Starting from scratch with big ambitions is a common occurrence in my studio. Is it possible to master an instrument later in life? The answer depends on what you mean by master. Play the great concert halls or jazz clubs of the world? Likely not. If you mean by master the ability to exceed your own expectations. Yes, you can.
Next question: How long will it take?
Though much disputed in the literature, 10,000 hours, is a good benchmark. A better answer: musical development is a lifetime endeavor. I’m 45 years in on the piano, 9 years in on the drums. My drumming is now at the semi-pro level. I practice nearly everyday which means I’m just past the 3,000-hour mark on the kit. Which means people who can play will jam with me.
How do you shorten the time needed to achieve spectacular results?
1. Make it a priority in your life: You block out time and guard it carefully.
2. You find great teachers: I had one classical piano teacher, Leon Karan. I was very happy with the results. In drumming, I’ve taken another track: searching out the best drum teachers in the world who will spend time with me. Three years, so far, with Terry Clarke in Toronto plus workshops with Greg Hutchison in Italy, Ali Jackson in Poland, and Ed Soph in Kentucky. There are others.
3. Learn how to practice like a professional.
4. Stay healthy for the long term.
5. Find a peer group that will support your quest. They are out there.
6. Listen to and experience live the best music you can. Your inner ear will need development for your hands to accomplish what you want.
7. Never give up
8. Develop the courage to play with others as soon as possible. All master jazz musicians will tell you that to learn jazz you must play with others.
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.