I am 40 years old this year and I have no discernible musical talent, have never played an instrument and can’t sing.
So I have decided to learn to play a steel string acoustic guitar and document it all on my YouTube Channel here, which makes perfect sense right?
In addition to all this I have two young children, so getting a moment for myself can be a challenge.
I also have doubts about whether I can do it, so the real question that I am trying to answer here is :
Can you learn to play guitar later in life? (40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s) Yes, you can. Learning guitar is a process and about consistent practice. Typically, later in life you may have less disposable time but you are more mature, analytical, patient and focused. This thorough approach means you can be successful at learning guitar.
Am I capable of learning guitar? Is there something preventing me from learning now that I will have 40 years on the clock or is just my lack of rhythm? Maybe there will be elements of playing that I just won’t be able to achieve. Perhaps I don’t have enough time to get to a level where I can just play for enjoyment and not be learning?
Many new guitar players or those considering learning in their 40’s doubt their abilities about being able to reach a proficient level on the guitar. But there are benefits of being an older beginner.
So I did some research to hopefully cast water on this fire of doubt and how we can tackle it.
Learning to Play at 40+
Young Vs Mid Life And Onwards
When you are young it seems you pick everything up so much quicker but as the years creep by it feels like it all slows down and your brain sponge doesn’t seem to soak up as it once did.
What you need to remember though is that with age comes other super powers like patience, focus and being thorough.
So an old dog can learn new tricks but it might take a little longer that is all but maybe you will have a deeper sense of appreciation for your guitar heroes when you start to play an iconic riff.
Your maturity will help you make better decisions (just by messing up things for years I know this to be true) so take advantage of this.
What If I Have No Rhythm?
A common question by many, not just those over 40. If you have never learnt an instrument or feel you can’t dance or ‘just know’ that you don’t have any rhythm then know one thing,
Rhythm Can Be Learned.
There are methods that can help you like using a metronome and setting it to a low beat per minute (bpm), like 50 bpm and then strum only to that beat without worrying about playing a chord.
We wrote a a separate article on whether you can learn rhythm, so if you have any doubts then definitely read it here Can You Learn Guitar If You Have No Rhythm?
However if you feel that it is going to be your biggest hurdle then have some physical lessons. Invest in yourself to start.
What Method Of Learning Should I Follow?
Maybe you have few more shekels in your pocket now that you are older but maybe you don’t, the key from the research I have done is to to pick a method and stick with it.
Teacher in Person
Do not look for a great guitarist, look for a great teacher. You want to get someone who understands how you learn and cares about seeing you progress and reaching your goals.
Finding out all this when you first talk to someone
Free or Paid. I follow Justin Guitar’s beginner course which is entirely free, and I track my progress on my YouTube Channel, so if you want to see first hand as I progress then you can see more on my Guitar Journey Page.
I find it has the right mix of practice and learning songs to keep me motivated, he has been developing it over the last 15 years so you know it has been refined and also it is free in the most part. You only really pay for the songs books if you want them and his apps.
If you want a huge list of completely free structured guitar lessons (and I mean NO COST) then check out my post here Where To Learn Guitar With Structure For Free Online, it took me many hours to put together so is definitely worth looking at if you want some structured learning.
You can pay online for many different guitar courses but there are too many to review them all here.
My thoughts are that if I am going to pay for lessons then it will be in person with a real teacher who can give me feedback and point out where I am improving and where I am going wrong so that I can keep on enjoying the journey.
Whilst researching I found a lot of what came to be unfounded negativity towards learning the guitar later in life. Some started to explain you could never become a rock star, or play as part of an orchestra if you start late in life.
In my experience, if you are starting to learn guitar at 40+ it is not because you want either of these things. They sound more like a young person’s dreams, when we are older we may have images in our heads of music idols but we really just want an enjoyable hobby that can add some pleasure and value in our lives.
For me it is something personal, it is a journey that will have its up and downs but is ultimately achievable. This reflects my life, I have had depression and previously been on medication but small positive changes in my life have compounded over time and helped lift me out of the hole.
What I think is misguided is the idea that you have to ‘master’ the guitar in order to get any enjoyment from playing. The sooner this myth is expelled the sooner you get on and enjoy the moment.
Personally my time is very limited and I squeeze learning guitar in to about half an hour to an hour in the evening every day, after the children have hit the hay I need go to bed early to get up early (4:30am) for work.
Many of us in our 40’s don’t have a lot of personal time but even if you do, you generally don’t have time to jump from one thing to another without any real structure. I found that on Youtube whilst some of the guitar videos are great, I could bounce around from one video to the next with easy distraction rather than find a systematic learning process.
It Is Taking Too Long To Learn Anything
I felt this for some time because I was practicing chords, my fingers were hurting, it got frustrating and I
What really helped was starting and sticking to the justinguitar beginner course. The course itself is free and has a practice structure that divides your practice time. As an example, this is his Stage 1 Practice Schedule which is 18 minutes in total.
Stage 1 Practice Schedule
|Chord Practice (Strum / Pick / Strum)||5 mins|
|1 minute Changes|
|— D to A||1 min|
|— D to E||1 min|
|— A to E||1 min|
|Songs / Chord Sequences||5 mins|
|JUSTIN Training||5 mins|
The motivating aspect of this I found to be the variety. It can get frustrating learning chords and trying to improve speed moving between them but when you get to try songs in the same practice session it changes everything.
You then feel like you have a sense of purpose, you are Karate Kid starting to put wax on, wax off in to practice. It may not be slick to start with but as you build muscle memory in your fingers, you can still throw a few moves.
This is what keeps you coming back, you hit a few correct chord changes and your ear recognizes the song you are actually trying to play!
If you have ever tried to learn golf you will know what I mean here. Sometimes you can be having a lousy round but then you might hit a beautiful approach shot here and there or sink a long put or maybe a perfect drive on the last hole.
When you do, all the pain and frustration of the rest of the round gets balanced out and you feel better because you know that you can hit the ball sweetly because you have done it before.
It keeps you coming back, and this in my experience is what you need to improve.
Small wins through the most difficult part of learning something new keep that light burning that started you down this path.
If you want a thorough
All this talk about golf however, leads to my next point, consistency.
Creating A Habit
“Success is the product of daily habits – not once-in-a-lifetime transformations”James Clear, Atomic Habits
A habit is a routine or behavior that is performed regularly and in many cases automatically.
Recently I read a book by James Clear called Atomic Habits, and it is is all about small habits and making 1% improvements, or easy wins as I like to call them, that help you fulfill your potential.
These small habits, small changes, these improvements are the ones that we often dismiss but they compound and add up to something great.
“Habits are the compound interest of self improvement”James Clear, Atomic Habits
It is this approach to learning guitar that I believe will help you in your 40’s.
Try using these three approaches:
Make It Attractive – “The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit forming”
This can be simple, for me it’s being able to sit down for an hour on a comfortable chair when the kids and my wife are in bed so I have peace to focus on the guitar journey.
By tying something I need to do in with something I want to do it is more attractive.
Make It Easy – Automate and make it easy for yourself.
Currently I am learning through following a course online but sometimes I could be put off because I am using my laptop which is in a bag in a cupboard, the guitar is in a case and I need my phone as the guitartuna app (iOS and Android) is on there.
So there is an amount of time to get setup before I even start playing. A minor thing but when you have the doubt in your head “Oh I can’t be bothered to get everything out” then it can be a barrier to creating the habit.
So instead I keep the laptop out of the bag next to the guitar, I have put them in the area where I play every day and I put my phone next to them when I get home from work.
I am trying to make it as easy as possible for myself.
Make It Satisfying – This helps increase the odds that your guitar practice behavior will be repeated next time. The satisfaction has to be immediate as we tend to value the here and now rather than later.
I don’t want to hark on but the free course I am following has songs that you practice every session and for me this is what is satisfying. Putting in to practice what you are learning everytime by playing a song makes it satisfying.
Last night for example I was learning some of the intro for Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd. It sounded disconnected to start but after 5 minutes of practice it actually started to sound right! I could recognise it! That, is satisfying!
Dig In And Don’t Give Up
Through the stages of learning guitar what we need to hold onto is the habit to unlock a new level of performance.
The trouble is when it comes to my time to play, whilst I’m usually excited to play, I am tired. We have a
The result is I find myself easily drifting in to a pattern of, ‘I’ll skip it tonight”.
What we need to understand is however that learning the guitar is a journey and that the old adage ‘nothing worthwhile is easy’ somes up why we need to keep moving forward and making those 1% improvements each day.
As James describes
“In the early and middle stages of any quest, there is often a Valley of Disappointment. You expect to make progress in a linear fashion and it’s frustrating how ineffective changes can seem during the first days, weeks and even months. It doesn’t feel like you are going anywhere. It’s a hallmark of any compounding process: the most powerful outcomes are delayed.”
I Need Some Inspiration, Can You Recommend Anything?
Well if you want a great read about a beginner guitarist I would recommend Guitar Man. It is a fantastic book about a journalist who learns guitar in his 30’s inspired by the song Anji by Davey Graham and wants to play to an audience in 6 months time. He uses his connections to talk to some guitar greats along the way. Definitely worth a read and will have you reaching for the guitar in no time.
If you are interested in other inspiring guitar books you can read my short reviews here
Where Do I Even Begin To Start?
There can be a lot of decisions to make if you are first getting started. If you start here we have put together a resource for beginners which helps guide you through the early stages.