Learning guitar at an older age

//Learning guitar at an older age

Learning guitar at an older age

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this subject, I wanted to write a little introduction to make my intentions clear.

I was asked by Ira, Christopher, Steve and Leo who are readers of the blog, to discuss ideas and challenges for an older guitarist. The word old, is a loaded one, and I want to be clear that I intend no disrespect by using it, I am just not going to dive into euphemisms.

Ok. Let’s get down to business.

Yes. You can.

I have been asked several times by readers of the site if I think they can take up classical guitar study at a later age. The resounding answer is yes.

There really is no limit to what each one of us can achieve, and in many respects age is no restriction. The basic tenets of learning apply to everyone, regardless of age, advantages or disadvantages. Success requires hard work, dedication and perseverance.

More often than not, the marker of success will not be receiving a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall, the mark of success will be reaching goals, expressing yourself through music and having fun along the way. If that happens to be on stage at Carnegie/Wigmore Hall, so be it, but believe me when I say there is no “making it”. There is only the journey we each take, guitar in hand.

Choosing repertoire.

This might be the biggest take home point, and I am going to repeat myself later, but I believe the point is so important it warrants repetition.

Repertoire that is too difficult is the biggest impediment of your progress.

I have some young kids that I teach. They are great fun, and they will do anything for a sticker. More often than not, they are not familiar with the guitar repertoire, and as I work through books that have simple melodies and a steady progression, they just accept what I give them and will be happy if it is not too difficult. As a teacher, this means I can build their technique and foundations to be strong and comprehensive. As students, this means that they improve, and they improve fast. Have you ever seen a little kid play like a pro at the age of 8? It is because they had a good teacher, and did what she asked.

Adults and teenagers, however, will most likely come to the classical guitar because they know and love the repertoire. Because they know the repertoire, they want to play it. Even if it isn’t going to be good for them! This means, as a teacher, I am constantly trying to bargain about what piece to play. I know that simpler pieces will be more productive, but they want to get to the greats as soon as they can.

There are two ways to go about this. The first is to look at the goals and objectives, if the answer is to have fun and you don’t want to go through the less entertaining studies and simple pieces, then, go for it. You need to know, however, that you might be plugging away at Recuerdos Del Alhambra for a number of years, and it might cause great frustration as it may never reach the level you had hoped. It might not be “fun” for that long.

The second way, is to play the long game, and hold off on the more advanced pieces. Start with simple pieces, and progress through the repertoire to arrive at your dream pieces with a technique that is up to the task. I think the payoff of this route is bigger, and if you can learn to enjoy the process, then you might forget about rushing to those concert pieces and start enjoying what is right in front of you.

Goals and objectives

At the outset of study, you need to answer the question:
Why am I doing this, and what do I want to achieve?
The answer will be different for everyone, but as an older student you might be looking for personal enjoyment and fulfillment over career aspirations.

By no means is someones age a requirement for a professional career. Actually if there ever was a requirement, it would be sustained passion and hard work.

If your goal is personal enjoyment, perhaps the realization of a long time desire to play music or learn the guitar, you need to think about how you are going to achieve that goal. What is actually going to make you happy during this process?

Professional Career

If your goal is going to be along the lines of a professional career, I would simply advise to start from the beginning and work patiently and steadily through a comprehensive method. No corner cutting.

Dedicated Amateur

An amateur is someone who loves the craft. For me this is the most pure of pursuits. It is not distracted by trying to earn money or appease others.

Goals I have encountered in the past from older students have included:

  • Wanting to play a certain piece or pieces of repertoire like Asturias or Lágrima
  • To play in an ensemble
  • Study for the sake of studying and have projects to work on

If you want to perform a masterwork, you can. Know, however, that the path is long and if you want to make it to your destination you need to be mindful of developing frustrations and being impatient. Be focused on your own development and do not try and compare yourself to anyone around you. The speed at which you progress might be slow, so I believe at an older age you will need to exercise even more patience, and be more disciplined than others to achieve your goals.

Play in an ensemble

Playing with others is a wonderful experience and education in itself. If you want to play in an ensemble, you will need to develop good reading skills, and a technique that is sufficient to play fluently. Not a virtuosic technique, but one that allows you to play in time and respond to changes in tempo/dynamics etc. Once again, these skills will need to be developed steadily and comprehensively.

A great goal to aim for is to play in a classical guitar society orchestra, or perhaps team up with some colleagues to for a quartet.

Study to study

This goal is a little different to the others. It is the only one where I would be inclined to give a green light on difficult repertoire. If you don’t want to spend time on studies and technique, and just want to approach the pieces that inspire you, you can. I strongly believe, however, that this is a short sighted approach and that it will lead to frustration very quickly, and abandonment soon after. It will be ten times slower than walking a steady path, and it can be tiresome for the teacher too. So it might make you happy, but not for long.

So, as you can see, the best approach to all of these goals will be to study from the basics and build your way up in a comprehensive fashion. The goals you set might influence the type of repertoire you choose, and the training you get (for instance sight reading will be important for ensemble playing), but in reality the most fulfilling, enjoyable and fun way to achieve these different goals is to work slowly and steadily.

Enjoying the process

I could get very philosophical here, but I think there is a great deal of fulfillment and enjoyment to be found in the learning process itself. Small increments and small achievements can feel as profound as any other. Make sure you celebrate, or at least acknowledge, when some progress has been made and know that you are in good company if you get mired in doubt and frustration. Not just good company, everyone’s company. We all go through peaks and valleys.

I sometimes like to work on pieces that I never intend to perform and that are well within my technical abilities. In them I find joy because I can focus on making a good sound, phrasing and expression. In a word, I am focusing on music and I can assure you that even in the simplest Sor Study, there is music to be enjoyed. Don’t always feel like you have to push and progress.


Speed of progress

At an older age progress could be slow, and for this reason, it is important to set realistic short term goals and celebrate successes. I would advise this for anyone at any age, but I think that older guitarists can be impatient as they will often have a great knowledge of the classical guitar repertoire. Being familiar with all of the great works for our instrument and knowing how the masters can perform them might give you doubt and frustration at how far away it seems. Once again, focus on your path, your playing, and your progress.

Physical challenges

Almost every individual has physical challenges that need to be addressed when it comes to playing the classical guitar. It is very rare to come across someone with a good back, good nails, good memory, and good hands, regardless of age.

I have had my fair share of run-ins with physical therapists by the age of 32 and I am not looking forward to when the famous “Powis back” and gout come into play. Genetics, gotta love ‘em.

An older age brings the likelihood of more problems, however, by no means should that discourage you from learning the guitar. You, and I just need to get creative about adapting your technique to make it work for you.

Let’s take my student, Peter. He has some tendons that don’t work in his left hand (he is left handed so that is his “strumming” hand. Because of this, finger style guitar is not going to be an option, well, it could be but only with his thumb and index. Instead we are using a pick, and playing single melodies, along with strumming chords. Having a good plectrum method, can almost be as agile as the fingers when developed well.

So, if you have some fingers that are not going to work for you, maybe you can leave them out of your technique? In the very famous case of Django Rheinhardt, he had several joints of his fingers missing and he actually used the shorter fingers to create a barring technique that influenced his sound and overall style. He also did some AMAZING things with just the index and middle finger in his left hand.

The point is, your physical impediment does not have to be a roadblock to your learning, just be open minded about adapting your technique to make music.

Preventative measures for physical health

At an older age you need to be more mindful of how you treat your body, and playing a musical instrument is quite demanding on the body. It may seem passive, even sedentary, but you are holding tensions in unusual places (neck, back, shoulders) for large amounts of time.

You should incorporate stretching, breaks, and be mindful of your posture.

Also consider your set-up. Is your chair at the right height? Are you using a footstool or a more ergonomic solution like an ergo play or guitar support? Is the stand at a good height so your neck is not strained?

These considerations are important for all of us, but the negative effects will surface more quickly as an older student.

Mental focus and memorization

At an older age focus and memorization can prove a challenge. To this I say as the Delphic oracle did, “know thyself”. You need to consider your strengths and weaknesses and adjust accordingly.

If you have poor focus. Set a timer for ten or fifteen minutes and decide on a specific exercise or passage to work on. That timer can end up being a great focus motivator.

If your memory is not strong, develop your reading skills so that you perform from the score, not from memory. If your sight is not great, blow up the print to a large size.

You get the idea. Where there is a will…

Patience & Discipline

You can achieve your goals, but you will have to exercise more patience and discipline than others. Getting frustrated can be avoided by working in small increments and being mindful of how you practice and progress. Returning to the role of a student can be intimidating and feel unnerving but the joys that are awaiting you are many and varied.


Many of the points here pertain to everyone. Young, old, beginner and advanced. I have chosen them, however, because these points are the most important ones to consider as an older guitarist.

I hope that you found some ideas and inspiration here, and if you have your own knowledge or experiences to add please share them in the comments below.

Also, if you would like to hear a discussion about Learning Classical Guitar at an Older Age you can listen to this episode on the Podcast



2016-10-24T00:19:52+00:0061 Comments


  1. Chris Peppler May 13, 2015 at 9:00 am - Reply

    Thank you for taking the time to address this subject – much appreciated.

    • Karl May 27, 2015 at 11:45 am - Reply

      Motivation is certainly a key element. But if like playing the Classic Guitar, then no matter how old you
      are. It is a physical and mental challenges.
      I love it.

      Karl, 75 years old, Sydney Australia,

  2. PDL May 13, 2015 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    As an older learner I find myself agreeing with Simon’s comments and would add,
    we often mellow as we get older and enjoy greater patience that may have escaped us
    in our youth. It’s easier to follow credible advice when you’ve experienced
    the consequences of not doing so, a natural consequence of life experience.

    It’s great to be young, a passion for music and your guitar never leaves you,
    so no matter how old you are we all share this in common.

    • Jane Terry August 1, 2018 at 10:00 am - Reply

      I agree with you, PDL, I am much more patient and forgiving of my mistakes and memory lapses than I ever would have been when I was younger. Just enjoying the music, enjoying my slow, incremental progress, and enjoying the opportunity to devote myself to something so beautiful and rich – these are motivation and reward enough for me. <3

  3. jd May 23, 2015 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    When I picked up the guitar a little over a year ago, I had my doubts about overcoming such a late start and how long I would be able to sustain my interest, given the physical and mental challenges. I have only grown to love it more and quickly came to the realization that I was doing it as much for the process and challenge of learning as for the enjoyment of playing. I am comfortable knowing that I will never be more than amateur … if I am that lucky. I am grateful for the small successes … and for finding CGC.

    Thank you, Simon for addressing this subject and the thoughtful advice … especially where you have identified goals and objectives.

  4. russwalsh May 24, 2015 at 9:47 pm - Reply

    Simon, reading this reminded me of a story I once heard. A young guitarist was visiting New York City. He asked a passer by how he could get to Carnegie Hall. His reply was, Practice, practice, practice and more practice. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Russ Walsh
    Phoenix, AZ

  5. Kevin May 27, 2015 at 2:54 am - Reply

    I would like to echo many of the above comments.

    In particular, after 2 years of playing I have deliberately stopped trying new pieces.. Rather I have been trying to play the many pieces I have learned so far better.

    All the famous Spanish numbers are on my wish list and I have even tried some. However they seem to take forever to get right.

    Originally I chose Classical guitar because it did not need accompaniment or singing. However, even though I love the sound I find few people are really interested preferring you to play a swinging pop song they can sing along to…even the grandkids!

    So I fluctuate between my steel string “country” guitar and the classical which does confuse the fingertips!!

    Motivation is certainly a key element. The steel string is a more “social” instrument…although playing chords all day is a bit boring after fingerstyle.

    Anyway, its just a journey without a destination….apart from the waypoints.

    Enjoying CGC . Thanks for being there.

  6. Mary-Helen Smith May 27, 2015 at 7:21 am - Reply

    So good to hear from others who have taken up the CG later in life! I’m fortunate in having a great teacher but one of the frustrations is not having someone of my age group to share frustrations (and joys) with! Enjoyed all of your comments. Simon, I wonder if we could have a regular space for oldies? I feel daunted by some of the CG sites available for chatting. Enjoy your newsletter each week. Can’t get enough of my CG fix. Thanks for doing this!

    • Nancy July 13, 2015 at 5:26 am - Reply

      I agree that we “oldies” have an advantage of hopefully learned patience, but frustration in remembering so much theory, then applying it and then enjoying the instrument.

      One question I have…does one take private lessons forever??? Sometimes I think I have enough material to practice for years without a teacher. It gets expensive too :)

  7. Laurie May 27, 2015 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    I picked up my vintage 1969 Guild T-50 guitar last January when I was laid up after some minor surgery. I knew I wanted to relearn the guitar, but was not interested in playing to sing along with. I don’t sing. You can’t imagine how happy I was to find this site.

    I’m finding that It’s taking me longer than I thought it would to get up to speed again. The hands don’t have as much flexibility as they used to. But hey, what’s the rush! This time I am going to “learn” the guitar. I did have to put my old guitar back in its case and buy a classical guitar. It’s awfully hard to play finger style with a pick guard.

    CGC has given me the motivation as well as the tools needed to achieve my goal, although sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the amount of material available. Level 3….Maybe in a couple of years.


  8. John Earls May 27, 2015 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    After 40 years I’m again taking up my guitar. As to what tunes are most technically factible and enthralling musically at this age, I find the Luís Milan Pavanas are wonderful on both counts – and also Gaspar Sanz’s capricho y preludio. The going is slow but I feel I’m really playing great music.
    John, 80 years old.

  9. Ira Hirschman May 27, 2015 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    Thanks Simon for picking up on this topic. I agree with most everything here. In my case, I studied seriously and for decades in my teens through 30s and then stopped cold. I have resumed and now have a good three years. My technique, concentration, musicality are actually much better now than then, because it is now a labor of love. I practice in a very focused way in the early am, and it has a meditative quality. Studying is great for mental acuity – better than Mindtrap! I now listen to what i am playing – maturity brings musicality.
    Physical issues: ErgoPlay has made a huge difference with back and left wrist problems. Posture and stretching are crucial for me. The social aspects are wonderful – working with a wonderful teacher, and the option of ensemble playing can be great to broaden a narrowing range of social contacts. Ugh.

  10. Rae May 27, 2015 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    Hi, love the inspiration. My present guitar teacher is around one year younger than I am and knows what a challenge playing classical guitar can be for a person my age (I’m 73). He is patient and supportive and we have a lot of fun at my lessons. This is worth more than gold to me and serves to offset the frustration I sometimes have with a difficult piece. Even though I would love to take to the stage, I may not be able to but as you say, it’s the journey.

  11. JOSE TRAVA May 28, 2015 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    I’m 77 and still enjoying to play guitar. I’m not very ambitious and I don’ t intend to convert myself into a master but I still can play very fluently some easy pieces from Mozart, Bach ans Simon’s 10 and 12 progressive pieces. I also play reasonably well Lagrima and others. To play guitar is my favorite hobby now that I’m retired. It gives me satisfaction and pleasure without any limits!

    • Simon June 1, 2015 at 6:31 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your comments, Jose, it’s great to hear your story. Can’t wait to hear where it takes the next.

  12. Steven L June 3, 2015 at 2:09 am - Reply

    Hi Simon,
    Very good advice. I have been learning properly for just over a year and have made good progress, thanks to a very good teacher, who is slightly older than myself. I am 48 soon.
    I can now play “Greensleeves” a lot better than previously. I can do this by memory.
    An easy version of “Ave Maria” is also one of the pieces I can play. I think that is a beautiful piece!
    I have also learnt to memorize that.
    I would definately say small increments.

  13. Sandy Deane June 6, 2015 at 4:40 am - Reply

    O how I wish I had this advice (and heeded it!) when I took up piano – I often wonder whether I might have achieved pieces I am still working on much earlier and with far better technique. – I probably know the answer!

    As for classical guitar – it is wonderful to have started from the very beginning with excellent guidance – and to be able to work at my own pace. I LOVE the collection of study pieces that Simon has published for beginners – and really looking forward to the next collection — the classical guitar is very seductive – I hide mine away in between practice times or I would never get any work done.

    Thanks to Simon for a brilliantly structured and comprehensive course. I had one lesson with a local teacher- and was told to use the little finger as a support on the guitar – the fact that it really hurt my pinky prompted me to look online for help and led me to CGC, which is a very good place to be.

  14. mark June 19, 2015 at 2:37 am - Reply

    Brilliant advice!
    Thank you Maestro!!!
    Musically yours with the utmost respect,
    Mark (age 50)

  15. Gerard Ruppert September 6, 2015 at 12:43 am - Reply

    At 51 I am picking up the guitar after a 25 year hiatus. I’m trying classical this time, although I still have my old Strat! I just found this site and I’ve been enjoying it very much. Thank you Simon for putting all this together! I do have to ask…is it strange for me to have a man-crush on an Aussie musician/teacher/Ph.D.? No worries, I’m happily married. :)

  16. David Jones November 4, 2015 at 4:07 am - Reply

    You mention the simple pieces in the beginning over the concert classics. Can you name a few pieces tha you consider simple – are we talking about some of the Sor studies, for example. It’s just that I wonder if I am guilty of wanting to play the repetoire. At the moment, I am learning Dowland’s What is a Day and some Calaytud. Any thoughts?

  17. John Del Gaudio November 22, 2015 at 10:35 am - Reply

    Your advice about goals and focus are right on. (Surprisingly so, for such a young guy. Ha.)

    I like the structure of your courses and I trust your ability as a teacher. I plan to go through all your courses, step-by-step.

    I studied as a kid and years later for a few years but didn’t get very far for lack of goals and focus and teachers who let me get away with it. Now, many years later, I am at it again.

    I got the idea when I saw Ray Reussner’s Youtube video of Mussgorski’s “The Old Castle” where he sounded like he was channeling Segovia. It hit me that if Ray could get that sound, may I could, too. I mean, maybe I could play easier pieces with Segovia-like sound and phrasing. So as I start over again, this time with pieces I can learn in a reasonable amount of time, I always have in mind what the Master said: “Without a beautiful sound, the charm of the guitar disappears.” (“Sin un bello sonido, la guitarra pierde su encanto”.) A month ago I got a good deal on a great Ramírez 1a made in 1975 so I am always happy to get out of bed and get right to work on the “beautiful sound.”

    I wish you much success.

  18. Ben Robertson December 10, 2015 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    One correction, Simon. Django Reinhardt was not missing any finger joints. I have heard people say that he was missing two entire fingers, which is also incorrect – he had two crippled fingers on his left hand. What happened was that he was badly injured at the age of 18 in a fire that broke out in his caravan after he returned home late one night from playing his six-string banjo at a gig. His wife had been making hundreds of celluloid flowers to sell at the market, and somehow a candle got overturned, causing them to go up in a flash. Django got his wife and baby out, but he was badly burned. In addition to severe burns to his right leg, his left hand was injured, and when he healed, the scarring to the tendons of his two small fingers caused them to curl up into a permanently bent shape. Django’s brother Joseph brought him a guitar to use while he recuperated, perhaps because it was a lighter thing to use in his hospital bed than a banjo. Django spent two years teaching himself to play around his “handicap.” He was able to use the last two fingers in a limited fashion for chording, employing chord shapes that did not require extending those fingers. He did all of his soloing with his index and middle fingers, and his style, which has been described as “ornamented arpeggios,” was highly influenced by that.

    There is only one known video of Django that has sound sync’ed with the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qopVXZvdVT8

    The Django sequence starts at about 2:25. You can clearly see his two-fingered soling technique, as well as his two crippled fingers.

    Ironically, the night Django was injured, he had received an offer from Jack Hylton to join the latter’s jazz orchestra, and the two were scheduled to meet the next day to sign the contract. If it were not for the fire, Django might have faded into obscurity instead of becoming one of the greatest guitarists ever.

  19. Ben Robertson December 10, 2015 at 10:43 pm - Reply

    By the way, thanks for the encouragement, from an old fart. I am just now taking up classical guitar at the age of 69 with an excellent teacher after a lifetime of playing other styles, including bluegrass, big band swing, and most recently gypsy jazz. Love your site!

  20. […] Janet Agostino has a deep knowledge of education from a variety of perspectives and in our conversation I asked Janet to discuss some of the issues that come up when learning classical guitar later in life. It is a topic that is important to many members and readers of the site and I have actually addressed the issue in a previous article. […]

  21. Diana Roesling January 13, 2016 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    I started playing guitar a little over a year ago, at the age of 60. This after an absence from music for some 20 years, as I had studied classical piano for 15-20 years in my ‘younger’ days. I am in the hands of a very capable instructor, and am very pleased with my progress…..AND I am thrilled, and so enjoying music, once again!!!!! Thank you for a wonderful article, encouraging all to pick up this beautiful instrument.

  22. Jesus Escobedo January 14, 2016 at 2:18 am - Reply

    I would love to continue to learn to play, etc, but my nails are a mess. They grow flat, and then chip often. I told I need much calcium, gelatin, etc. to get them in shape. What can I do?

    • Sandy January 14, 2016 at 3:37 am - Reply

      I had tried gelatin & all sorts of other remedies in a fruitless bid to strengthen my nails. I have learned that this is what you need to do. Go to a manicure salon & ask for a gel manicure. The technician will put layers of a clear substance on your nails & cure each application under a UV or LED light. (As a man, you may want to skip the colour application on top) Your nails will be protected and nourished and will not break or chip for about 3 weeks, until the polish starts to fall off. At that point it’s time for a fresh coat. You will be surprised how quickly & beautifully your nails will grow when they are protected from breakage this way.

      • Jesus Escobedo January 31, 2016 at 4:16 am - Reply

        Well, thank you so much for the advice. I’ll try it.

  23. Noel Hughes January 14, 2016 at 7:27 pm - Reply

    For Jesus Escobedo. I had the same problem with my nails then after researching the subject of NAIL CARE I bought some Myrrh oil for nails and cuticles. I apply this every day and started last April. Now my nails are growing thicker, more supple and at a rate that is normally known to younger people only. I get the Myrrh oil from Skin City (on line). The ancient Egyptian upper class folk used Myrrh oil to enable them to grow long nails as a symbol of their perceived superiority. It works just as reliably today as it did then. There is life after youth is lost.

    • Jesus Escobedo January 31, 2016 at 4:17 am - Reply

      This sounds good and natural. Thank you.

  24. Molly January 14, 2016 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    The classical guitar music and fellowship with other guitarists has made my retirement fun and full of challenges as well as having lots of joyful experiences. At 75, I consider my playing as “nursing home” insurance . You learn new concepts, use your right and left hand in different tasks, plus memorizing pieces for your repertoire, all recommended cognitive activities for seniors. I also was fortunate enough to join the Philadelphia Munier Mandolin/classical guitar Orchestra that plays a wide variety of classical,jazz and folk tunes. Simon has helped in his great pedagogy and wonderful course outline and the recommended practice for technical skill building. Looking forward to working thru all the songs and learning some music theory. Molly

  25. Dennis Lang January 15, 2016 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed this article. thank you for reaching out to us older musicians…

    I found guitar six years ago at the age of 52, with no previous experience… I started at ground zero. Initially it was an experiment to teat my true interest with a cheap Ibanez classical guitar. As a yoga instructor and teacher of meditation, I applied these practices to my learning which enhanced the experience. I found a great local teacher who gave me weekly private lessons at my home 3-4 times per month. As an older (mature) student, I was very specific with my teacher about my goals and he was open to my direction. So I chose not to invest in learning to read music, I have a working knowledge of music theory via learning TAB and playing structured pieces, e,g. Manual Ponce, Villa Lobos, Roland Dyens,…

    All of this has lead to arranging and recording original meditative instrumentals based on our travels. Now I have two very nice Spanish guitars, am learning sitar, play Native American flute and continue to write original pieces. My recordings are available for free via soundcloud from our website, http://www.yogawithdennisandkathy.com.

    Guitar has become a daily part of my life. Its a meditation… its magical. Music is magical.
    Thank you for your article.

  26. Lyhn January 15, 2016 at 7:32 pm - Reply

    I need some way of getting my fingers to stretch more. I lot of songs I would love to play requires finger stretches I can barely do or cant do. Does anyone know of some excerses I can do ?

    • vastra February 5, 2016 at 1:35 pm - Reply

      Hi Lyhn,

      There are lots of videos on this, but one of the best and safest I have found is this one on YouTube:

      Most importantly, BE SAFE. Do not over stretch or do it for too long as you can hurt yourself just like overstretching large muscles. These really do help.
      For dexterity, look up the “Spider Excercises”. These are challenging, but also help quite a bit.

      Take care, Vince

  27. Pauline January 16, 2016 at 5:11 am - Reply

    I began my study of guitar 10 years ago when I was 57. I am so glad I did. I have played in public many time. Mostly easier pieces, but some harder ones that took longer to learn. I know there are some I will never be able to play, but I enjoy working on the Cello suites by Bach. I have a background in music, so that helps. I play violin and viola and I sing also. But guitar is still my favorite.

  28. RON January 26, 2016 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    I’m a tender 87 years old just starting to play my Spanish Guitar in the Classical way. I have no teacher at present perhaps because they all play in a diferent style – Jazz _ Blues etc. and I am only interested in Finger picking. There are so many on line courses available that I simply can not choose one w/o advise. Can anyone lend a hand in the proper selection of an on line course in Classical Guitar ? Thanks in addvance. Ron

    • Rod Gomez September 25, 2016 at 11:14 pm - Reply

      God Bless you Ron! You are my hero. Look at John Clarke Music

  29. max steinhoff February 5, 2016 at 12:30 am - Reply

    Thanks for the article. I had an older student who suffered with arthritis in his hands. Seems the exercise he was giving the fingers while learning guitar really helped stifle some of the pain. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this. Thanks Max Steinhoff

    • vastra February 5, 2016 at 1:40 pm - Reply

      Hi Max,
      I have taken up classical guitar after a 20+ year hiatus and was really surprised how my hands had changed with age. I have some minor arthritis in both hands, but my left hand was bothering me quite a bit. I’ve found that proper stretching of all of my fingers, thumbs, and arms have helped to get started, but have also been very encouraged and amazed at how improved my left hand is now after playing almost daily for about a year. I hardly have any pain anymore and my fingers are nowhere near as tight feeling as they were in the beginning. It definitely is proof that “movement is lubricant” as a physical therapist I once had stated.

  30. […] had just read an article in The Classical Guitar Corner on exactly that subject. My answer was, “Absolutely […]

  31. Donna Zitzelberger February 5, 2016 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    This is an excellent article – thanks for sharing your thoughts! I appreciate what you said about repertoire. That is such a challenge with adults and teens – they do want to play challenging pieces before they understand the basics. I teach children mostly, but do teach several adults and teens. I started using Matthew Hinsley’s “Classical Guitar for Young People” for the adults as well and they have done beautifully. The music is very enjoyable and graded well. The book also comes with a CD, so students can listen to all the music and get to know it well. I suggested to Dr. Hinsley that he change the book name to “Classical Guitar for Young People and the Young at Heart”, which he did! :)

  32. charles March 19, 2017 at 2:04 am - Reply

    Hi I am a retired 78 year old. I would like to know a serious method for learning the notes on the fretboard. I am just learning to play for my own personal pleasure and enjoyment. Any help and suggestion for learning the notes would be greatly appreciated.

    • Dave Belcher March 19, 2017 at 10:38 pm - Reply

      Hi Charles,

      Thanks for your note. I love Drew’s advice and I think it would be quite useful. Another thing to try is Simon’s “six string scales,” which are designed to help you learn where each note is on each of the six strings across the fretboard. They’re a bit challenging to play at first, but the more you play them the quicker your recall of where each note will become—and that will mean you learn the fretboard quite quickly and thoroughly. Check it out here:



      Dave B (CGC team)

  33. Drew Burgess March 19, 2017 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    Hi Charles,

    Good for you! Someone may have a better way than this but here is what I recall……

    I think what helped me was to make my own diagram on paper and write down the notes by hand. I learned the notes going across in the open position, at the fifth fret and the seventh fret—and later more positions across. This seemed to give a structure from which I could locate and recall the other notes. I also played each note, on each string, from the first position to the twelfth position saying the notes out loud. Recognizing that the notes were the same at the twelfth position helped too.

    All the best to you,

  34. Robert Wallace May 2, 2017 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    Sometimes old short fat men should not play classical guitar, and I wrote that more than twenty years ago. Here I am still playing and loving the sound every time I strum a string. I fell asleep one night after playing and dropped the guitar resulting in some damage but I just felt more secure holding it in my arms. I was comfortable like a woman and I just didn’t want to let go. My mother once said that, “No one can ever take your music away”. I’m seventy four now and love my guitar but I need to use it more. Great blog!

  35. Myles November 20, 2017 at 7:33 pm - Reply

    This is a brilliant summing up of the challenges of classical and the dangers of trying to race before you can walk at a decent pace. Having written loads of songs and been fairly proficient in a number of styles including fingerstyle on steel string, I started teaching myself classical and learning to read music to get myself out of a rut. I picked Tarrega’s Capricho Arabe as my first piece to learn as I liked it and had no idea that it was considered a pretty high level piece. I’m still working on it but have had to go back to basics and work on some easier pieces, and really understand that my time on steel string does not make classical guitar a cinch. It is a huge challenge and I have had to work on dispensing with old habits of left-hand placement which may be fine for steel string with its narrower neck (I have a lovely Martin D-19 which I bought new and is now 35 years old and still marvellous and versatile) but not suitable for the classical instrument. Also while only we ourselves can do the work the guidance of excellent teachers is indispensable. I got a huge amount out of this year’s CGC summer school, and through contacts there now have an excellent teacher here in London. It’s a great arrangement where I see him when I’ve absorbed and worked on points of technique and musicality we’ve discussed rather than every week/fortnight etc. Only an experienced teacher can help you with the challenges you have to meet. I’m delighted to have acquired beginner’s mind again and am now on the road to being a good musician rather than someone who’s reasonably competent on the steel string. Oh, and more good news is that learning classical is really improving my steel string technique too!

  36. Jim March 8, 2018 at 1:11 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for addressing the issues of the older guitar player. I have simply avoided getting started because I am very nervous of my abilities and rate of progress but your comments have given me the courage and confidence to take up the guitar again,
    Jim, 71 years young, London Canada

    • Simon March 11, 2018 at 12:30 am - Reply

      Hi Jim,

      Great to hear! You are definitely in good company here at CGC :)

  37. Douglas R Thompson August 1, 2018 at 7:46 am - Reply

    One of the nice things about returning to the guitar after many years of not playing–I am almost 71–is that you now have the patience to learn things the right way. Or at least that’s the way I feel. I’m no longer in any hurry. And if I’m playing a duet with a guitarist, a flutist or a violinist, I always try to play with someone that’s musically just a little better than I am. It always makes me try harder! I think that would be good advice no matter what your age.

  38. Jeff Blackwell August 1, 2018 at 3:40 pm - Reply

    As an old beginner, I’m not clear, as to how I can get to where I’d like to be on classical guitar. I do practice but how to practice and what exactly to practice are simply a guess for me. Listening to accomplished guitarists seems impossible to me and yet I continue to practice the fundamentals with numerous questions.

  39. William A Gifford August 1, 2018 at 7:40 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon et al,

    A big thumbs up to you for this recent article. Just a pity it wasn’t 36 years ago when I began my own personal quest. Any advice would have been very helpful then, but sadly nothing like that was available in my part of the world.

    For me, its always been a personal quest to try an achieve something with this instrument. And with that, I’ve never allowed the
    apparent difficulties to diminish this drive. Over time I’ve been able to achieve a level of about 4-5 which has brought its own sense of achievement and personal satisfaction eventually allowing me to pal up with a duet partner. My horizons then being expanded accordingly.

    Fortunately for many, there exists plenty of instructional material on the internet now that can provide assistance for those that lack a teacher or an associate. This can be helpful to some degree in reinforcing what a particular piece “should” actually sound like when played professionally, particularly if the player is also struggling with sight reading at the time. This situation shouldn’t present any problems however, provided it is used as a guide only. Whereas trying to emulate any of these YouTube productions at correct tempo just leads to mounting disappointment. I agree with the notion that one of the largest mistakes beginning players do make is trying to play pieces at tempos that are well beyond there personal capabilities, with disappointment lurking just around the corner.

    In reading some of these comments I gain a sense that there remains an expanding need for some informal interaction here between beginning players and a ‘virtual’ teacher aid. The recent comment by Jeff Blackwell ( August 1, 2018) being a nice example.

    I’m happy to provide some assistance here too, if practicable.


    Bill Gifford

  40. Geoffrey Farrell August 1, 2018 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    Wow! Great article. Very thoughtful and insightful. Thanks.

  41. Jerry Bettington August 2, 2018 at 1:30 am - Reply

    Hi Simon. Many thanks for this article. In an earlier life I got to quite a good standard but sadly at a much older age, I am struggling particularly with focus and application. Your article has made me think a great deal and I shall try to apply new approaches to what I’m doing with the guitar.
    Thanks again

  42. John Pooley August 2, 2018 at 2:13 am - Reply

    I believe it has been fairly well established that learning a musical instrument as one gets older, is highly advantageous, in that it helps to keep the mind active and alert.

    Simon, your comment about mental focus in older people, is certainly at odds with my experience and the experience of many of my associates. Indeed, it is the young who apparently have challenges around focus and concentration span. In fact, many young people I know, have the concentration span of a newt.

    I have found that learning the classical guitar has been a wonderful journey and as I have no teacher, it is also something of an adventure. Trying out ways of doing things that are perhaps not conventional, is quite liberating. The downside is that one occasionally ventures down fruitless paths…..not always entirely fruitless though, mainly because all efforts in any direction, can (and often do) lead to new insights and surprisingly fortuitous outcomes.

    Many thanks for your thoughtful article, Simon.

    Cheers……..John, (Wollongong) Australia.

  43. Alan Simpson August 2, 2018 at 5:44 am - Reply

    Many thanks for tips on learning in older age. As usual I find Simon’s text great to follow. I started after retirement at 64 & can well support, in my case, the long haul from scratch approach. As much as I would love to crack on with something complex I can see this would be impossible for me & the frustration would indeed make me lose interest. My method (& it looks like Simon’s preferred to) gives me great pleasure learning patiently practised small steps. I agree nothing comes quick, although I have always in the past been a quick learner, it took me over a year to clear Book 1 of my series but what I have learned is strong.

  44. Bubble Burns August 2, 2018 at 7:43 am - Reply

    Thank you SOOOO much for this advice! I was just about to ask fellow ‘oldie’ guitarists on the forum, how they treated every technique exercise. Does one need to ‘flog’ each one until perfect, or move on after a while.? I submitted my provisional for Grade 1 in June but I am unlikely to be proficient by Oct to submit final of grade 1, despite daily practicing. My only wish is that we could be given 1 or 2 more simple, well known pieces to enjoy, between the listed repetoire. E. G. Greensleeves … or some Chtistmas carols in time for the season.

  45. Milo August 2, 2018 at 10:52 am - Reply

    Good stuff everyone! I decided to teach myself in February of 2014. BTW I’ll turn 66 this year. Very first song was Cavatina – one single note at a time. i didn’t know how to read music, didn’t know the notes on the fret board. It was like building a brick house – making a trip to the hardware store for each individual brick to be set in place. 4 and a half years later I can played it somewhat beautifully start to finish. Along the way it was joined by Capricho Arabe, Lagrima, What a Wonderful World, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, La Paloma, Sabor a Mi, Solamente Una Vez, Manha de Carnaval and several Christmas songs. I’ve recently taken on the finger-style challenge with beautiful songs in Chet Atkins style – Freight Train, I’ll See You In My Dreams, Borsalino. And lastly a nice little jazz classic called Take 5. I think I know maybe 4 or 5 more that aren’t listed… I play every day at least an hour – in short 15 minute bursts, with a tool I’ve learned to despise, in fact I think I enjoy anesthetic free root canals more than using it! It’s called a metronome (horse whinnys in the distance everytime i say the word.) If you decide to do it… you can. My mantra consists of the 4 P’s – i keep it in my head for inspiration. Patient, Persistent, Plucking brings Pleasure!!! Get started and enjoy the adventure and always remember its all about the journey, not the destination.

  46. Joanna Daneman August 8, 2018 at 7:14 am - Reply

    I started at age 65 (I had learned chords but forgotten all about guitar after age 18.) This article is spot-on. Some advantages of age–more patience, better listening skills. The graded books are a big help. Don’t bite off too much at once. Yes I get pain now and then. But the best advice I have is to be in the moment and enjoy it. Even if you are playing level 1 etudes, they still are the most beautiful music if you love classical guitar.

    • Dave Belcher August 8, 2018 at 7:08 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the helpful response, Joanna! Hope all’s well with you.


      Dave B (CGC team)

  47. Mike Harrison August 11, 2018 at 2:01 am - Reply

    I retired in July 2017 and on returning to Australia, started serious Classical Guitar lessons with a tutor. I wish I had read this article at that time as it would have saved me quite some frustration.

    After reading and digesting the article I find myself in a much better place. And yes I have been guilty of sneaking ahead with a difficult piece when I should have been building my foundation. I will likely join the Guitar Corner my return from a visit to Western Australia, I feel I need the structure and guidance that appears to be the culture displayed by those within the Guitar Corner membership/team. And yes, my guitar will be going in the car for our trip to the West. Thanks to Simon and at the team for the timely advice.

  48. Alan Walker September 27, 2018 at 6:04 am - Reply

    I am now wanting to start seriously learning my Classical guitar. I started guitar at 14 years old and have kept a number of them . In 1995 I bought a Takamine Classical in Houston Texas, and later a Prudencias Siaz in Barcelona. Now I am 66 and during hip replacement surgery following a fall, the hospital somehow broke my left ring finger without realizing and it has healed almost straight, which now will not bend more or be absolutely straight and I have some arthritis in my hands. Guitar is good exercise for my hands and I am still doing well with the limited movement in the ring finger if I use the correct positioning. I think from photographs it looks like Segovia had arthritic hands too. So we must continuer.
    I think there are some very successful handicapped guitarists , so we just have to not be deterred by our problems and keep playing.
    watch some video of José Monserrate Feliciano Garcia, he is an ispiration.

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