Learning new instruments as an adult

Yep … what about a Sax, Drums, Celtic Harp or even a Sitar? I started with piano as child.

Practice was the critical part of it. One should try to have about 30 minutes per day for practicing and get quality books and/or tutorials suitable for autodidactic learning …

What helped me much was using play-along songs. They come often in two versions, first with full instrumentation, second missing the instrument, you are up to learn.

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Some examples to add to this statement (which I agree with :100:)

Wrecking ball is a genre defining album. Country western star Emmy Lou Harris forgets to warm up her vocals while in the studio with U2 producer Daniel Lanois… And it’s a masterpiece!


I occasionally think of trying didgeridoo, jaw harp, harmonica, and various other less conventional instruments, maybe some day I will.

Also worth considering that when you buy a new groovebox, sampler, synth etc you are effectively learning a new instrument too. In that sense I have learned probably well over 100 instruments as an adult, of which about half of those with some level of proficiency and about half which for various reasons I did not gel with.


Im 43 and started with that pandemic lockdowns playing Ukulele.
Very rewarding, very fast to learn.

I’m glad I did, I now have something I can bring to familiy togethers.


Also in a general sense, if you play guitar/bass, something like a bouzouki or octave mandolin is really great, easy to get your hands around but absolutely pulls out of your habits and gets you thinking in new ways.

Some good advice here. I will add a few minor points.

I started cello as an adult (so I can’t speak directly to wind instruments), and played for fifteen years. I only stopped because I was travelling a lot and couldn’t make it to lessons consistently or keep my instrument humidified in the winter. I miss it.

I would encourage anyone to take in-person lessons with a good teacher. But try not to fall into old student habits (avoiding practice, making excuses, resenting criticism…). I am teaching teachers right now, and even they do some of this. One can appreciate and discuss pedagogy intelligently as an adult. Higher self-awareness also helps. Be cognisant of your strengths and weaknesses (of course, you can work on these, but be realistic). I have a good ear for pitch, good rhythm, and I memorize music quickly. But I have poor hand-eye coordination, small fingers, I’m clumsy, and I get thrown by making mistakes. I will never be more than a mediocre performer. That’s okay, the point is to learn and enjoy.

Regular practice is important but get advice on this. It’s too easy to reinforce mistakes, and there are tricks one can do (isolating sections, playing a bar backwards for a while). My teacher used the phrase “a legend in their own mind” to describe the phenomenon where, while playing, you hear the good version (recording or your teacher’s playing) and don’t notice your errors. Recording yourself can help (can be brutal, though).

Playing with others, even simple duets or a group playing unison, can be lovely. It adds another layer of responsibility and discipline.


Makes me think of Lucinda Williams as well. What an “imperfect” irreplaceable voice.


…it’s never too late…but given the fact, that even if ur given lifetime get’s u to three digits, it’s still nothing but a little fling in time…and whatever u start learning, u never gonna get that good as if u’d have picked it up when ur age had only one digit…

i never learned any instrument under the age of 10…but in my teenage years i was in that lucky position to get my hands on early sampling…that’s why i can say these days, i play many many instruments and none of them at all…since my first experience in music was, oh, i can grab anything, just fool around with it and record all that mess to pick all those little sonic cherries, lucky dips, mistakes, happy accidents LATER ON to actually really create “serious” music with all those snippets…


If you’re gonna commit yourself to learn an instrument as an adult why not make it a digeridoo?!


…i also still have heaps of snippets of me “playing” the digeridoo…

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Were you in the Beta Band?

…end of the day, my main instruments are voice and words…and sounddesign…sort of…

geve that input to a punk band…an ebm band…a new wave band…an industrial metal band…a phunk metal band…a trip hop band…and heaps of various electronic music projects…

Oh man so much good info that I’m trying to take in…

this is valuable for so many topics, it comes back to the philos of set your expectations accordingly.

I can agree, that throughout my life some of my favorite vocalists have had something non-musical about their voices and still been great, or like Beck who can actually sing musically and sometimes chooses not to to accentuate his unique voice.

this is really helpful for what I’m trying to do, that’s great.

yes to both,

and Tom waits is really a brilliant songwriter!

I think this is an important lesson, because as adults no one is forcing our hand. If I don’t gel with something, I’m not going to get so invested in it that I can’t put it down in favor of something more suitable to my interests or palate. but there’s a certain feeling of accomplishment that comes from taking on and crushing a limitation - but when that’s not the focus of our learning, it can be a tool of misdirecting the creativity away from the goal of learning an instrument, groovebox or acoustic.

these kind of discoveries will really keep you going.

this is great because it accompanies the right/left brain learning paradigm.

I can’t quote everything you said because it will make for a bad reply but everything you said was really helpful and I can relate to a lot of it -

these are just small bits that are very helpful to hear externally so I’m not just saying these things to myself, but really all of what you said gives great perspective.

this was my original intent and I won’t lose that even if I fail at learning a wind instrument, I am confident I could create some good samples.

Thanks a lot to everyone who was invested enough in their own learning to have something they were willing to share, this will definitely be good stuff for me to think about moving forward and it’s nice to know that some people have had at least personal success and growth and at the very least valuable experiences by doing approximately what I’m working on now, thanks again.

If anyone else has any other input, it’s more than welcome.


Unfamiliar genres and instruments:

Tabla - l already knew what this instrument was, and been to some Hindustani classical concerts featuring it. But one day I was driving to work and I heard a solo tabla performance on local public radio. I looked up the player, found out he was teaching at a local Hindu temple, and signed up for class. It’s next to impossible to learn without bringing something to record the class and having the recording to refer to later on when you’re at home and ready to practice.

Shakuhachi - The one instrument that kicked my ass more than any other. If you’re not born with the embouchure, it take a freaking long time to learn to get the lips just right. The air column coming out of your mouth has to be to seemingly exact specifications or you won’t get a damn sound out of the thing. No advice to offer here - just totally got my ass handed to me and I never got anywhere with it.

Viola - The main challenge with this instrument was learning how to control the bow. When I sucked at bowing, it was ok for experimental stuff and making background noises with rock bands, because my job was to get nasty scraping sounds, harmonics, etc. Least familiar genre I tried with it was Persian classical - for that, my bow control had to get a lot better. As with Hindustani music. learning the new genre was greatly assisted by actually being into the music beforehand. I’d gotten one of the earlier Silk Road Ensemble albums and the track “Avaz e Dashti” to me into Persian classical. I eventually realized that to get really good at this music though requires more time and dedication than I was willing to put in, so I made peace with the bits I was able to pick up and moved on. I still do stuff on viola/electric violin that I picked up from Persian music lessons and listening.

Guitar - yes I learned it as an “adult”. Meaning, I was 20 when my roommate gave me my first guitar lessons, on a cheap acoustic that he bought at a swap meet. Unfamiliar genre was jazz. I’d heard smooth jazz and some fusion on the radio, but the pre-1965 “traditional” jazz was a whole other beast. My folks were into the Laurence Welk show but that was very sanitized “jazz”, not the grittier stuff that the likes of Monk and Miles played. I wasn’t into trad jazz at first, but eventually really got into it.

Once you’re dived deeply enough into a genre where the thought of seeing and hearing someone playing it live excites you to the point you can’t wait to get home and try reproducing the expressive moves on your instrument - like little grace notes and stuff - the learning starts to speed up.


Not sure if this classifies as a “new instrument” for me, but I just bought my first classical guitar this past week. I’m primarily a bass player (of about 20 years give or take) and I love noodling with synthesizers, but lately I’ve developed this infatuation with acoustic instruments, mainly classical guitar music played on classical guitars. I first saw a performance by Ana Vidovic on YouTube and thought it was some of the most beautiful sounding music I’d ever heard.

I’ve had a traditional steel-string acoustic guitar laying around at home that I like strumming here and there but was never really good at it. But I’m learning rather quickly that even though they’re both guitars, there’s quite a bit of difference in technique between steel acoustic guitar and classical guitar.

I’m self taught on the bass but I think I’d like to find a teacher in my area for classical guitar (if there are any). Getting me on the right path as far as proper technique and developing good habits would only pay off in the long run.


It’s not as if I ever got to see john coltrane preform because he died quite some time before I was born but without knowing his music I would not have the same appreciation for jazz that I do. I have never been able to stomach dixieland or the “laurence welk” genre however.

It’s impressive you were able to wrap your head around instruments that traditionally do not coalesce with western learning, those are difficult concepts to grasp from a musical standpoint. I also couldn’t imagine even really trying shakuhachi but it’s great that you put in the effort even if you got tapped out in the end.

this is super true, if you play classical guitar as you are supposed to (in a seated position) you sort of find the posture, hand placement and the mechanics are closer to playing the bass than they are to playing a steel string acoustic guitar. There’s a great video of a guy playing the last “playable” stradivarius classical acoustic guitar from 1679:

honestly it’s really enchanting to hear something that has such a magical tone even centuries later, and you can tell he genuinely enjoys playing it!

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I am a lifelong musician (that inherently sucks at electronic music). I have not touched my high school instruments in well over a decade but I guarantee I could still sight-read saxophone notation and still know how to play the saxophone’s fingerings. Tone is another story. This, is the benefit of learning as child. It becomes like riding a bike.

The downside of learning as a child, is child brain. You’re a buffoon that thinks they know everything and hates to practice their scales.

As an adult, it’s far easier to conceptualize why practicing scales is absolutely necessary and therefore convince yourself to do it.

You just have to stay dedicated. If you learn an instrument in childhood it’s often through weekly lessons or in a classroom setting. That provides mandatory discipline. It’s much harder to force yourself to practice 30 minutes a day as an adult.

I recently picked up the banjo, I still play guitar (my only carryover instrument) and I am trying to learn German. Again, I feel these same principles apply to learning a language. The brain is more developed, so it’s harder to change it, but it’s easier to understand certain things, if that makes sense.


My aunt has always been a huge Pat Metheny fan and had been trying to turn me onto his music. I wasn’t interested because he rarely played his guitar with distortion. Later when I finally did get into his music, that opened the door for me to check out the musos who influenced him: Miles Davis (lived until the 90s so I got to see him live on TV at least), Jim Hall (saw him live, yeah!), Wes Montgomery (ok, long dead), etc. Metheny also played and recorded quite a bit of old-school style jazz himself. So yeah, he got me on the road to becoming a fan of the older school jazz - bebop, hard bop, swing era (more Charlie Christian, less Welk), etc.

My last viola teacher was had me study some classical stuff, but towards the end of our time together, she started teaching me blues. She said blues and jazz are intertwined but I didn’t get it until later.

As for shakuhachi, Hindustani and Persian music, I don’t claim to grasp much of it in the intellectual sense. I learned a bit of the theory. But I mainly just enjoyed the sounds of the genres - the melodies with the ornamentations that mark the genre for what it is, the rhythms, rise and fall of dynamic levels, etc.

I finally learned to play like 3 notes or whatever on the shakuhachi by going to a shakuhachi camp held in Loveland, Colorado. The camp was a 5 day camp. I played my first notes on Day 5. :smiley: I don’t regret the time and money spent to be at that camp It was a pleasant little vacation in a gorgeous mountainous setting.

Well, I appreciate the kind thoughts and indulgence in my rambling prose.


If you’re going down the wind instrument route you could take a look at learning wind controllers/wind synths. They have the benefit of being a little bit more practical as a lot of the wind instruments can get pretty loud.

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I’m still learning how to be an adult while playing instruments!