Every single time I have a new student over the age of 20 I get the exact same question “Am I too old to learn to play the cello?” and every single time I give the same answer, “no”.
The benefits of learning music as a child are real - let's face it, our brains are both more accepting of learning new information and, probably more important, our brain is not crammed with the minutiae of day to day living as an adult; work, family, pets, garbage day, car repair and, of course the plethora of code numbers for every single account we need to access (my personal hair trigger). The code numbers alone scientifically take up 7/8's of our usable brain space (my science).
In teaching both younger and older students I can say that another benefit of being a “younger” student is that children and teenagers don't normally carry the baggage of having to be correct all of the time. Adults become almost fixated on making their notes perfect. They will make room for some rhythm, when asked, but of utmost importance are the black dots. Kids, on the other hand, not only don't mind making mistakes, they often take delight in it. Most enjoyable to me is when a student, of any age, makes a really noticeable error and explodes into laughter. It makes me hoot as well and then we get right back at it.
Kids have that damned memory thing going for them. Many times I will assign a piece and the very first week they return they have it completely memorized. I remember having that kind of memory.... I think.
But take heart adults, that is why I give everyone a notebook!! And, interestingly, my young learners often don't “remember” to look in the notebook at what I assigned them.
Adult learners come to lessons, almost without exception, prepared. Even with full-time jobs, laundry, and kids to ferry to soccer, they arrive having practiced. Often they are a healing balm at the end my “young learner” day. Adults are studying the instrument because they really want to. They have thought it through and, recognizing the challenges, make it happen. And it is their name that is on the check at the beginning of the month.
Adults take my suggestions and really work with them. They will sit in front of mirrors, use a drone and make friends with their metronome. And I say “Bravo”
Interestingly, something both teens and adults need in lessons is some time to talk. I make the studio a safe space. If you haven't practiced- I talk with you, not your mom or your partner. And you can bang your fist and you can tell me that you hate this piece (I get the insinuation that it includes me..but I can take it) and it never leaves the room. Music gives everyone a second voice. We can use it to express joy and passion and love and...rage.
Learning something new is difficult at any age for different reasons, but it is also an inherent part of our growth as people. Perhaps this is what keeps all learners “youthful learners?”
Adult learners vs. young learners is a bit like the tortoise and the hare...and we all know how that ends.