are worth it for the confidence boost that follows!
5. Remember why you’re doing it
This time, you play your instrument for your well-being and your personal development – not because you have a lesson in an hour. While the lessons are great and incredibly helpful for progress, playing music is all about making you happy.
“I always felt so much lighter and my head was much clearer after a rehearsal,” says Lucy Coward.
“I don’t take enough time for myself, few people do. But with an instrument, it’s easy to justify focusing on that – so on you – for about half an hour because you’re learning a new skill.
This is where it starts to get hard. It’s all well and good to pick up your instrument once and then put it down for another six months – but if you want to get the most out of it, you’ll need a little more determination.
Alexander Armstrong found out the hard way. “The first and second time you play you’ll have a great time – but then around the third, fourth and fifth you might be visited by the familiar ‘ugh’ you had when you played in your teens. You don’t just push it all the way.”
Once you get past those initial feelings of frustration, you’ll realize that if you used to sing or play in school, a lot of that will come back to you.
“I was reminded that you don’t lose a lot of the skills you learned all those years ago,” says Lucy Coward. “In fact, when I started singing again, I realized that I had remembered the reading of the music, breathing, phrasing, counting, etc. so much that it was actually a hit. major thumb!”
7. Do not be afraid
Picking up a musical instrument means bringing more joy and satisfaction into your life. Take John Suchet, who gave up the trombone at 18, then decided to pick it up again 50 years later, at 68.
“Although picking up my instrument again after all these years seemed terrifying at first, I actually felt much better equipped to practice it as an adult,” says John.
“It’s so nice to know that we play for the sole pleasure of creating music.”
Do you feel impatient to take back your old French horn?