Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

And a long title to boot, I know.
But everybody I know who play traditional Irish music has been at it since they were quite young .
I am 43, and starting out, I won’t give up but I would like here from someone who has reached a session playing level.

Thank you.

Phil

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

My wife started fiddle at age 40. If you love the music, and keep your nose to the grindstone, you can do it! Best wishes, and enjoy the journey!

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Don’t worry, Phil, I’ve been there. I had played Irish jigs, polkas, etc., for some time, but not fast reels. I tried in my 50’s, but gave up disheartened. Then I started going to a great session with loads of brilliant musicians and got keen again, and now in my 60’s I can hold my own with any of them and have a good repertoire of fast reels. It helps if you read the dots, because it gets you straight in with an idea of how the tune ought to go, but it’s not essential, obviously. I know many excellent players who don’t read at all and learn by ear. Once you have the tune in your head, take it in bite-size bits and go over it very slowly again and again until it feels natural. Go regularly to a good session, and listen to how the other players do it. It really is worth just sitting and listening. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice - most players love talking about their music and will go on and on, given the chance. Practise, practise, practise. It will come in the end if you stick to it.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

P.S. Couldn’t agree more with AlBrown. Nosey grindstone is right!

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

You are at "session playing level" now. Just find the right session.

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Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Thank you, unless the national deaf council have a session I don’t know about.

Phil

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Never to old to start. Have a grand journey!

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Go for it Phil! I started in my mid fifties more from the social activity of slow tune classes than with any expectation of session playing. Now in my fourth year I can play a fair few tunes in many sessions, until the speed demons crank it up.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

I didn’t play anything in front of people until I was 42. My first experiences were in a folk club, playing the harmonica with my teenage daughter on flute and sub-teenage son on mando and guitar. They were both 50 times better than me for at least the first five years. But I stuck with it and broke away from the folk club environment (though I’m eternally grateful for the folk club experience, without which I would never have got going - mucho thanks to John Maughan, the Boscastle Busker). I made tons of mistakes in the following years, including trying to play the bodhran. I got into a session at the Welly in Boscastle in the ’90s that most people here would poo-poo had they ever had the misfortune to experience it, but it was very valuable to me! After that, I met a few fellow aficionados and we started a session in a local pub, and, despite numerous changes of personnel over the years, we’ve never looked back. We get bookings for parties and weddings these days which help to pay for my harmonicas. I joined the National Harmonica League and have now written at least 20 articles on playing Irish tunes on the harmonica and provided tunes for their magazine (don’t tell Gill whatever you do!). Some of my playing is even up on the NHL website, put up there with the intention of showing non-Irish players how the tunes might go (approximately!). At 40 I would never have believed you had you told me where I’d be now. I’m no Larry Adler by a long chalk but I have the time of my life, all starting in, er, early middle age. Go for it, mate, but avoid too much diffidence and too much ego. A bit of both is brilliant!

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

There are slow sessions Phil, which offer a good start, and some of them open the evening relaxed, some learning a tune, and then go on to a full bore session. Some of the Comhaltas sessions operate similarly, but it may all be down to where you’re based. If not else you’re ready to use your ears, to go to a session and scope it out, enjoy a pint, the company, the listen. Don’t be shy, and it will give you some idea of what is played locally, and at what tempos. Starting in a session, to play, is often one tune at a time, with the greater part given over to listening - and the craic.

I’ve known a plenty of folk who started late, and some didn’t continue, some did, but they all enjoyed the start, and no one was pushing them but themselves. As always, it is best to take it with ease, relaxed, and with humour and passion, especially for yourself…

Best of luck!

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

You didn’t say what instrument you’re learning. Depending on the instrument, It seems most people can get to a reasonable session level within just a few years. Getting really good takes much longer for many people, of course. I definitely agree with the people here who suggested joining a "slow session" if possible. It’s a lot of fun, and great motivation to keep progressing as well.
By the way, I didn’t start playing fiddle or any Irish music until I was in my 30s, although I had other musical training. Now I’m older than you, so to me you’re still quite young, and have plenty of time to progress! Best of luck!

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Congratulations on your decision to start down the slippery slope of Irish Music obsession. I was in my late 40s when I started playing Irish music on the mandolin, and in my mid 50s when I started concertina. I know I’ll never play like Noel Hill, but I have just as much fun trying. The thing that helped me more than anything was going to sessions and listening and maybe playing one tune one week, then a couple more a month later, then before you know it, your playing for a couple of hours every week.

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Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

What matters is not what age you are but how much time and heart you put into it.

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Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

I was close to 40 before I started learning to play any instrument at all. It helps to have spent years letting music enter my system from every available source: jazz, classical, americana, Irish, you name it. Learn how to wiggle your fingers, and little by little, the music will find its way out of you again.
I started playing mandolin and banjo in an Irish session about two years ago. Whether or not I’m playing up to "session level" depends on the night. Sometimes I hold my own, sometimes the more experienced players just blow my doors off. Either way it’s an opportunity to have a good time, and to learn. Listen, listen, listen. Then practice, practice, practice.
I can’t think of a better way to enter middle age than with a challenging new project like this one stretching out in front of me. It’s cheaper than a sports car and safer than a young girlfriend.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

h’mmm… should that be "safer than a sports car and cheaper than a young girlfriend"?

Leaving aside the thought once offered to me, that there was no greater gift for a man than that he continue to be attracted to women his own age, I think it depends on your teacher.

My first teacher taught me quite a lot about playing the 5-string banjo, but less than nothing about playing in sessions and when I did start attending a session I found on my travels, I had it all to do.

Later on and in another town, I tried a local session which advertised quite widely, but found in practice that it was monopolised by a small core of "speed demons" and an incomer of limited ability had no real chance of ever getting to grips with it.

I’ve since found a couple of local sessions of rather different character and quite enjoy them, I’ve started to learn the tenor banjo and made more progress in the last year, than in the previous seven or eight.

I’ve found a local teacher which hasn’t been an unqualified success. However he has taught me a number of basics which I needed to know and didn’t, including reading the dots.

YMMV, of course

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

I’ve met a few people who have taken up instruments in their retirement - and you’d think they’d been playing all their lives. You’re still young by today’s standards, anyway - 43 is the new 23.

If you’re ever passing through Mid Wales, drop into one of these sessions and let us know how you’re getting on.
https://thesession.org/sessions/3034
https://thesession.org/sessions/961

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Thank you all very much again, i have to sat i am delighted with the replies, will keep it as a book mark , and it will give me the " pull the finger out Phil" I need now and again.

I look forward to the day I can just land up somewhere and just row in, and it’s a long way off but it some thing I want, that and a Bentley, and a batman suite( the new one).
Seriously, thanks, your all great, and it’s the flute I am learning.

Phil

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

I know a gent who took up the whistle at the spry young age of 66. He’s 74 now and he knows plenty of tunes. If you’ve got the motor inside you age is irrelevant! Good luck on the journey and just know there will be some frustrating days ahead - but then before you know it, one day you’ll find yourself sitting at a session and your fingers will know the tunes before your brain even recalls what the names of the tune are!

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

If you want a Batman suit, I think you probably are still young enough to start playing Irish music.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

From pretty much a standing start aged 42 I’ve been some sort of session speed on a whistle for a year or two and am currently in a phase of really feeling improvements.

I am a bit obsessed though, and have worked quite hard at it, but I don’t count a single hour as work.

There’s so much stuff you help you online it’s amazing. Good luck and pull up a chair.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Sorry, should say I’ve been playing almost 5 years now.

Don’t they say 5 years to learn, 10 to master?

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

I started mid-50’s. Now just a touch over 60.

Seems all the answers are in the posts above.

Practice, find the right session. But it does take a few years. I am just getting tothe point where I have a bit of confidence. My teacher has been trying to get me to sessions for a few years. He must have more confidnece in me than I do.

My greatest hurdle is competing family and schedule events.

I suppose when you are younger, there are less demands. Now Herself wants attention, the dog wants attention, the house is falling down after 5 kids passing through it, and demand by 5 kids and their families.

So I expand my day, put up with an angry wife occasionally.

But waking up on the right side of the grass to have these sorts of problems… a whole lot better than the alternative! You wake up in the morning, you can do anything you set your mind to.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Picked up the pipes at 52, never having played anything remotely Irish or pipe-like.

I’m an idiot, but I love it.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

oh, a Batman suit, now you’re talking….

I would reckon that it took three to five years to develop a useful degree of fluency with any instrument, less if you do more hours in the day or week and especially of you start learning to actually play the instrument, rather than play particular tunes.

Fiddlers seem to have the advantage here because all the fiddlers I know, learnt at school and have continued to play or revisited it later in life.

I do also find that older new starters have a great reluctance to make mistakes in public. I won’t attempt anything if I don’t know it. I have also found that there are certain things which come relatively easily, and certain things which don’t and if you only have so much time, which is often the case with older new starters, you may as well concentrate on the things you can actually do, consistent with learning the necessary basics.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Be humble, then you’ll keep learning from other people and
improving.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

At 43 I knew lots (some would say way too much) about "classical" music, and was a good conductor of instrumental groups.

I didn’t really start playing any kind of traditional music until about that time. Dots and such were no problem. Rhythm was no problem, either playing the notation or matching what players were doing. Getting the fingers going accurately was more of a problem, but not one that can’t be solved.

Now, nearly 30 years later I’m "ok" at session speed with a fair number of ITM tunes, and also with quite a number of tunes in other traditions. I still think of myself as a "beginner" in terms of playing the styles right, but it is coming.

So, is 43 too late to start? Heaven’s no. In 40 years you’ll be just fine, and the journey is its’ own reward.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

I’d say 5 years of a concerted program should get you to some minimum competence. That is easier said than done, though, as most people spend a lot of time mired in pitfalls during their musical progression.

My best advice is learn simple tunes, heck, Twinkle Twinkle little Star, be able to play them in time, with feeling and fun, before moving on to more complicated stuff.

Too many people start off trying to learn hot licks, fancy stuff, stuff way beyond their abilities, so their whole musical experience is about struggle and failure. They never get the experience of just flowing with a tune, knowing it backwards and forwards, etc.

So start with simple stuff, be able to play it with verve and feeling and move along from there. The physicality/technique will follow as you incrementally progress.

Oh yeah, don’t forget to practice tunes in two octaves (depending on your instrument) in all 12 keys, this makes sure you are really playing the tune, not just memorizing a sequence of finger positions.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Yes, I agree somewhat with robatsu - the 12 keys is crazy though.
But you do have to get away from mechanical playing - not using
sheet music is one of the keys to that.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Again thank you. Great advise.
I am trying not to learn the dot way and trying to recognise music notes and the finger positions, I think in time it will stand to me.
Phil

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

"Yes, I agree somewhat with robatsu - the 12 keys is crazy though.
But you do have to get away from mechanical playing - not using
sheet music is one of the keys to that."

So what are the other eleven?

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

I started playing the mandolin at age 62. I’m 65 now and know a respectable number of tunes. I’m not up to session speed yet, but I show up and play what I can.

I’m a former dancer who’s in a wheelchair now …. so playing music has transferred the steps from my feet to my fingers.

What do I have to lose? Nobody’s tossed a drink at me, yet!

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Yeah, the 12 keys/2 octaves thing around the circle of fiths is pretty extreme - my jazz teacher ran me through this with Bessie’s Blues.

It certainly isn’t something I ever do in completeness anymore, but just going through the drill a few times w/a few tunes really gets one thinking about intervals, which note is where on the scale of the key you are playing in.

Mostly these days, I just play a tune in a few different positions, keys to figure out if I’ve really learned the tune and to explore fretting (I play guitar) possiblities.

The two octave things is pretty worthwhile, maybe not so much for session playing, but for other gigs, etc, you always then have at least two solos, the high and low one.

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

There is a chap round Aberdeen who only started playing fiddle when his son started, and he became a decent session player within two or three years and keeps getting better.

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Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

same boat here. a bit younger…but still, good luck!

Re: Mid life start on the long road to learning an instrument.

Well my Martin Doyle African black wood arrived today , thank you Martin.
The difference between the new one and waltons one is amazing.
It’s a beautiful piece of craftsmanship .
Can’t stop looking at it and playing it.

Phil