Improving Your Playing V Age

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Charmed, Sep 2, 2006.

  1. Charmed

    Charmed Active Member

    Is there an age limit on improving your playing? It might sound a ridiculous question to some, but I've given this a lot of thought and I still haven't found the answer!

    I've seen (and known) a lot of players over the years who in their 20s and 30s were excellent players, then in their 40s and 50s their playing is not as it was. Why is that? I'm wondering if it is because their commitment to playing alters and therefore not as much time is spent practicing or playing, or is it because their 'peak' has been reached and it is just a natural reduction in ability due to age?

    What if all your life you have played at a certain level, and then, say in your 40s, you suddenly decide you want to be a better player. Is it too late? Have you missed your chance? Do all players have a limit, whether it be a very high standard or a lower standard? Could all players reach a very high standard if they had the right training and commitment?

    So, what do you think. Is there an age when no matter what you do, you will never be better or reach that goal that you've always dreamed about, but never really put the commitment in to achieving, and then when you suddenly decide, "Hey, I want to do this", can there be an age when you've left it too late?
  2. tpcornet12

    tpcornet12 Member

    I think it happens because to continually improve over a lifetime would require massive dedication and perhaps peoples priorities change. In the same way we all have a concentration span maybe people find it difficult to put maximum effort in for such a long time. I'm sure there are players that get better and better during their life but I imagine these are the special few.

    On a similar note - how often do you hear people (in their 30s or 40s) that don't play, say to you "I could never play an instrument"? To which I would reply "of course you could but it takes a lifetime of dedication". Learning your craft can't be done overnight but when you are young you don't really recognise the effort you are putting in - it's just enjoyment.

    However, when my sister was at Leeds College of Music there was a Trumpet Tutor that started playing at age 40 and was absolutely AMAZING by age 50!! So it can be done!
  3. Rapier

    Rapier Supporting Member

    Don't think there is. I have improved a lot over the last year, thanks to a new MD and more practicing and I'm definitely the wrong side of 50.
  4. sooooper sop

    sooooper sop Member

    I played at championship level from aged 16, but by my mid 20's I couldn't afford the time to practice so my standard of playing went down. I contiued to play in lower section bands but lacked the ability and standard of my previous years, it was like I knew what to do but couldn't do it anymore :( eventually I gave up playing for a few years, starting again at 40. Now I have the time to practice I'm definatley improving in both technique and range, I think that age doesn't matter too much provided you can practice every day (I do about an hour) and you make sure you do all thoes boaring exercises instead of playing tunes!
  5. andreab

    andreab Member

    That's really inspirational, Ian. I stopped playing in my 20s, and now at 40+ find some straightforward playing quite difficult and sometimes think I'm never going to improve. I think as you say, the answer is mostly in regular practice, which I don't do, but you've given me hope and maybe I'll work harder!

    Another problem though is concentration in rehearsals. I don't know if it's just a 'mum' thing, but I often find in the middle of a piece I'm thinking 'Did I remember to take the chicken out of the freezer?'! As a teenager with few responsibilities I rarely had any difficulties concentrating on playing.

    So if anyone has any tips for improving concentration, please let me know!

  6. sooooper sop

    sooooper sop Member

    Thanks Andrea, I'm glad I inspire someone!
    I try not to think about anything but the music when I'm playing, although it's difficult sometimes as I run my own business and there are always plenty of distractions.
    Another thing that I found useful is a comment from Mike Fowlds; 'practice it until you can't play it wrong' .
    I do find that my eyes get tired quicker now, despite the optician assuring me I don't need specs (yet!)
    I have also started entering solo contests again which has helped alot with nevousness (not a good thing for sop players!)
    So now at 46 :eek: I'm enjoying playing more than ever now, I like the 1st section and Hathern are a great bunch of people and I hope to carry on until I join Brian Evans (bless him) in that big band room in the sky. :clap:
  7. 1st Position

    1st Position Member

    I don't think so, unfortunatley I've reached that magic age of 29..... again and again and again etc. and my playing continues to improve. It has at times reached a plateau, but continued practice and motivation all help. I've been fortunate to spend four years studying music, especially performance, at both Kneller Hall and Salford, yet some 17 years after leaving I stand up and play solos with the Band that I wouldn't have dared to do when supposedly at my prime with all that student time to practice.

    Perhaps experience does count for a lot, and perhaps after a few years we relax and realise that the walls don't come tumbling down if we happen to split a note. Less pressure equals more enjoyment perhaps, which then motivates our practice which improves our standard.
  8. schilke

    schilke New Member

    I,m 55 and I am Happily playing Sop and will continue and will hopefully continue to play at a good level for the foreseeable future please do not think you are over the hill once you've reached 30 or 50 most of the prof musicians are the wrong side of 40 practise and be happy
    Dave Sop player

    TIMBONE Active Member

    An interesting thread. If I may, I would like to add my own thoughts.

    As with everything, we cannot give exact ages, as these will differ from person to person, however, we can give reasonably accurate estimates.


    If a person has been a commited player from a reasonably early age, then goes through a period of not playing as much as they used to, or even not playing at all, it is usually possible for them to focus on their playing again, and even improve certain techniques. An example of this is trombonist Chris Thorp. He played from an early age with Whaley Bridge, then went on to study bass trombone at the RNCM. He became a class music teacher in his early twenties, and during the next twenty six years, there were periods of time when his trombone never left it's case. When he did play, he just played the dots in a one off concert or pit job. When Chris took early retirement from teaching at the age of fifty, he decided to focus on his trombone playing again, and become a professional freelance. Not only that, but he decided he wanted to be a tenor trombone player, and bought himself tenor and alto trombones. To sum up then, in his fifties, he successfully learnt many new playing techniques, and is a good player with regular work, including playing solo trombone with championship bands for contests.


    I would say that everyone has a peak. If a person plays an instrument or sings, and from an early age that is what they live for, they will reach a peak in their performance, and as long as they maintain their strict regime of practice, they will maintain it until they are no longer able to physically do it. In some cases, they will be giving virtuoso performances until they die. A good case in point is the phenominal drummer Eric Delaney. Eric reached his peak in his twenties, and, at the age of eighty two, is still playing as well as he ever did.

    Some people reach their peak at an early age, and are called child prodigies, most people reach their peak in their twenties. A very important factor in maintaining peak pereformance, is not only practice, but a healthy lifestyle.


    I would say that ideally, again for physiological reasons, a person will begin at an early age, or maybe their teens, no later than their twenties. However, although at a later age, a person may not be able to develop their physical attributes as well as they could have done, IT IS NEVER TOO LATE.

    My case in point here is Donald Caiger, who plays second trombone with Llandudno. When he was in his early fifties, Don took early retirement form Shell, and decided he wanted to play the trombone. He came to me for lessons. He had never played an instrument in his life, and could not read music. I taught him for two years, putting him in for lower Associated Board grades, which he passed. He then moved to Llandudno, and joined the town band.

  10. horn__blower

    horn__blower Member

    duh, i was just trying to work out what your playing V age was!!

    interesting thread tho!
    i know time obvisouly is a major issue, for practice and stuff like that. but doesnt the lip just change with age so that when ppl get older they wont be as good/cant get as high etc?
  11. In my youth, my tutor/conductor was aiming to get me to grade 8, so that he could promote me in the band, but I wasn't dedicated enough. I gave up in my early 20s, having reached about grade 7 and been happy at that level for a few years. Last year at age 39 I picked up a cornet again for the first time in ...ahem... years. I thought I was going to become really good really fast.

    But physically, I think age has slowed up my ability to improve. It's taking more effort, but mentally I do have more dedication now; and I am much more organsied in how I go about things. So I am getting much more focused and useful improvements, in exactly the way that I intend them; whereas at a young age it was very haphazard. 9 months after re-starting, I am now better in some respects than I was, and nearly as good in others, and still getting better with every week that passes. So yep. But I didn't really have a 'peak' to begin with. Does that count?
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2006
  12. nook1938

    nook1938 Supporting Member

    I am old and I can "hit" top C on a Cornet and last time I tried it I could on a BB.

    You are never to old for anything, you might have to practice more but confidence and assurance come with age.

    I know a lot of Bands People drop down from say a Cornet to a Bass because they do not want the hassle of trying to keep their "lip in" and believe or not I was talking to a chap on Friday night who nows plays Bass.

    Anyone know of or knew Fred Musgrove, last time I played on the same stage as Fred, he played every note from start of the program to the end, I have never witnessed that before.

  13. Hornblower RN

    Hornblower RN Member

    Age is no barrier to improve your playing......since the age of 50 my playing has improved and improved even further when I retired at 60 and started playing Big Band music. I have survived a quadruple heart op and I'm still playing every day at the age of 68. Where there's a will there is a way!
  14. Sabrina_2

    Sabrina_2 New Member

    I've known players who have been excellent in their 20s and 30s but as their 50s arrive, you can definitely tell a difference. Trouble is, some of these players think they're as good as they used to be and won't accept that their playing is not at that standard anymore. It's especially annoying when they come to band and try and say what wasn't quite right. I want to say, "Have you listened to your own playing recently?"

    I think it is very rare to find someone who, now in their 50s, is as good a player as they were in their younger days. Yes, there are one or two players who have maintained their standard but, in my opinion, they are the exception and not the rule.
  15. Igave up playing for 3 years when I lived in Greece, and came back to my old band, borrowed a bass, started practising (got a stitch!) and when I eventually started to play properly, found I was a much better player than I was before I went on sabbatical..... Don't ask my friends though - they will lie!

  16. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    As we get older, we also discover more 'cheats' to sounding good! There are a lot of players in the profession who stopped practicing in their 30's, but still have plenty 'in the bank' well into their 50's.
  17. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    I feel it depends on what targets someone sets on the decision to play again. Another factor is how long he/she has been away from playing and whether the individual has kept up to date with changes in performance techniques and instrument development.
  18. robcornet

    robcornet Member

    very interesting thread this one.

    I have only been playing for 2 and a half years and I'm now 37. I had never played an instrument of any kind before and found it very hard to even get a note out of a euphonium. I was told to try a cornet and have been playing ever since. When I first started I was very keen and practised for 2 hours every day. I have reached a decent standard but seem to be static at the moment and finding it very hard to improve my range. I can get upto a G on the stave, but nothing above that. I have often thought whether you reach a certain level for your talent and get get no further. I must admit that recently I've started my own business and don't have as much time to practise. You only have to listen to players like Fred Muscroft and Graham Walker tp realise that some players have a lot more talent the others and if they have that talent then they can maintain a high level of playing. I don't think I will ever be that good, but the main thing is I enjoy sat on 3rd cornet for 2 bands and have a great time and made lots of friends in 2 years!
  19. JDH

    JDH Member

    The most important things are dedication and practice. I starting playing at 12 and am now approaching 50 and am definately a considerable better player than I was in my 20's, or 30's (no way I could have reached a top G then!)

    The big difference is that then I would rarely home practice - the instrument would only come out once per week for band practice.

    However, now I practice from 1/2 hour to 2 hours every day. To get better still, I probibly need to be more structured in my practice.

    So, it is all down to practice and the desire to get better.

    The only problem I find with getting older, is reading some of the small size music. Why do publishers think all brass band players have 20/20 vision?
  20. Charmed

    Charmed Active Member

    Great responses so far folks. And for those of you that only took up a brass instrument in your 'later' years, fantastic! What an inspiration to all! :clap:

    Although the thread could be a random discussion, I posted it for personal reasons. Life story :biggrin: - (sorry if I bore you ;) )

    I started playing at 12 yrs, enjoyed it but wasn't really bothered about practicing. I found I had enough 'natural' ability to get me through what was required at that time. I joined my band just before my 15th birthday. At that time we were in the 3rd section and I played 2nd horn. Although I used to think it would be great to play solo horn I never actually did anything about it. I never practiced, and was actually happy to be just part of the band. I struggled with anything above top G, (even top G if I'm honest!) but playing 2nd horn, it was very rare you went above 'D'. I had a 6 year break returning to the band when I was 26yrs, on 2nd horn, the band was still in the 3rd section. For some reason I had 'the bug'. I wanted to be a better player, so immediately took lessons, unfortunately this only lasted for a few months due to ill health of my teacher. However, it was just enough to get me the solo horn position when it became vacant. Again, once my lessons stopped, I found it difficult to maintain home practice, but managed okay until we got promotion to the 1st section. I stepped down to 1st horn when a better player became available for solo horn. Although I found it difficult, I accepted that I wasn't 'good enough' to play solo horn at this level and have remained on 1st horn. The band is currently in the Championship Section.

    Technically, the pieces we now play are more difficult than the pieces we played when I used to play Solo Horn. So I do agree that with harder work, dedication, and a desire to play better, you can improve, I now play pieces that I couldn't have touched even 5 years ago. However, some of the pieces that we play are so technical, and not just for 1st horn, 2nd horn too! Currently one of the pieces we are rehearsing is 'Mambo Caliente'. For those of you that know this piece, it has a massive horn (all horns) section in the middle. Semi-quavers at speed 138 plus. My fingers have never tried to move so fast for so long and with the range shooting up and down between bottom G# and top C! :eek: Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is, I rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse ....... you get the point. I would say during home practice, it's not too bad, but then put it in the band, with a strict tempo because of everything else going off, well all I can say is, it's not right yet. And because we haven't yet managed to fill the solo horn position, currently I'm leading the section! :eek: So obviously all eyes are on me when we get to this section of the piece! Our 2nd horn players (no offense Laura :D ) don't attempt it!

    So this brings me back to my original point (finally you say). I want to be able to go and play 'technically difficult' pieces like these without too much stress. But no matter how much I practice it, it just doesn't happen! I want to be like those 'other' Championship horn players that can sit down and play anything you put in front of them! So envious! :mad: But at (soon to be 40 :eek: ) can I improve on my current standard of playing? Is there hope for me?

Share This Page