Begin Again – Relearning your Childhood Instrument
There must be millions of frustrated musicians across the planet who learnt an instrument quite easily as a child, even may have excelled at it but gave it up when other seemingly more important things got in the way, friends, school, play etc. Now looking wistfully back to what could have been, they begin to see how they might take up that instrument again and relearn it and master it and even play for their peers or with fellow musicians. In the world of traditional Irish music there can scarcely be a greater thrill than playing at a Traditional Irish Music Session and if that aforementioned talented child musician sounds like you, no doubt it would be a dream come true.
We’re for musicians here at McNeela Instruments and we want you, the adult beginner or relearner to experience the most satisfying musical journey possible. If you’ve even the smallest doubt about whether to take up an instrument again, read on for inspiration and reassurance.
It’s Never too Late to Take up a Musical Instrument
You could be six or sixty years retired from playing your violin, piano, flute, recorder, concertina, bodhrán, guitar etc. but the good news is that as an adult learner relearning your former musical instrument is absolutely possible. They say children pick things up more quickly and yes it’s true, they’re naturally open and responsive and still have a brain to fill but they also have the luxury of time, mental space, fewer inhibitions and all those other things children are blessed with.
Time & Self Belief
So if their main advantage is time and confidence there’s no reason an adult learner cannot overcome the lack of these precious commodities and relearn a skill they once had. Give yourself permission to make time and mental space. Yes, there will be frustrations and despondency but do not let this put you off, there is literally no one out there who has ever fully mastered their instrument as there’s always something new to learn and nothing worth doing was ever completely easy. Learning is a journey, where the journey is the most important part. Patience and tenacity will pay off and breakthroughs will be twice as satisfying now as they were when you were a child.
Finding the Right Irish Musical Instrument
The first thing to look for is the right instrument. You don’t necessarily need an absolute beginner instrument but probably should look in the advanced beginner or intermediate level range depending on your previous level. You’ll want an instrument that is easy to play and responsive to your touch and sounds beautiful – all the elements necessary to encourage you along. You’ll no doubt be relearning some basic techniques but if you take the violin for example, your fingers will remember a lot of the note positions and your hand will remember how to hold the bow, you will of course be rusty, possibly very much so but a well designed intermediate instrument will ensure you get back to where you were as quickly as possible. If you can’t physically try the instrument before you buy, try to find a seller with a money-back trial period and a guarantee, better still if they have a trade-in scheme whereby you can upgrade in the future if you want. Of course, we have all the aforementioned but you’re free to do more research online and we’d encourage it.
How to Find a Teacher of Irish Music
If you’re lucky you’ll have access to a great teacher, either in your area or, increasingly, online. Skype lessons are handy enough but be warned, if there is a time delay between visual and audio, it can make for a frustrating experience so pre-recorded video lessons may be more suitable if your wi-fi connection isn’t great. If you’re taking pre-recorded video lessons be sure to schedule them in at regular times much like you would a normal ‘offline’ lesson. Pick a time every week and stick to it.
Take a look at this video lesson with Caitlín Nic Gabhann for the concertina and see just how easy it is to get up and running:
A good place to look for music teachers of the Irish tradition in particular is https://tradconnect.com/. Try also Googling ‘Traditional Irish Music Teacher’ and you should come up with a list of places to contact in your area.
Alternatively, ask your instrument seller if they’d recommend anyone, they often come into contact with teachers. In any event, a teacher will be highly useful in ensuring that any bad habits that might have developed over time are nipped in the bud and ensuring you’re motivated to practice for the next lesson.
After a while your confidence will grow along with your repertoire so now might be a good time to look for musical groups in your area. Again, an online search should do the trick but don’t forget to ask your teacher or even your instrument seller.
Practice & Play
The next thing is practice. Depending on your life situation you’ll either have plenty of time (lucky you) or you may have very little. Regardless, committing to daily practice always takes discipline but even those of you with busy schedules should aim to put at least 10 – 20 mins aside every day. The great news is that you don’t have to have the instrument in your hand for every type of practice. With a concertina for instance you could mentally practice finger placement for notes and memorise your push/pull timings – there are plenty of possibilities for this type of practice with any instrument and you can do it anytime you’re not required to be focusing on something else.
Be sure to make time for actually making music as well, scales, chords and arpeggios are absolutely essential to practice but playing music you love will keep the fire lit and spirits up. This is vital!
Increase Your IQ by Learning a Musical Instrument
The benefits of taking up a musical instrument at any age are pretty obvious in terms of the musical joy and pleasure you and (eventually!) others will get from your playing but relearning an instrument has other hidden benefits as well, particularly important for the over 60s when the spectre of Dementia, Alzheimer’s or just general age-related forgetfulness begins to loom.
Forget brain-training games, taking up a musical instrument later in life is one of the few scientifically proven ways to properly exercise and de-age the brain. According to The Irish Examiner,
“Research has shown that the corpus callosum, a midline structure which connects the two sides of the brain, and integrates motor, sensory, and cognitive information between the cerebral hemispheres, is larger in musicians.
In her book Healthy Ageing Brain: The Neuroscience of Making the Most of Your Mature Mind, author Judith Horstman further underlines this, when she says neuroscientists recommend learning a musical instrument as a way to exercise and bolster the brain.”
You are actually firing up the neural pathways of your brain again, increasing your cognitive function and your IQ and that, along with the sense of achievement and of something that was feared lost now being rediscovered, outweighs any frustration you may experience during the learning process. At the very least you could treat those 10 – 20 minutes a day as active meditation, a way to halt the endless carousel of thoughts and give the brain an unbeatable workout to boot. So what are you waiting for?
Get in touch with Paraic and the team at McNeela Instruments if you’re thinking of relearning an instrument or even taking up a new instrument, we’ve nearly forty years of experience with musicians of all levels including adult re-learners and we love to talk music! For more inspiration take a look around our blog posts. We’ve also gathered links to some fantastic and inspirational posts on relearning or even taking up an instrument later in life.
Get Back into an Instrument After a Long Break
Is 40 too late to take up a musical instrument?
Take a look at the discussion on this thesession.org forum. The poster asked was it too late to fiddle at 40, the answers that came back referred to people decades older taking up the fiddle for the first time and playing competently in a traditional Irish session within months https://thesession.org/discussions/14734