Learning Guitar as an Older Adult: The Cognitive Benefits
Updated: Nov 9
We’ve all heard the following statements before, right?
‘It’s too late for me to learn guitar’
‘I wish I started playing acoustic guitar when I was younger’ or
‘Progress on the guitar will be too slow for someone my age’.
But is it really true?
Whether you’re 45 or 85 years old, it’s no secret that learning does slow as people get older and learning guitar as an older adult is no exception. However, despite this slowing down of learning, it still pays tremendously to keep the brain active and engaged and the exciting pursuit of learning guitar is a fantastic way to do that.
In this article we will explore the cognitive benefits of learning guitar as an older beginner, why it’s never too late to pursue your dream of playing guitar as well as a link to a case study of someone who learned to read and write aged 90, proving that you're not too old.
Learning Guitar as an Older Adult: Cognitive Benefits
There are numerous cognitive benefits to playing the guitar later in life but the five that may benefit older adults the most are improved memory, improved fine motor skills, improved focus, stress reduction and better mental health.
The brain's ability to adapt and rewire itself, known as neuroplasticity, is not limited to younger individuals. Older adults can also experience neuroplastic changes in their brains when learning new skills, such as playing the guitar. These changes can enhance memory and cognitive function. Learning the guitar involves memorizing scales, chords and songs which in turn helps boost your memory. The repetition involved in practicing these things will keep those neurons in your brain firing and rewiring regardless of your age.
Fine Motor Skills
Playing the guitar involves precise finger movements in both hands either by pressing down on strings to form chords or plucking and strumming the strings. These activities require the development and refinement of fine motor skills, which can be beneficial for dexterity and coordination in your fingers. Learning to play the guitar also enhances hand-eye coordination as you must synchronize the movements of your fingers with what you see on the fretboard and the placement of your picking or strumming hand.
Learning to play the guitar involves paying close attention to details such as finger placement, chord changes, strumming or picking patterns, and timing. This sharpens your ability to focus on intricate tasks and nuances as well increase your ability to focus on a specific task for a set period of time. Students will often start with just 15 minutes practice per day but in a matter of mere months will be able to do 30 minutes per day, an hour per day or more, further accelerating their progress and improving their focus.
It also provides a creative outlet for expressing emotions. When you play the guitar, you can convey your feelings, whether it's through your own compositions or by interpreting existing songs. This emotional expression can be cathartic and help release stress. Even just listening to music can induce feelings of wellbeing so it makes sense that playing music and engaging other areas of the brain (the areas involved in playing, not just listening) increases this feeling even more. You can hear the music you’re playing and know that it is you who produced the wonderful sound that is coming from your guitar
Better Mental Health
Playing the guitar can uplift your mood and provide a sense of joy and accomplishment. The act of creating music releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. As you improve your guitar skills and achieve milestones in your playing, it can boost your self-esteem and self-confidence. This sense of accomplishment can have a positive impact on your overall mental health. Click to read a more on the mental health benefits of guitar playing.
Asking the Question; ‘Is It Too Late to Learn Guitar?’
Having taught guitar to many older adults I can safely answer with a resounding ‘no’. It’s common that many people wish they’d started playing guitar 20 years ago and that may be true but it’s also true that the next best time is today, right now.
Here’s an interesting thought experiment that might help put things into perspective. Some 40 year olds wish they started when they were 20 but some 60 year olds wish they started when they were 40 and similarly some 80 year old wish they'd started playing guitar when they were 60! So does it really make sense to judge whether or not you should start playing guitar based on your age?
Also, there’s been some research on this topic that tells us that even though learning can become slower as we age, a significant amount of knowledge can still be retained as long as the information provided is of sufficient relevance to the individual. This is where a good guitar teacher can really go a long way.
There’s also this BBC article called ‘The Amazing Fertility of the Older Mind’ which is well worth a read. Especially the part about Priscilla Sitienei from Ndalat in rural Kenya who couldn't afford education, had been illiterate her whole life and learned to read and write aged 90!
In conclusion we can see that playing guitar as an older adult is certainly possible. You can use it to improve your memory, fine motor skills, focus, overall stress levels and mental health. We all know how precious life is but just because you find yourself in the ‘older adult’ category, don’t let that dream of playing guitar slip away!
About The Author
Aaron Carrington is the owner of Carrington Guitar Academy in Bath, UK. Now permanently in Bath, Aaron specializes in teaching older adults how to play guitar and learn their favourite songs by offering a personalized lesson plan tailored to each student’s goals. You may also catch Aaron busking regularly on the streets of Bath. If you're interested in guitar lessons get in touch to book a FREE trial lesson.
Since graduating from The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in London, Aaron has played in high profile locations such as Buckingham Palace, The Savoy and The London Eye. He’s been a regular part of the UK wedding and corporate gig scene and has travelled internationally to the Middle East to play in top quality residency bands 6 nights per week. The finesse gained from this level of playing experience is passed on to his guitar students.