Tips for Adults Learning Music Later in Life

Tips When Learning Music


by Van Caldwell

“Genius! For thirty-seven years I have practiced fourteen hours a day, and now they call me a genius.” – Pablo de Sarasate 

More than a year ago I retired and went back to school to formally study music. What little I knew was self taught and learned from others who were self taught while growing up in the Mississippi Delta near Memphis, Tennessee.

This was not a hard decision. Senior citizens over sixty pay the registration fee of $25.00 and take/audit all the courses you want at the Prince George’s Community College across the street from me.


I have taken most of the music courses including Music Theory 1, 2, and 3. Last semester I took Anatomy and Physiology which was a review and update on things I had covered in elementary health, secondary biology, and similar college courses.

It, of course, includes the brain anatomy and physiology especially in light of new developments in neuroscience.  Which bring me to share with you some of my thoughts on the art and science of practice:

Practice is something we have all been doing since birth and may have started before birth. This is how we learned to walk, talk, ride a bicycle, and do most other things that we now do without thinking about it.

It seems to me, practice is more at the heart of becoming a skilled musician than any other discipline. Indeed, in music practice becomes an art, a science, a craft, a skill that has led me to reflect on think about it (meta-cognitive/thinking about thinking) as a discipline.

On my music stand I have a quote: “To be a musician is to be one who practices”.

Here are a few tips when learning music that I have re-learned/learned:

  • How to practice, the process of practicing is an art and skill worthy of separate study
  • Length of Practice:
    • I find micro-practice/short practice very good. Important things can be covered/ and progress can be made with a 5 minute practice especially if that’s all the time you have. Keep your instrument out and ready for micro-practices. They add up. Lately, I find myself in “the zone/in flow” and an hour or more has passed. I am beginning to love practice. Looking at practice as joyful problem solving rather than a chore helps.
  • Time of Day:
    • I find practicing first thing in the morning good. Problems and challenges that could not be solved the day before suddenly come easy. The brain continues to work during sleep.

I have now added practice as the last thing I do at night. First thing in the morning, last thing at night. Much of the literature on practice talks about musicians of European art music practicing several hours a day.  This kind of practice may not apply to artist of other genres.

    • How one feels about learning, ability, talent, genius, is fundamental. There has been a long debate in Western society about nature (IQ, you are born with skills and talent that no amount of effort is likely to change) and nurture (what matters is effort, intelligence is something one creates, interest + effort = genius). Repeated research show that those who believe in “natural talent” give up easily, they have little patience and persistence. Those who believe that intelligence, skill, genius come from patience and persistence achieve. This is one of the values that accounts for the achievement gap between Asians who migrate from areas with strong Confucian values and Americans. I find it incredible that many come hear not speaking English and graduate at their top of their high school class.

A Poem I keep On Music Stand:

Keep a–pluggin’ Away — Paul Laurence Dunbar


I’ve a humble little motto
That is homely, though it’s true,—
Keep a–pluggin’ away.
It’s a thing when I’ve an object
That I always try to do,—
Keep a–pluggin’ away.
When you’ve rising storms to quell,
When opposing waters swell,
It will never fail to tell,—
Keep a–pluggin’ away.

If the hills are high before
And the paths are hard to climb,
Keep a–pluggin’ away.
And remember that successes
Come to him who bides his time,—
Keep a–pluggin’ away.
From the greatest to the least,
None are from the rule released.
Be thou toiler, poet, priest,
Keep a–pluggin’ away.

Delve away beneath the surface,
There is treasure farther down,—
Keep a–pluggin’ away.
Let the rain come down in torrents,
Let the threat’ning heavens frown,
Keep a–pluggin’ away.
When the clouds have rolled away,
There will come a brighter day
All your labor to repay,—
Keep a–pluggin’ away.

There’ll be lots of sneers to swallow,
There’ll be lots of pain to bear,—
Keep a–pluggin’ away.
If you’ve got your eye on heaven,
Some bright day you’ll wake up there,—
Keep a–pluggin’ away.
Perseverance still is king;
Time its sure reward will bring;
Work and wait unwearying,—
Keep a–pluggin’ away.

Instead of being dedicated to one instrument, young musicians, or professionals, is a lifestyle resource for all music makers, regardless of age, instrument, or ability. We focus on providing educational articles teaching people how to play an instrument, but we also favor travel pieces, music related health articles, interesting news stories, and plenty more.

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Are there any senior citizens that are thinking of starting a rock band? I turned 60 this year and almost retired. But felt that I needed to have a bit more cash if I wanted to pursue my hobbies. So, I’m working again. I have been playing music on my couch for years and then I got this mac mini and taught myself a bit of Logic Pro X. I have recorded some of my songs as: and I’m looking to start a rock band. Wow after all these years. I encourage others to do the same. Johnny Solus (alias band member name)

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