Thursday, May 05, 2005

Hey you.

To the person who found this site by Googling "Is it too late to start classical guitar at 17?":

No it's not!

Yes it's easier to learn things when you're so young that everything you do is a learning experience, but that's not the whole story. Passion, enthusiasm and focus are easier at an older age. At 17 I suspect that passion, obsession even, is something you understand completely. Where a child might work at something because it captures their quicksilver interest for while or because Mom told them to, teenagers will focus to point of exclusion of everything else. And that's what it takes to become an expert.

Another thing to consider: while tiny guitars exist for very young students most people can't really learn to play until they've settled into the body they're going to have the rest of their life. At 17 you could still have a growing to do but you're closer to your final size than a 10 year old is.

If you read the bios of the Yngvie Malmsteens, Eddie Van Halens and Steve Vais of this world, (you know: guitar heroes) you'll find that most of them spent the better part of their teen years sitting in a bedroom practicing. There's no reason that this wouldn't work for classical too.

I think it's a shame that the Classical world focuses on prodigies so much. It creates an unrealistic impression of who can and can't play classical music. Just because you weren't playing Bach Suites at 3 months old doesn't mean you don't have something to offer. If more people who grew up outside of the Classical music world would take up playing it, then maybe we'd have more interesting interpretations of the repertoire. I'd love to hear someone who hung with Dad on the construction site as a wee tyke play Stravinski, or someone who's childhood passion was ice skating play Debussy.

Yet another thing to consider: Classical musicians can have careers that last until they die. The ageism that is so prevalent in pop and rock music simply doesn't exist. So why is there this emphasis on young prodigies? Craziness I say.

There we go, my 2¢ worth. [steps off soap box]


Closet Metro said...

I bought my first guitar at age 36. Granted, I don't have any dreams of making a living with it, but I'm definitely glad I didn't wait any longer to start playing.

Coelecanth said...

CM: If you start too late you'll probably never be a vituoso, but that doesn't mean you can't be very good indeed. Learning guitar takes good work habits and an ability to focus, things that come easier with age. Besides, I think virtuoso's are over-rated. I mean, aren't they just freaks? They might be interesting because of their unusualness but you could say the same about three-headed babies.

BTW I've enjoyed some of your comments on Dooce, thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I bought my first bass guitar (my life-long dream) at the age of 28, much to the encouragement of my then-boyfriend, who, along with this blogger Cloelecanth here, took me under their wing and let me play in their band, very soon after my purchase.

I also played with a chick band where no one knew how to play their instruments. Between the two bands, I had a lot of reasons to practice. And I did so for hours almost every day. That made all the difference in the world. (It always sounds bad at first, but only with practice do things start to get better. A dusty neglected instrument never sounds good!)

I do have a huge musical background, but never got a handle on stringed instruments. After a few months of playing bass in those two bands, I took a few lessons to ensure that I was playing the instrument correctly and that I wasn't going to end up with long-term damage to my hands, tendons, back and hips. It also gave me a chance to brush up on my theory (which certainly led to many short-cuts while playing - on a stringed instrument, there are many ways to play a certain note, unlike any other instrument I had played in the past.)

One secret to being a monster player, however, and Coelecanth has mentioned this in his blog, is to be a good listener. Theory background or no, a good ear knows what works and what doesn't. No one has to play formula, but when bending or breaking rules, there has to be a purpose. Record yourself, and listen. If you play in a band, listen to how your part fits in with other the others. Whether or not you play with other people, always leave room for the music to breathe. Don't shy away from silences, and never, EVER rush (which is a very result of performance nerves).

I'm not a virtuoso bass-player, but I get the job done, and I get it done well and with passion. I also play a million other instruments. Today, six years later, by default, I make a good chunk of my living either teaching or playing music.

My opinion, playing a million notes per second is incredibly over-rated.
Go forth with passion and determination.

I look forward to hearing you some day!


PS: Hey Coelecanth. I'm headed your way in exactly 6 days (I arrive on the 27th) for M&M's wedding. I know you've got a birthday coming up. I'm in town for 9 days. I really want to see you and your Honey. I have yet to see your house. So invite me over!