Learning something new and breaking out of the mundane routine of daily life is a goal shared by millions of busy adults. The notion that we’re possibly missing out on something good or even life-changing can occur when we feel confined to the responsibilities of our careers, families, and relationships. Like other endeavors, guitar lessons for adults can sometimes prove to be situations where busy people try and fail to find the time and energy they need to learn something new, but they don’t have to be.
Think back to when you were a kid. Did you play sports or were you enrolled in music lessons? If so, what did you get out of those experiences? What were the conditions that made you thrive or fail? Just because you’re now an adult doesn’t mean that how you learn is going to be different from when you were a child. The same strengths and insecurities that informed your learning when you were young often come right back when you willingly put yourself in a situation like learning an instrument at an older age. But things like music lessons should be easier when you’re an adult, right? Not necessarily.
Why Guitar Lessons Can Be Easier For Kids
In a lot of ways, when you’re a child, you’ve got it made. You don’t pay for food or rent, and yeah, you’re in school all day, but it’s nothing like having an actual job. Kids learning an instrument or who are active in sports have a seemingly endless supply of time, energy, and support when it comes to something new like learning how to play guitar. As adults, the way in which we approach learning something new doesn’t change that much from when we were kids, but we are faced with obstacles like busy schedules, work, and family commitments and the reality of just how difficult it can be to break out of a rut to do something different with our free time. Kids aren’t slaves to the notion of having to be successful like busy adults tend to be. Children are in many ways braver and less self-conscious than adults, and these qualities bode well for learning an instrument.
Kids also have a leg up on adults when it comes to learning because they usually have one or two bosses that track their progress, dole out encouragement, and provide accountability. I’m talking about parents here, of course. As adults, we have to be our own motivators when it comes to taking up a new skill.
Find a Teacher Who Cares
In guitar lessons for adults, working with a skilled, patient teacher that knows how to communicate is essential for success. Finding someone who is both friendly and able to keep you accountable is key. When searching for a guitar instructor, it’s a good idea to ask plenty of questions like, “What sort of music education have you had?,” and, “If I take lessons from you, can you give me an idea of what we’d be doing over the next six months?” Have a solid idea of what you’d like to achieve in your guitar lessons for adults before you search for a teacher. Certain instructors bring special skill sets to their lessons, so if you want to learn to read music, write songs, or be able to improvise over some jazz chords, make sure you ask potential instructors if they have any experience in those areas.
Guitar lessons for adults, even when working with an incredible instructor, can only bring a student so far. Speaking from a decade of teaching experience, I can tell you that over 90% of the technical prowess a music student attains is developed tediously while practicing alone over the period of months and even years. If you’re a busy adult who can’t commit more than a half hour a week to practicing, this doesn’t mean you should give up wanting to learn how to play the guitar, but be aware that picking up basic skills on the guitar will take you longer than a person who can devote more time and effort. It’s important to have a good idea of what sort of time you can commit to learning the guitar before you find an instructor for your guitar lessons for adults. If you aren’t able to play that often, that’s okay, but try to tell your instructor during the first few lessons so that they can plan their lessons accordingly.
Keeping yourself accountable and motivated is key if you’re an adult trying to learn how to play guitar. If you can, carve out a weekly schedule with at least three practices of 30 minutes. The guitar is an instrument that demands a great deal of muscle memory on behalf of the player, so the more frequent the practice the better, even if you don’t practice for too long. Just like when we were kids, sometimes adults take a “cram” approach when they haven’t played their instrument enough. Two hours of guitar playing on a Saturday is great, but it won’t mean much if you haven’t played at all for a month. Technical prowess, muscle memory, and a working knowledge of the guitar is spurred on by consistent, focused time with the instrument, and it’s the quickest and most efficient way to learn. Carving out time in your weekly schedule to practice is a great idea, but can be especially challenging for busy adults.
It’s vital for adults learning a new instrument to try to rediscover a childlike joy in things. As grownups, for years we’ve had it drilled into our heads that we need to be “successful” at everything we do. Intense ambition is a quality that can help us succeed at our jobs, but it’s also something that can remove a vital quality in the process of learning a new instrument- joy. If you’re taking guitar lessons for adults for the first time, you are successful if you feel joy when you sit down to play. If you can let genuine wonder and curiosity fuel your efforts in learning a new instrument, you will be off to a terrific start. Many adult guitar students are held hostage to their own unreasonable expectations, and this is terrible for learning how to play an instrument. I once taught a man who worked as a surgeon. He was a joy to talk to, but difficult to work with because of how hard he was on himself when he couldn’t get the guitar to sound how he wanted. He would become visibly upset and discouraged when his hands failed to produce the correct shape for chords. I told him not to worry and that little by little he was getting better, but he quit lessons just a month later. We never talked about it, but I suspected that he was letting the immense pressure of his job leak into our lessons.
Walking the line between wanting to do well in guitar lessons for adults and not taking yourself too seriously can be challenging. We want so badly to do what we need to do to succeed, but we forget to have fun and actually enjoy what we’re doing in the process. In the case of my former student, the surgeon, his intense, sweeping efforts in trying to play chords on the guitar caused him to not only be emotionally discouraged, but also physically tense. Tension is not your friend when you’re trying to learn how to play the guitar. If playing notes and chords were as easy as pressing your fingers down as hard as you could on the fretboard, then most people would be able to play guitar within a couple of minutes of trying to for the first time. True and lasting prowess on the guitar is earned bit by bit over weeks and months of nuanced practice, not by someone willing it to happen over the period of a 30 minute lesson. While learning classical guitar in college, my instructor would often suggest that I go try yoga because I brought too much tension into my playing. Years later, I see exactly what he means when I teach students of all ages who try to power through guitar lessons. Powering through instead of working towards placing your fingers correctly on the frets to achieve a rich tone is a recipe for frustration and discouragement.
Plan To Be In It For The Long Haul
Opting to be all in for the process of learning guitar over the course of a year or more rather than trying to learn as quickly as possible is ideal because like most instruments, technical skill on the guitar is built off of muscle memory more than anything else. Muscle memory is the process of forging new connections from your muscles to your brain. When you snap your fingers or give someone a thumbs up, you are utilizing connections from your brain to your muscles that you formed years ago as a child. Creating new connections takes time, focus, and a great deal of effort, so it’s only natural human behavior to want to avoid the discomfort of learning. Herein lies the challenge for students of any age and background. Simple warm-ups like playing the first four notes on each string (this is also known as a chromatic scale) up and back down the fretboard is a great way for guitar students of all ages to build basic muscle memory on the guitar. After you’ve mastered that warmup, move on to mastering simple chords like Em and A7.
Define Your Goals
If you’re an taking guitar lessons for adults for the first time, it’s important that you ask yourself what the motivating force behind your interest in learning is. There are no wrong answers here. Perhaps you want to learn enough so that you could sing and play simple songs by the campfire, or maybe you feel like your creative side wasn’t nurtured enough as a child. What inspires you to take up the challenge of learning something new is important because it will inform how your lessons are structured and what material you and your instructor will cover. Like I mentioned before, it’s a good idea to seek out an experienced guitar teacher and tell them about what you hope to achieve in your lessons. This will not only help your teacher, but more importantly it will help you know where you want to go with your guitar playing. If you don’t have defined goals for your guitar lessons, that’s okay too. Sometimes knowing what you want out of an instrument comes after you’ve spent some time with it.
Get Family and Friends Involved
I’ve worked with many parents who wanted to learn how to play guitar with their kids in a group lesson setting. I’m a huge fan of family lessons. The idea of a parent engaging in a positive experience like learning how to play music with their kids is a great idea. This way the parent and kids spend time together in lessons, and both parties learn a new skill while keeping each other accountable during the week for practicing. A parent can’t say, “Hey Jimmy, you need to practice the guitar,” if they haven’t practiced the guitar themselves. If you’re serious about learning music over the next few years, what an incredible gift it could be for your family to make learning how to play the guitar a part of your household routine. Guitar lessons for adults are also great when a friend or two is involved. Maybe it’s your goal to start a band with a few friends from work? A great teacher will know how to effectively teach you, your friends, and your kids should they choose to sit in on the lessons with you. The more fun you can make your lessons, the better. Taking guitar lessons with your kids or a friend can come with its own set of challenges, but having fun and learning something new in a group setting might just be the best way for you to learn. It all depends on your personality, background, and what you’d like to achieve in your guitar lessons for adults.