Adult Music Student? Enjoy the Privileges of Age

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Adult Music Student.

adult music studentPerhaps this phrase conjures up an image of a nightmare recital where you, the quaking gray-haired student, stumble through a beginner piece while the 8 year olds play like virtuosi and take the pressure in their stride.

Banish that vision from your thoughts. Being an adult music student is about freedom and possibility, adventure and fulfillment. At least, it should be.

In the 1959 movie Gigi, a white-haired Maurice Chevalier watches his nephew Gaston suffer through a string of love affairs and sings his relief that, “I’m glad I’m not young anymore.”

You, my adult music student friend, should be feeling the same way. You may have come to music lessons because you wanted to try something new, or maybe return to an instrument that you learned long ago. Maybe this is a bucket-list project or just a whim. Whatever brought you to music, you should be enjoying the pursuit.

And just in case you’re feeling uneasy following that 8 year old virtuoso that has the lesson before yours, here are some reasons that you can be glad you’re not young any more, at least when it comes to music lessons. Let’s call them the privileges of age.

1. You can choose your own path. You get to have the last word when it comes to music that you do or don’t want to learn. You decide when, where and if you will perform. You choose the place that your music will have in your life.

Naturally, the student teacher relationship is completely different when the student is a grown-up. Your teacher is your guide and instructor, but also a partner with you in your studies. You don’t have to follow your teacher’s instructions without understanding the reasoning behind them. Together with your teacher you will chart the path to your musical fulfillment.

2. You have the discipline to take responsibility for your progress, beginning with your daily practice.It’s not just about when you practice; it’s also about what you do in your practice sessions. Musical success requires the ability to break down complex tasks – like learning a piece – into small, manageable steps.

Children usually lack the experience and insight to determine the practice strategies that will help them accomplish those steps. And adults students also bring their understanding of their own work habits and can use this to make their practice more effective.

You also have the vision to play the long game, the patience to work for results that can only be achieved over time.

3. You understand balance. You have many responsibilities and interests to juggle and commitments to meet. You have the wisdom to know that sometimes even important things will find themselves on the back burner, and your music is no exception. You have the perspective to be patient when necessary and to persevere or even push hard when appropriate. You know that progress isn’t made in a day or even a week, but over time and with persistence.

These are some of the qualities that make you not just an adult music student, but an ideal music student.

If you’re new to the musical community – welcome to the family. If you’ve been at this a while, I trust you’re enjoying the journey.

And should you ever find yourself regretting that you didn’t start lessons when you were four years old, or can’t play with the dash and panache of youth (at least not yet!) please remember that age has its privileges!

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  • Claire

    J’avais exactement besoin de ça aujourd’hui !


  • Carole Smith

    Love this blog. You are never too old for music. An adult can choose to play what he/she likes with possibly the exception of scales during practice. :- D. Also, keep in mind that there are almost no areas of life where an older adult can out perform a younger person. We are at the Golden Age where we have the freedom to play for our own enjoyment, be that at home or for others. We choose.


  • Giti Mahmood

    I am interested in learning how to play harp.

    Thanks a lot.


  • Carole Mask

    Amen, Anne!!!


  • Regina Clarke

    This is so timely. At my last lesson I mentioned a virtuoso performance by the prodigy Alma Deutscher on the piano and violin and my teacher said with a knowing smile not to watch any prodigies 🙂 and to focus on doing everything on my harp at my own speed and in my own way, and that I was making wonderful progress. (She is always inspiring!) It is hard as an adult over 50 not to compare and wonder if I should keep at it. But then sometimes I play a passage really well (not sure how or why… 🙂 and the sound enthralls me and I can’t imagine not continuing to learn. You nail the dilemma–when ego gets in the way, it is so hard not to believe its nay-saying. But this is a most ancient of instruments. Someone was playing the harp in Sumeria five thousand years ago–when I play, I do want to connect with that image and let it be all about the music. Thank you for this wonderful encouragement.


    • Sally Jasper

      I was inspired by the blog and your comment enhanced my inspiration so much that I must thank you for that. I love to be in nature because of the sense of connection it gives me to the cycles of our world, past and present. You reference
      to ancient harpists reinforced my motivation to make the time to connect myself to harp history as I work at achieving those wonderfully resonant harp
      sounds that I will now think of as resonating through history. Thank you so much and I wish you wonderful sounds!


  • Rob Stone

    I can only imagine, even if I was very young, that learning to play the harp “well”, wouldn’t be easy! It would take a lot of effort. I might have to give up certain pleasures to prepare my lessons. I would have distractions, like homework, sports, my parents wishes, family life, etc. The older “version” of me appreciates the time I spend with the harp. Is conscious that life is not infinite, enjoys learning music that sometimes was written hundreds of years ago, which transports me to another time and place. The process of learning, new things, refining pieces over time, working on the many facets of good technique, are all worthy challenges and not disheartening. Being a part of the American Harp Society, going to recitals, seeing how others are achieving success on the harp, have balanced their lives that include a career with the harp, are all inspiring!


  • Michelle Luddy

    Alleluia, Amen!


  • Bill

    I’m going on 77 now and in some respects my commitments to playing flute, harp and some guitar exceed my stamina and energy. I got into the harp via the back door and really like it so I won’t give it up but sometimes I think I don’t give it the energy it demands. Bill


  • Alyson Webber

    I started the harp at 32, and five years later, I have two regular background music gigs and played my first wedding. I’ve got a website with music clips and everything! Of course, performing was my goal when I started the harp, so this isn’t the same measure of success that everyone will have. I am never done learning, and sometimes feel that harp is a second language to me. I keep practicing and it comes more naturally to me every day. I don’t think I would have progressed this quickly as a child without pre-determined goals and skills learned throughout my life.


  • Ginny

    This article is very timely and inspiring to me as well. I am in my 50’s and I’ve been playing the harp for 2 years and I’ve never read music so everything is new to me. I am fortunate to have a fabulous teacher and I only play/learn songs that really speak to me. It was a little intimidating going to my first recital and those youngsters play their songs effortlessly but I’m now okay with my progress and my journey with learning this beautiful instrument.


  • Denise Copeland

    Thank you for your very insightful thoughts!

    At my last recital a grandparent of one of the high school age students (who studies with the harpist of the local symphony) approached me and asked me, “Why at your age are you doing this?” I played Salzedo’s Chanson dans le Nuit, and so did a high school age student. I was told incorrectly by my teacher that I had to memorize the piece. This piece was a stretch for me, and I spent a week of my spring break vacation time doing nothing but memorizing this piece. The high school student wore four or five inch stiletto heals, and had no difficulty with the pedal changes. She played it beautifully. During her performance I could think of nothing except “I have the keys to my car and I have the capability of leaving,” and it took all of my personal discipline to not leave. I handled the question regarding “Why are you doing this at your age” with as much grace as I could, and politely departed when the refreshments were served. That was the last time I spoke to my harp teacher.

    As a retired educator, from autistic children to teaching at a university, I know that sometimes there are “special opportunites” for students that simultaneously are part of a faculty agenda. Sometimes it is a win-win situation for all.

    This harp recital was one of those opportunities for the harp teachers who needed a “check in the box” to meet a harp “organization” requirements. The icing on the cake was when they charged a five year old $40.00 to play, just like everyone else that was playing. It is true that we received spontaneous, written comments from the teachers there, but really, why charge a five year old $40.00?

    Do I sound bitter about the situation? Perhaps. I feel that I was placed in a position that was unnecessary. It has been suggested that one of our greatest fears is the fear of being humiliated. I am not sure that I was acutally humiliated but the experience was not at all positive. My teacher should have known that it was not a requirement to memorize the music, and she should have told me that another student was playing the same music. I believe that I would have prepared differently. But the bottom line is the woman’s question: “Why are you doing this at your age?” Did she mean why are you playing the harp or why are you participating in a recital?


  • winniferd

    Do not let any one get in the way of your playing the harp. You tried to do something uncomfortable, taking all your strength to do it. I think Denise you must have made a great impact on the people listening to the recital to know they also in their later years can achieve something they did not get to do in their younger years. I encourage you to build on this experience by playing for people you chose on your time. I have and people I have chosen to share my hard work with seem to enjoy my effort with all my humble mistakes. Teachers make mistakes also. I have had one of those also. Make your music ring.


  • Dana

    Very well said, Anne! It is never too late to learn a new instrument . As a mid-fifties woman, I had a dream way back when (4 years old) to learn how to play the harp. I had to wait until I turned 50, because of economic and life realities, and my parents passing. I thought that this would be the perfect time to go after this dream. Self taught in the very beginning, I was driven to find a Harp teacher, who helped me achieve a RCM Gold Medal for Gr.2 Harp, the highest mark received in Ontario and Quebec. Just this past spring I went on to take my Gr.4 Harp practical test and did well too. I am currently working on Gr.6 RCM music. The only problem I find is that at this age, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to really spend the amount of time I need to, because in retirement, I am even more busy than when I was in the workforce! Memory work has not been a problem for me, as I age, which I find amazing, because as we all know, everything takes a wee bit longer to accomplish, and I am impatient sometimes and also a perfectionist 🙂 …Anyway, age is just a number, getting older is a reality and a fact, but no matter what, if you have passion and interest, go after it, for ‘you’ and no one else. It is never ever too late to try something new or make a dream come true!


  • Karen Berry

    Thank you for this blog Anne (very timely and helpful) and everyone who replied. All their stories are inspiring and encouraging. It is important not to make comparisons as everyone has their own journey. I just enjoy playing it. I have been learning the harp for about 4 years (I am 61) and have occasional lessons when time and finances permit. I also play the flute (started about 20 years ago). When I was 12 years old I first heard the harp when I watched Harp Marx play the harp at the “last night of the opera” and since then I have always wanted to learn the harp. Time and finances did not permit this until now for which I am so grateful. I hope to be able to continue with the harp for many years, but do struggle with slight arthritis in my hands which is frustrating and sometimes limits my playing time. Any tips for dealing with arthritis would be very helpful and appreciated.


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