Hey there :)
Have you ever heard that it is impossible to get really good at music unless you had started before you turned five? ... Or that practice is not much fun for any "practicer", and even less for their neighbors? ... Or that making music is an expensive hobby?
Well, there are a lot of things people say about being a musician, or about learning to play an instrument, or about being creative in any way, or having a passion... Today I want to make sure that from now on you'll be able to identify the most common myths about learning to play an instrument — and that you'll never let them hold you back again! Read on :)
Myth number 1: The earlier you start, the better
Are the best musicians not just grown-up prodigies who started at the age of 5, spent hours practicing every day before they were even able to realize that there was something weird about that, and then never said a word of complaint about the unusual childhood to their parents, because who would complain about being famous, loved and admired, and just awesome at something? Well, if your have a look at world's best musicians' stories, you can notice that not everybody was perceived as a talented child, not everybody started young — some had a good grasp of basics when starting out as adults, some began from scratch as teenagers after developing deep admiration for some great musician and wanted to become great too... There is no universal story and not just one and only template providing perfect circumstances for becoming a great musician. What is necessary, though, is passion for music, being committed when working with dedications and passion for years, and being able to enjoy the process, so that it's not just about work, but also about fun.
Now, how does it relate to you, if you are a beginner and music is just your hobby, a leisure activity that you pursue with enjoyment, but that's pretty much it?
Well, there is something you want to remember about: your age does not really matter. Your background does not really decide about what you can achieve. Your preliminary knowledge and skills and music do not define you. To tell the truth, I observe as a teacher that adult students learn way quicker than children. Teenage students learn quicker than most children too. You know why? Because the main part of making music and getting good at it is in your head: If you choose music yoursef, if you know what you want to learn, if you are the one who is motivated (not your parents, not your teachers) and ready to do whatever it takes to get your desired results (even if it's just playing Silent Night for your family after 2 months of lessons) — you are going to achieve the results. Never ever think that it is a pity you have not started earlier. Adult learners are different than teenagers or kids, and this can be your strength.
Think about it this way: You can probably stay focused for way longer than when you were 8. You can also decide yourself which teacher to work with, and if you feel that somebody is not the right match for you, you can change it immediately. You use your own money to get your instrument, all the gear you need, and so on, so you are more independent. You also have much richer music experiences — even if it's just years of listening to recordings of your favourite artists, that's an advantage. And last but not least, practice for you is fun rather than a chore (if you introduce me to a child who truly likes music practice, I'll buy you a year's supply of reeds, or strings, or whatever else you need :P) so you are more likely to practice longer and more often, to enjoy it and to get the results you want.
Myth number 2: You need to practice every day
Well, the truth is, you don't. Regular, focused practice is important and necessary if you want to learn quickly and effectively, but — like with sports — it's good to remember about breaks: for regeneration of your muscles and your brain, for doing something else that is fun/important, for staying motivated and excited about the whole thing. You want to miss your practice from time to time. Believe me, one to two days without practice per week would be actually perfect.
What's more, you don't always need to just play the instrument when you practice. Why not include in your practice sessions listening to recordings of the pieces you are working on? This is practice too! Or doing some breathing or stretching exercises? Or reading the scores to get familiar with the music you play in a more focused, visual way? This one is also a great exercise which can help you to develop your sight reading as well as your auditory imagination, so that you know what a piece sounds like even before you have heard it — or are able to write down something you know only from listening. Practice can be really varied and never should feel like a chore you have to do.
Myth number 3: You need to find a teacher and take regular lessons
For some people having professional support and control on a regular basis might be really important at the very beginning. For others — anything else than that. If you feel that the prospect of looking for a teacher and then attending regular lessons puts you off, forget about it for now. There are so many ways of learning to play an instrument. If you want to start by experimenting on your own, by following a handbook or an online course, or taking lessons only from time to time when you have questions and doubts, you can do it. Especially now when it is so easy to have access to learning materials, guides, course books, scores, online lessons, videos, and recordings, adult learners can choose whatever suits them best.
Decide which methods to focus on while taking into account your unique learning style. If you learn more effectively when you are with other people, group tuition might be the best solution. If you need somebody to be accountable to, booking weekly lessons with just one teacher could be a suitable option. If you are very self-disciplined and enjoy finding things out on your own, be creative and use whatever materials you can to help you get better.
I definitely advise you to book a lesson with a professional teacher from time to time, so that you have some control and support. This way you can also ensure that you won't stick to bad habits. Since, unfortunately, whatever we get used to seems just fine, it is a good idea to have somebody else look at you and listen to you, to help you get rid of habits which might slow down your progress and even make your practice harmful for you (bad posture, tense muscles, etc.).
Myth number 4: Music is an expensive hobby
Like with any other hobby, music can be as expensive as you choose it to be.
Buying a good quality instrument might feel like a huge investment, but usually instruments can be used for many years if properly taken care of, so at the end of the day your"equipment" is not as pricey. There are more and more music stores which offer rental plans for beginner models, so you don't have to buy anything straight away and can pay for your instrument a monthly fee which is usually comparable to topping up your phone.
Lessons can be expensive, but as I said before, if you do not want or cannot afford one on one lessons every week, you don't have to take them. Or you can find teachers who charge less, for example music college students.
You can spend as much money on jogging (shoes, clothes, personal trainer) as on playing the piano or the saxophone. It is really up to you to assess your needs and find out what you can afford, or how crazy you want to go on spending money on music.
Myth number 5: Your practice is going to annoy your family / housemates / neighbors
When you start learning to play an instrument, the first practice sessions sound nowhere near impressive ;) But remember — Rome wasn't built in one day. What sounds quite weird today, in 10 weeks might be OK, and in 100 weeks is probably going to be really enjoyable to listen to. As long as you you stick to these three simple rules, people who can hear your practice are likely to be understanding:
Keep it short
Good practice is about quality, not quantity. Do not start with 2 hours straight away if you are a beginner — you want your muscles and brain to get used to their new tasks in a relaxed way. You also want your neighbors/housemates to get familiar with your new hobby without causing them too much stress. Set limits for your practice — this can also help you to stay focused and so can make your practice more effective! You will naturally practice more when you get better and when you work on more complex pieces.
Remember to make your practice varied and fun — it is not about playing the same things over and over again. Repetition is essential and extremely powerful if it is done consciously and with clear goals. Never just repeat something that you cannot play properly. Whenever you encounter a problem, solve it first by using different methods (e.g. playing slowly, playing shorter fragments, using rhythmic patterns, etc.). If a piece gets more difficult towards the end and you get stuck somewhere, don't play the whole thing from the very beginning each time. There are very few things more irritating than having to listen to this sort of practice (and, by the way, this method doesn't work).
Live and let others live
Don't shy away from practice just because somebody might hear it and not like it, or even be unpleasant about it. People watch TV loudly, use blenders and drills, or have babies crying all day long, so remember that your practice is definitely not more annoying than any of the above (and probably not as audible). Just stick to civilized hours, and if you know that some people might hear you play, talk to them and find out when your practice would be OK — if they mention that they have a problem with that. Usually 9 a.m. is safe enough to start at during the week (you might want to give your housemates more time to sleep in at weekends), and you should avoid practicing after 9 p.m. if you know that you can be heard. However, depending on your situation and your neighbors' lifestyles and preferences, you might have more freedom. Just try out different practice times, and find out which work best.
I hope that now you feel that what might have seemed like obstacles is nothing else than myths. If you want to learn to play an instrument, you can do it! Making music requires regular, dedicated work, but it can be sooo enjoyable! It can also teach you a lot about yourself and open for you multiple doors to new possibilities, new skills, and new friendships. So get started, stick with it, and stay tuned. Good luck!