Over the weekend, a story aired on NPR Weekend Edition Saturday called, Never Too Late To Learn An Instrument. I encourage you to listen to it.
While it’s about adults taking up an instrument for the first time (good news: it’s doable), I believe one can extend the lessons contained in the story to adults learning anything new. The primary point is this: there is nothing about the adult brain that makes it impossible for adults to learn how to play a musical instrument — or learn a new language or to master a killer top-spin cross-court backhand in tennis.
It’s a myth that only children can learn to play the piano — or “how to use the Internet,” for that matter.
Certainly, there are tremendous advantages to learning things as a child: children’s brains are still developing and they think it’s normal to be in situations where someone is teaching them to do something.
So why do adults believe they can’t learn how to play the piano?
More than a neurological limitation, the reason we adults don’t learn new things like how to play a musical instrument is because of our attitudes. According to the NPR story, one of the primary reasons we don’t take up music is our disdain for being incompetent. Hey, we’re adults. We’re used to knowing how to do stuff. We don’t like it when we’re in situations where we’re inept, like, say, when everyone around us knows how to play a videogame and we don’t know how to operate a joystick (I picked an example from my own life). So we say, “Videogames are for kids.”
However, there is nothing scientific that suggests an adult can’t learn to play videogames. Or how to program in Python. Or play a piano. Or edit video. Or shoot video. Or understand what Twitter is all about.
OK. You’re over 25 and you’ve never played the piano. If you start now, will you ever be a concert pianist? Probably not. But you can become an incredible player — much better than you’d ever believe possible. And certainly better than everyone else who won’t even try — i.e., nearly everyone you know.
The same is true about doing anything new. No matter how old you are.