Learning new instruments as an adult

I recently decided to try and teach myself (with some help from online videos) how to play the baroque recorder, mainly wanted to get some sample material but I’ve discovered that I’m not so opposed to getting good at playing them even if it’s only for the sake of the cats and my own two ears.

I discovered this thread which has a lot of people saying good things:
Has anyone started playing any new instruments lately? - The Lounge - Elektronauts

Started wondering if anyone who has taken up an unfamiliar genre of instrument as an adult or past high school has any advice other than the rote “practice, dedication” type of common sense advice?

I’ve mostly played stringed instruments, therefore any piano I know is self taught and my technique is bad, but it’s good for composition. I have never in my life, however, tried any woodwind or brass - breath instrument - so this is a new experience for me.


I’m constantly buying new instruments without having any idea of how to play them. Even guitar I just started playing over the past few years. Cello, trumpet, sax, clarinet. I’m not good at playing any of ‘em really but I’ve been able to get recordings that I’ve liked from them. Mainly through sampling.


I’m allegedly an adult, and I find it just as easy/difficult to pick up a new instrument as it was when I was a kid.

I’ve really only become “good” at playing string instruments (guitar, mandolin, etc) or electronic instruments (drum machines, samplers, etc), but usually if I spend like an hour with a new instrument I’ll figure out how to at least play a scale or something. I think the advantage of approaching a new instrument later in life is that you bring all your musical knowledge and experience with you. Yeah, maybe you won’t have the same “brain flexibility”, and you might have a lot of muscle memory from doing other things that can get in the way, but I don’t think it’s impossible to learn something new well as an adult.


I just started taking piano lessons a couple months ago. I’m 46.

I bought a Prophet6, might as well play it properly.

My advice, is temper your expectations, and always go for the fun aspect, not the necessarily proper form. It’s too late for us to be virtuoso.

But we can wail goddammit.

Wail, baby, wail.


my expectations are pretty low but this is good life advice.

thanks for the input guys.

you sound adult enough to me. but I’m no shining star of maturity so, take it as you will…

this was my original sole intent but the more I watch people be coherent and articulate with them, the more interested I am in being able to surpass my limitations if even just a little.

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Yep. I’m about two years into my flute studies. Curriculum wise I’m an intermediate flautist now, which means I still have a long way to go, but that is a big achievement for me.

My one piece of advice, which other more accomplished musicians gave me, is seek out in-person lessons, particularly as a beginner. It’s really important to cement good habits from the beginning as it’s hard to unlearn bad habits, and you need to learn proper embouchure and even how to hold the instrument.

Like you, I was actually thinking of studying on my own when I first started and I’m so glad I listened to the advice above myself. I never would have gotten where I am now or discovered how awesome music lessons are.

Going to in-person music lessons is not only a really fun, chill, age-appropriate hobby as an adult, but it will translate into better skills on all of your other instruments. I’ve learned dozens of songs (classical, jazz, folk, pop), I can read music, I’m about halfway through the circle of 5ths in terms of learning/memorizing keys, and I’ve learned lots of scales, arpeggios, and licks in a variety of time signatures, and loads of other important things like dynamics. I’ve also gotten to experience the joy of playing music together with someone else (which is something that has always intimidated me). The good thing is that you can go at your own pace, but you are moving forward, even if it’s slowly.

Right now I’m caring for an elderly dog on top of working and everything else, so I don’t have a load of time, but I’ve already decided that after he’s gone, I’m going to start taking jazz guitar lessons as well. I’ve been screwing around on guitar since I was a kid, but I really want to learn it properly. While two instruments is the max I can commit to doing seriously I think, I’d also like to do some little percussion mini courses at some point as well. You can see I’ve got the music bug, but at the end of the day I can’t really think of anything else I’d like to spend the rest of my life working on, aside from physical fitness.


I really appreciate the perspective you bring and the update that you’ve stuck with it and that it has been a rewarding experience.

ironically, though my rhythm guitar playing has always been good, I’m terrible with percussion which is why I originally got interested in drum machines. I think a person can have good rhythm or timing and still not excel as a percussionist but like with anything, practice brings some if not great improvement for most people.

thanks again!

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Apparently from a neurological perspective, playing and learning an instrument is one of (if not) the best way to fight dementia as you are using both brain halves.

So I would say that A) learning is never bad and B) playing music is never bad!


One thing I came across that not many people talk about is that playing a wind instrument is supposedly really good for treating/controlling asthma. I had bronchitis a lot as a child and mild asthma as an adult (and was concerned that would hold me back), but playing flute has been great for strengthening my lungs. My flute teacher told me she has the same thing as me and the flute really helped her as well.



it’s really great that something good for your mind can also prove to be good for your body as well. And playing music is just rewarding in general, while not all music is “relaxing” just the simple act or feeling of ventilating tension which often comes from playing almost any kind of music is often accompanied by feelings of relief and in some cases, a feeling of accomplishment


An advantage of learning a new instrument as an adult is that you might have more patience than as a kid.

I highly recommend some practice on basic stuff where you progress slowly enough to make zero mistakes during practice. That way over time you can actually improve impressively fast. The trick is to limit your ambitions to something you can actually follow through on every day though.


Play and learn whatever you like at whatever age you are. The only thing that will hold you back is when you start to compare yourself to better players and since there never was the need for that in the first place. GO


I’m revisiting the recorder (and tin whistle now), that I played in my youth. It’s pretty satisfying.


If you’re considering wind instruments, melodica is a cheap way to get used to breathing and is also very useful for sampling.


That makes sense, tge amount of lip and lung power needed to play a saxophone is surprisingly more than people realize.

Ooh most definetly. As of later years electronic music in the form of hardware devices has been a real lifeline for me when I need to ease tension. I think my discography shows that as well :laughing:.

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speaking strictly as an adult, the alto recorder is easier for me to get what feels like “good sounds” out of, and the hand positioning feels less like it is made for a child, although none of the sizes of recorder were designed for children, they’re traditional instruments and were played in quartets so even the sopranino (smaller than the soprano) was made for adult hands. But for me, the soprano is a lot squeakier and my hands get a little cramped. I’m interested in the bass recorder but there are no inexpensive options so you really have to be committed, tenor recorder is a bit expensive but not the $300+ of a bass recorder which is rather large even if it is made of ABS plastic.

I think this is good advice but I tend to stop having fun if I’m focusing so much on perfection that it becomes the object of my practice. I think that maybe I can balance the two aspects by having a focused practice where I’m trying to get sounds I like and at other times preform without error.

this mentality is unfortunately a sickness that I think all of us share in. even with very little ego at stake, it’s always hard to not compare yourself to others, but this is great advice thank you.

that’s interesting, I’ve wondered about the melodica and also the breathing aspect of wind instruments, I’ll look into it thank you.


I practice the guitar, vocals and Eigenharp regularly. I’d say I spend on average 5-6 hours per week practicing. I feel progress is very slow. Much slower than how I remember it felt learning to play instruments when I was a teenager.

Hard to tell if progress actually is slower, or that it just feels that way because I had more spare time back then to actually practice and had lower standards for what I considered “good enough”. I suspect it was easier to progress quickly on what I used to play (piano/accordion/harmonica) than what I currently are learning. Or so I tell myself. :slight_smile:

I want to start playing the Oud and a wind instrument (the clarinet, perhaps?), but considering how slow I progress on what I already play I know it isn’t a good idea.

If I had to pick, I think vocals is the most valuable “instrument” to learn, even for electronic musicians. Just a couple of sampled phrases of a human voice can add so much to a track. With lessons and serious effort, progressing from absolutely terrible to something useable doesn’t take that long.


I think this is valuable to know you feel this way.

I can understand that logic, my singing voice isn’t much to listen to even when it’s in tune however unfortunately.

also I had never heard of the eigenharp, is that this instrument? I may have to youtube it, very interesting looking.

thanks for your information and perspectives.

I’ll admit that some people are born with a much better starting point than others. But, for what it is worth, I’d say I had as bad a starting point as one can possibly have (without some kind of medical condition, obviously). What (my very patient) teacher helped me learn wasn’t first and foremost to sing in tune (I still struggle with that), it was to get the most out of what I had. Improving the overall tone of my voice, mostly, then figuring out what range and way of singing worked to my advantage, and then eventually make it sound better by learning techniques like vibrato, rasp, falsetto, etc.

I’ll never be a good vocalist by any traditional understanding of the term, but perhaps 6-7 years of practice means I can by now be described as unusual sounding more than dreadful. Or so I hope. :slight_smile: According to my teacher, the only people she can’t help become a singer is those that actually is done deaf. Not struggling to stay in tune, but apparently some people simply cannot hear pitch at all.

Yes! They come in three sizes, this one being the biggest one. I own all three and love them. Really hard to play well, though. A slightly inaccurate finger movement is enough to make things sound bad. Then again, it is that super-sensitive fingertip-expressiveness that make them interesting in the first place. Without personal experience playing something like a cello or violin, my guess is this is probably in that ball-park.

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Some of my favourite vocalists absolutely suck :joy: If you’re expressing something real, even creaky and slightly flat, it’s good!