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The Older, Wiser (and Better!) Learner

By Charlotte Adams November 05, 2023 Hobbies

We’re all familiar with the phrase “older and wiser” and science proves it to be true. As the mind develops with age, so do certain areas of cognition that serve us both socially and in problem solving.

But learning new things is humbling, and it can prompt us to feel less than wise. Not only do we have to struggle with the challenges that anyone of any age would when taking on something new, we also have to contend with messages about how our capacity for rapid learning diminishes as we age.

How many times have you heard – or even said – “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? And it’s accepted that kids are “little sponges” while adults lose mental capacity with every year over 40. If we’re not vigilant, negative messages can sneak through and keep us from excelling at the things we long to experience.

Good News!

I’m here to put those pesky messages to rest! As someone who has taught guitar for over 50 years to people of all ages, I can say that without a doubt, your life experience is an asset when learning a new instrument!

Sure, a 5-year-old will learn more rapidly than an adult, but is faster always better? Most of the things we want to learn as adults are beyond the grasp of a 5-year-old. Not only that but working without a foundation of what is common knowledge to an adult is a big impediment to learning an instrument.

A young guitar student, for example, is usually unable to quickly identify her right hand from her left or know which letter comes before D. It can take a year or more to teach some young students how to sit quietly and focus, listen carefully, or follow directions. In addition, most students under the age of 8 or 9 have few experiences with investment and reward to refer to as a motivation for practice.

Although playing an instrument can sometimes appear to be an athletic feat, it’s actually more of a mental and emotional activity than a physical one. It’s your mind – processing spatial relationships and sound – that performs the magic.

Of course, you’ll need a certain amount of hand strength and flexibility to play well. But those things will come when you’re feeling relaxed, focused, committed, and connected to the process. With correct technique and a logically ordered curriculum, you’ll build the strength you need.

Armed with that knowledge, you’re on your way to understanding the skills necessary for success with your guitar. Take a few minutes to consider which of those you already possess.

Your Assets

Think about how much wiser you are now than you’ve ever been. What traits do you currently possess that you didn’t when you were younger? Your answer probably reflects qualities and skills that will enable you to succeed at guitar. Here are a few qualities you may recognize in yourself:

You’re More Patient Than You Were in Years Past

Patience is an important quality in learning guitar, and the one that most often sabotages progress in new guitar players. Because you understand and appreciate that everything comes in its own time, you may be in the best time of your life to build a new skill and mode of expression.

You’re More Open to New Ideas

You’ve learned that there are more than a few ways to view and do things and you enjoy exploring them. Closed minds tend to close musical doors. A beginner’s mind opens them.

You’re More Self-Assured

You don’t adopt other people’s values or put as much stock in their opinions as you did when you were younger. Because you’re more aware of your own value, you don’t bring as much self-judgment and criticism – two of the most destructive emotions in guitar practice – into the learning process.

You’re More Interested in Creating and Enjoying Your Life Than in Building an Identity

Diving into the personal satisfaction you experience from learning an instrument is more important to you than impressing someone. When you act from intrinsic motivation, you’re more likely to progress quickly and enjoy the process than if you were primarily seeking acceptance, recognition, or fame. 

You’ve Heard More Music, Attended More Performances and Sung More Songs

These are rich experiences that feed your musical mind, memory, and heart!

There’s More!

Think of all the skills you’ve acquired or developed in your career and personal life that apply to everything you learn. Skills that you may take for granted, such as discipline, information processing, time management, and goal setting are all essential for implementing and sustaining a productive practice routine.

When you add in the right guitar and some good guidance, you’ll have everything you need to fulfill your musical dreams. Now all that’s left is to go have some fun!

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What qualities that enhance learning and playing music do you want to develop further? Would you like to be more adventurous? More disciplined? More introspective? More social? How can you take one small step today – either in your playing or your life – toward one of the qualities on your list?

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At 64, I feel like a race against time is underway to learn as much as possible while I’m still here. Even as a caregiver, I can indulge my curiosity through regular trips to the bookstore, watching tech tutorials, and listening to inspiring talks and podcasts.  My energy is best around 11 am, and I feed my curiosity for about two hours five days a week.  Although
I might not be able to travel due to caregiving responsibilities, I am thankful we traveled so much previously, and I can reflect on that.  My hunger to learn and grow is not only enriching but also nourishing to my brain health. I’m determined to fill each day with new knowledge and insights – and make the most of this precious gift of life.  My motto at the end of each day is to have a day well-lived.

Gaili /

Love this post, thank you!

Thank you, Gaili. I’m so glad it resonated with you!


The Author

Charlotte Adams is a lifelong guitarist, guitar instructor, and music educator who has taught thousands of guitar students in private lessons, classes, and workshops. She is the author of a line of instructional books for beginning through advanced students and offers ongoing guidance and support through one-on-one virtual instruction.

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