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What is the Ideal Age to Start Playing the Guitar?

The ideal age to start playing guitar is simply however old you happen to be when you decide that you want to start learning. So many times I have had students express their concern that they are too old to play, or that I’ve seen a youngster excited by seeing someone play the guitar, only to not have the excitement nurtured because they’re too young.

My youngest students, and rather ambitiously of me, was a set of rambunctious twin girls of only just five years old. Ultimately, things didn’t work out but they at least had the opportunity to give it a go. At the other end of the spectrum, my oldest student was an 85 year old woman who was inspired to play after her husband had unfortunately passed - this student had a specific set of goals, and we reached them through sheer determination. 

Life is a journey, and not a destination. Everyone starts down their own path, and takes several detours at various points, with no real pattern that connects us all. Sometimes we just want a change, and that’s where the concept of a ‘mid-life crisis’ comes from - the desire to do something different. 

The inimitable Guthrie Govan started playing at the tender age of three years old. At that age, there were some physical limitations that would prevent anyone from performing certain techniques, but the ball had started rolling so to speak. There are many famous players, such as Chuck Berry and Seasick Steve that may have dabbled with music in their early life, but started to take things seriously, and achieve critical acclaim, well after they became adults.

You need to have the determination and the desire to push through the tricky moments. Not everyone has a reason for wanting to play, so don’t worry if you can’t think of a reason - just the thought can be enough.

If you are a younger student, or involved with one in some way, it is important to understand that forcing the point is going to cause resentment towards the guitar. On the opposite side of the same coin, without appropriate encouragement, the initial flame can start to go out. 

From a teacher’s perspective, let us have a look at some solid points to consider when teaching. 

For younger students, some good ideas would be:

  • Brief, consistent and concise lesson segments,

  • An increased element of fun (this could be musical games or similar),

  • Appropriately arranged songs (the onus is on the teacher to know what is going to work, as some kids can’t tell you what they like).

Older students, or those with a higher level of musical maturity, would benefit from learning in a different way. Some alternative approaches could be:

  • A more specific focus on technique at an earlier stage,

  • Music theory and the applications thereof from the onset,

  • Holistic approach to learning music,

  • A wider appreciation for music in general.

From a scientific standpoint, studies have shown that there may be some subconscious advantages from starting at a young age. Development of the brain is rapid in children, and incorporating the guitar into the mix could help a student to no end. However, as far as I am aware, there has been no study comparing the difference between an early beginning, and concentrated practice and discipline at an advanced age. It is my personal belief that there are so many contributing factors that are mutually exclusive to each age group, not that ‘old vs young’ can be accurately determined, and these factors make the answer to our question all the more elusive. 

Let us look at some topics specific to a student, rather than from a teaching perspective.

Young Students

Here is a short list of pros for learning at a young age:

  • Innate ability to pick up concepts, without the need to necessarily understand it first,

  • Boundless energy (something I am extremely jealous of!),

  • Bliss from the ignorance that comes from not realizing how hard they have already worked - it often just “happens” to them,

  • No concerns with regards to the cost or logistic challenges borne from attending music lessons.

For balance, here are some cons:

  • Attention span - while everyone is different, and geographic location can also play a part, the younger the student is, the harder it becomes to keep them focused for long enough,

  • Distractions. The allure from the instant gratification provided by video games, social media and just shiny things can tear the focus away from practice,

  • Physical limitations encompass issues such as not being able to hold the guitar properly/with incorrect posture, inability to press the strings down correctly or stand with the guitar (which is just as important as sitting).

Older Students

Older students have a different set of pros and cons. Just remember, this is a generalization and not always the case:

Some pros would be:

  • Understanding of the practice and determination that goes into learning, resulting in a better state of preparedness,

  • Usually have a clearer view of what they want,

  • Fewer restrictions required from the teacher (some critical feedback has to be softened for younger students etc).

Alternatively, some cons would be:

  • Prior engagements and responsibilities that arise from being an adult,

  • Acute awareness of how much lessons cost and often comparing that to their progress, judging themselves harshly in the process,

  • Not everyone, but some adults have reservations about receiving instruction from someone that is younger than they are,

  • Physical limitations - some older students can have an entirely different set of limitations that are incurred through advanced age (I recall the case of a 65 year old student I had with severe arthritis),

  • Access to money - all too often, I see adults throwing large amounts of money at the hobby before they have properly established their interest. A silly move regardless of personal wealth, at least in my humble opinion.

There are some fantastic benefits of learning the guitar, regardless of the age you begin to learn and play. Any musician worth their salt will tell you that playing as part of a group, even just with one other person remotely, is such a rewarding and magical experience. The purpose of learning the guitar, or any instrument for that matter, comes from a place of enjoyment and that should be what sticks with all people through it all.

At this point, I would like to refer you to my blog post about learning to play the guitar by yourself (you can read it here). Whilst this is a perfectly acceptable way of learning, and a fulfilling experience, one of the main benefits from learning from an instructor would be the gentle encouragement to progress, whilst supporting and praising what already exists. The right teacher can help you move forward regardless of age, and for some students it can be as simple as a confirmation from someone that is further along their guitar playing journey.


How do I know if I’m ready to Learn?

In my years of teaching, I have had numerous students come to me and wish to just give it a go. That is great, and usually leads to a happy and contented student. Other students have specific goals and, rather jarringly, some have no idea why they are even there. 

The happiest students are those that just love making some noise on the instruments, regardless of how good the noise actually is (which is subjective, of course). You may find yourself gravitating more towards a specific guitar part, riff or solo that previously remained a part of the whole song - awareness of the instrument beyond the fact that it exists. 

If you have, or are related to, a child that is always pretending that a stick is guitar, rocking the air guitar to anything at all or has even an inkling in music, then I would suggest placing a guitar in their hands and seeing what happens! Naturally, don’t force this because there are other instruments to try, but we all know that guitar is the coolest!

In conclusion, there is no age limit for learning the guitar. Instead, you should look within yourself and make the decision for yourself or on another’s behalf. Don’t worry about anyone else's opinion, formulate a plan and set some short, mid and long term goals. 

If you are unsure, but willing to give it a go, I would recommend following the following timeline as a guide, but feel free to adjust if you feel the need to. As soon as possible, figure out what you want to try and learn, obtain an appropriate guitar and then get some advice from friends, learn online or find a teacher (recommended). In the ensuing months, learn to play a rudimentary repertoire of songs that use a combination of, but not limited to, strumming, chords, picking, melodies and riffs. At this point, it should be obvious if it’s something that can be pursued in the long run - use help from your teacher to set some goals for the future.

As I mentioned earlier, life is a journey, not a destination. As long as you are happy trundling along, that’s all that matters and you can do that at any age!



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