Getting Into the Head of an Adult Student

I got an acoustic guitar for my 16th birthday. My best friend at the time was a singer/songwriter and I wanted to try it too. When all I could teach myself were the same four chords, the guitar quickly began to collect dust in my closet. Thirteen years later, it has followed me and my life to the west coast. Maybe I haven’t gotten rid of it because it was a gift or (I hate saying this) the fact that it looks nice on display. Or maybe it’s that there’s always been this nagging voice in my head to give it a try.

    I already play three instruments, so why take up another one? Well, the guitar, like every other instrument, is unique in its own right. It seems relatively easy to strum some chords, but when you watch a master play, it is truly mesmerizing. Like some other instruments, it can morph its sound, whether it’s sultry spanish, creative jazz, soothing classical, or gritty rock. One of my favorite sounds the guitar makes is when the player slides their fingers on the fretboard to change notes. Maybe it’s these reasons that keep it in the back of my mind as something to learn.

    So since it’s 2017 and we’re all making these things called resolutions, and this has been on my list for a while, I told myself I’m going to try to practice guitar for at least 30 minutes every day. Last night I sat down on my couch, hunched over the music on my ipad, with the most imperfect posture, and played for an hour. Instead of playing “Ode to Joy” in my lesson book, I started searching for music on one of my favorite websites, Trying to learn through a traditional music book seems like a waste of time, and I can’t help but wonder if other beginning adult learners feel the same. I’m the type of person who would rather go through something than around it, and this seems like one of those times. I’m going to try this self-taught method for at least a month and see how far I’ve come. I can already tell there are habits I’m developing that could potentially take more time to undo and that some aspects of playing could probably be made easier with correct instruction.

    What are our time constraints as adults? I’d say time and money are at the top of the list. My deal with myself is if I’m disciplined enough to practice the guitar for at least a month, maybe I can justify spending money on formal lessons. And then I’d have to go through the arduous process of finding “just the right teacher,” but more on that later...

    They say children absorb information like a sponge. I’d like to disagree. I think children have something that adults don’t have - time. I also don’t think they’re unafraid and unintimidated by certain tasks like we may think. After teaching many children over a few years, I can tell you that children get just as frustrated, if not more so, than adults. So the moral of the story? We need to make time. And we have it. It’s there. It’s that half hour before you go out to dinner when you’re scrolling mindlessly through Facebook on your phone. It’s the half hour on a Saturday morning when you’re watching TV. It’s the half hour you’re watching a movie before bed. It’s there, we just need to find it and stick to it.

    The point of all my rambling is I realized last night this process of learning guitar could help me get into the mind of an adult student. Granted I already have a musical background on my side, but in terms of the kind of songs I want to learn, the frustrations I run into, the cost of lessons, and other issues I run into, this could be a valuable lesson of wearing another’s shoes.

What has been your experience as an adult learner with instruments or in other subjects? What do you find are your strengths and weaknesses? Are there any method books you’ve found that really motivated you?