Four Tips for Learning to Play Guitar Later in Life...

TRUE STORY: Grade 6 elementary class... An un-helpful music teacher asks everyone in the class to step forward and sing three notes, relegating anyone who wasn't good enough to the back of the class to work on their homework. That's where those students remained... for the rest of the year, while the other students enjoyed the actual music lessons.

I would imagine, that at least one of those students relegated to the rear of the classroom dreamed of learning the guitar, but they never thought it would be possible for a "non-musical" person like them.

Fortunately, for a few of them, the longing to play guitar never went away, and some finally decided to go for it. They go out and purchase the shiniest guitar in the music store, and start to try to learn. Of course, they are rubbish – at first. But, if they can stick to it, find the right help and study for awhile, years later, they'll slowly get better, and most importantly they'll enjoy it.

One benefit of taking it up when you're older is that you feel more committed. As Tim Walker, guitar professor at the Royal Academy of Music, says: "Starting later means you understand the importance of patience and perseverance, and to stick at it as a result."

Of course there are a few simple things you can do as quickly as possible to make the learning process much easier and far more more enjoyable. Here's some solid advice.

1). Buy yourself a good quality guitar:
Everyone will (rightly) say it's about the music and not the machine, but I don't think there's anything wrong with investing dearly in your guitar – lots of musicians do. Plus, once you've spent that money, it's a great catalyst to really work hard at it. Research online, but also go to your local music shop and test some out. If you know nothing, take along someone who already plays well for help. In the end, choose one that feels very comfortable to hold, and make sure it is the right size for your hands. If you're wary of spending money right away, try to borrow one from a friend before taking the plunge. Don't be tempted by cheap guitars in charity shops, and don't get one from eBay – my advice is to only ever buy a guitar you have played. Learn how to tune it properly, using a proper,  "Guitar Tuner," and NOT a chromatic tuner, (guitar tuners like the Korg GA1 Guitar and Bass tuner are available in all good music shops).

2). Find a great guitar teacher:
Most students will go through a few  teachers over the years, some of whom will even become friends, as well as, mentors. Good guitar teachers are good, because they don't come with a template for the lessons. Instead, they will listen to what you want to do, and then tailor the lessons to the music you like (acoustic finger-picking blues, funk, country, or Metallica - whatever you want). Good teachers are friendly, smart, knowledgeable, educated and should REALLY know their stuff. Plus, they should be full of tips, and strategies for the first week and well down the time you're with them, (even if that's 4 or 5 years down the road).

Walker says: "This will be someone who understands what it is you want to do, who is demanding to a certain degree but also wants you to enjoy fulfilling your potential. As an adult student you should know yourself well enough to feel confident about which direction you'd like to go in."

3). Study theory, songs, technique and styles:
There is a difference between playing and studying guitar. When you just play, you fall back into familiar grooves and rarely push yourself. Proper study and solid practice takes you to the next level, and even if you only do 10 - 25 minutes a day of challenging exercises and songs the benefits can be quite profound.

Most people tend to play for up to an hour each day. Half of their time will be spent on exercises – scales, working at a specific section of a new tune – and half revising pieces that they already know and don't want to forget. Aim to learn a single song by heart roughly every month, and make yourself work through that one song all the way to the end.Nail down the feel, timing, flow and phrasing, (including the guitar techniques involved).

"You can practice for less time if it's done mindfully," says Walker. "Half an hour of concentrated work will be much more productive than two hours of haphazard playing."

Economize your time by using a stop-watch, (there's also the Online Stop-watch). Work on several topics for short time frames, (2 - 3 min.). Take breaks after approx. 15 min. And, keep a study schedule that tracks your progress through a week. Keep in mind that the short time frames will give you the memory skills. Once they're in place, turn on a metronome, (there's also the Metronome Online).

4). Push yourself
When you start out, decide on what your initial goals are. How many chords do you want to know in the first month? Are there a few simple common pieces that interest you? Can you find a basic guitar course that will start teaching you the basics? Then, reach for more complex goals over time... Do you want to play in public? Write your own songs? Learn a particularly difficult piece of music? Once you know what you want, you can set yourself challenges that are simple and easy to achieve and you can gear your lessons with your teacher towards achieving your aims. But, be sure to keep the goals simple and attainable. Lofty goals will generally never become a reality for you, so be realistic.

Most students over 30 years of age have no ambition to play in front of people, form a band or even take music theory exams. Their aim is simply to practice guitar every day for fun. It's not always easy, but if you have a weekly lesson with a good teacher, you'll probably stuck to it.


  1. "patience and perseverance", oh yeah!

  2. george_killmeister442March 23, 2014 at 7:43 AM

    OK, I just tried tuning my Guild acoustic with a Chromatic tuner, and then I used my roomates KORG "Guitar" tuner and they are indeed different. The guitar sounds a slice better with the "Guitar Tuner" pitches spun in. I also just looked on and sure enough there's all the comapnies making a full line of BOTH. I've played guitar for 14 years and NOBODY ever mentioned this. Just another tid-bit of solid knowledge for the GrandMaster of Guitar... Andrew Wasson. Thanks Man!