Most people tend to believe that there’s a ‘right’ age to begin learning music though there’s no exact consensus on what this age is. Parents often choose to put their kids into music classes when they’re five or six years old. Likewise, many working professionals resign themselves to the belief that it is ‘too late’ for them to learn an instrument. But is there really a correct age at which to learn music? And are there fixed ages at which it’s too early or too late?
In short, no. But it’s somewhat more nuanced than that.
Let’s look at the ways in which age affects things. First things first—age brings with it certain physical limitations. Take the example of the bass guitar. Playing the bass requires both muscle strength and long finger reach. Thus learning the bass might be difficult for both young children—whose hands haven’t sufficiently grown—as well as very old people, whose muscles have weakened with age. A person’s age is also linked (to a certain degree) with their ability to learn. Simply put, kids tend to learn faster than adults. This is because the prefrontal cortex of the brain—which stores working memory—is less developed in kids than it is in adults. Neuroscience, therefore, might suggest that it’s better to pick up an instrument while you’re young.
Age can also affect a student’s ability and motivation to practice. A five year old who doesn’t listen to a lot of music might not have a goal : such as, say, playing their favourite song or practising it. Conversely, a musically well-versed adult might be motivated to practise, but simply lack the free time that children seem to have.
The physical limitations of age only apply with regard to certain instruments, and only to a certain degree. These limitations seem obvious when one talks about extremes. Largely speaking though, while age might make things slightly harder, it doesn’t prevent anyone from picking up an instrument. Likewise, the cognitive make-up of children might make learning easier, but there is no evidence suggesting that adults can’t learn what kids can. And while it might seem obvious that kids have more free time than adults, that isn’t necessarily true. With homework and other extracurriculars taking up hours everyday, school kids aren’t as free as you might think.
Proving that it isn’t too late after childhood, Ryo Fukui started learning how to play the piano at 22. Six years later, he released his first album Scenery, which has since gained cult status.
The most important asset of a music student is the motivation and ability to practise—and this trait has no exact correlation to age. Some adults are motivated to practise because of their musical exposure over the years, while some children might find motivation from other sources, such as the approval of a teacher or personal feelings of accomplishment. So whether you’re a working professional who wants to pick up the guitar, or a parent who wants to send their child for piano classes, ask yourself, “Am I or my child going to regularly sit down and voluntarily practise?” If your child shows no interest in learning music themselves, perhaps it’s too early. If your work means you can’t find time to practise at all, perhaps it isn’t the right time either—although bear in mind that most people find the time for what they love.
At Taaqademy, we’re used to teaching children as well as adults who are well into their careers. What we’ve found is that age, as the cliché goes, is just a number. Some of our finest students have been adults who started ‘late’, while some of our youngest students have equally impressed on stage. So really, if you’re well into your fifties and think it’s too late to learn an instrument—it isn’t. Pick up the instrument, go to a good teacher, and with some practice you’ll be better than most people half your age. Likewise, if as a parent your child shows genuine interest and enthusiasm to learn an instrument, it isn’t too early for them to begin. So don’t bother about any ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ age—just go ahead and learn what you want to learn.