Like many people who enjoy music, you’ve probably thought about learning an instrument. Maybe you’ve imagined yourself mastering the guitar and going on tour with a band.
But the years have passed, you’ve focused on education, a career, maybe you’ve started a family.
You always wanted to learn the guitar, but now you’re 40 years old and you might be thinking it’s too late.
If only your parents had paid for lessons for you when you were a kid. If only you had bought that old Strat back in college and used all that extra free time you had to learn the guitar.
Even if you had found the time in your twenties when you were starting your job entry-level job — you know, before you got married or had children.
At age 40 you still want to learn the guitar but…could you even learn now? Could you train your fingers to manipulate the strings and make the sounds you crave to hear?
The answer is yes! You can learn the guitar. In fact, you can learn the guitar at any age.
On one music message forum, someone asked if it’s ever too late to learn the guitar. A commenter answered, “When you’re dead. Seriously, though. Pick up that guitar. You’re already better than the guy who didn’t.”
So whether you’re 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 (or even older) and you want to learn the guitar, you should. If you’re wondering if you can learn to play the guitar at 40, the answer is yes. If you’re looking for a longer answer, keep reading.
The Issue of Neuroplasticity
OK so let’s get real for a moment. Children are better at learning, right? There’s a reason we send kids to school for over a decade. They’re in the perfect time of their life to be sponges and soak up new information.
Scientifically, that’s true. Children’s brains are structured to learn and develop. This is largely due to something called “neuroplasticity.”
Neuroplasticity refers to the way the brain reorganizes itself and makes new connections. When you’re a baby, your brain is new and makes loads of new connections as you’re learning. That’s why people say it’s easier to learn a new language when you’re a child.
As you get older, your brain forms fewer new connections. This phenomenon happens for a few reasons. For one, you don’t need to form as many new connections in adulthood because your brain already knows how to do many basic functions that you learn during development.
One study explains it like this, “Plasticity in the young brain is very strong as we learn to map our surroundings using the senses. As we grow older, plasticity decreases to stabilize what we have already learned.”
Another reason is the time and dedication that you have for learning. Children have time to learn, so they learn. Adults may continue to learn as part of their life and work experience, or they may more or less fall into a routine that requires less learning and more maintenance.
But one thing has become clear in recent studies is that neuroplasticity increases when you are learning new things. Our brains are actually designed to continue making new connections and make new neurons when we continue learning.
Though it may require more time and energy to learn the guitar at age 40, it’s still very possible to do, and it’s actually good for your brain.
What About Fine Motor Skills?
Your brain is capable of learning something new, but what about your fingers? At age 40, most people will still have plenty of dexterity in their hands and are fully capable of playing the guitar.
No matter what age you are, it’s difficult to train your hands and fingers to do something new. If it’s your first time picking up a guitar, it’s going to feel awkward and hard. You won’t have calluses yet so your fingers will hurt, and some chords are going to make you question if a human hand is meant for that kind of arrangement.
That’s all a very normal part of learning the guitar, and is true for a child or an adult. You even have some advantages as an adult because your hands will be larger and stronger than a child. You’ll have an easier time reaching certain strings and arrangements.
Another advantage an adult has over a child is years of learning how to be patient with a new skill. Where a child may lose interest very quickly, an adult typically has more determination to overcome difficulty and tedium.
4 Good Reasons to Learn the Guitar at 40 (or 50, or 60, or 70)
Starting a new career at age 40 as a rock star may be a difficult jump if you have no music experience, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t real and tangible benefits for learning a new instrument as an adult.
Here are four good reasons to start learning the guitar at any age.
1. It Helps Keep the Brain Sharp
Earlier we talked about neuroplasticity — something that is enhanced by learning a musical instrument. Playing a musical instrument throughout life is known to strengthen cognitive abilities and lower the risk of dementia.
Although there are fewer studies that look at learning instruments later in life, one study conducted in Spain shows promising data showing that it can be beneficial for the brain even when a person starts learning in their senior years.
2. Good For Your Emotional Wellbeing
Music is good for reducing anxiety and can be an incredible stress reducer. According to a study conducted at Stanford University, “Rhythmic music may change brain function and treat a range of neurological conditions, including attention deficit disorder and depression.”
And it’s not just listening to music, playing a musical instrument is also good for your mental health. WebMD explains:
Researchers now know that playing a musical instrument can switch off the stress response, improving physical and emotional health. When our senses detect a possible threat in the environment, the body undergoes a chain reaction in which genes within each cell switch on, directing the cells to produce chemicals associated with the stress response. Playing music sets off an opposite chain reaction that switches these genes off again.
3. Music is a Gateway for Self-Expression
There’s no denying that adults experience deep and complex emotions at times. Music is a healthy way to let those feelings out. Even if you’re playing in your basement for an audience of the cat, the act can be cathartic.
If you develop your skills as a guitarist and begin writing music for a wider audience, sharing your inner world with others is a profound way of realizing that you’re not alone. You may be surprised to find that others share many of the same thoughts and feelings as you.
4. Because You Always Wanted To Learn
What better reason is there to learn the guitar than because you want to? In life you can always find reasons not to do something — it costs too much, it takes too much time, you may not be good at it, it may be difficult.
These are nothing more than excuses standing in the way of you doing something you really want to do. If you have a dream of learning the guitar, your age is not a barrier. Start learning the guitar because you really want to.
Here’s a great video explaining why you can learn guitar at age 40 and up!
Can I Learn the Guitar at 40?
Yes, you can learn the guitar at 40. There are more good reasons to learn the guitar than there are reasons not to. To get you started, find out how much it costs to buy a new guitar, check out first thing to learn on the guitar, and peruse these easy beginner songs to play on the guitar.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.