No matter what age you are, music can be an incredible, invisible force bringing us all together in times of both sorrow and joy. But for those of us who find ourselves learning an instrument (or several) later in life, the path is not always easy. It can be easy to look back and regret not starting to learn an instrument sooner; regret holding yourself back from something you clearly enjoyed when you were younger to instead pursue another area as a career because it was expected of you by friends and family. As for myself? I am still trying to find my own path and balance in life even after roughly five years as a seatbelt engineer in the automotive industry. Ultimately, I am actively working to not regret the path I took in life because it has taught me many valuable lessons, and I might not be where I am today without them. But at the same time, it can be hard as an adult musician to look at others who are younger, more talented, and who are able to pursue their dreams performing within the music industry while realistically you can only stay on the sidelines and dream of what could have been.
I started learning guitar many years ago when I was in high school, motivated by listening to my favorite rock bands like Green Day, along with countless other classic rock bands I listened to while growing up, thinking that the guitar was incredible. There’s not much more to the reasoning beyond guitar sounded really cool to me, and in high school I finally decided I wanted to learn it. But when you graduate high school and begin college, especially for a mechanical engineering degree, suddenly your free time disappears. Social life? What’s that? And then after graduation, I would continue to ignore my guitars for the most part, as not only was I busy with work, but I was also focused on earning my Master’s in Engineering Management. Education and work in general were the two main reasons I stopped playing over the years, and in my experience talking with others, have also been the major reasons other adults put a pause on their musical journey as well.
Mid-October 2021, I changed from working as a seatbelt engineer at one automotive safety supplier to working at another. I have since tried focusing on the positives in life and keeping a better balance between work and my life in general. Changing companies feels like the catalyst that would bring me to this point. At that time, I was not playing guitar or any of my other instruments. I truly believe I was suffering from burnout, and to put it simply, I was miserable with my life with no clear direction of what interested me. Switching companies was one part of the puzzle to make me realize this about myself. The other would be the start of what may be the most bizarre series of events that I would not believe if I did not live it myself. They say the flap of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane. But in my case, the snap of a string brought joy back to my life.
Ray Chen breaking a string during a performance of Tchaikovsky may be the best situation to happen to my life. It was from that specific video he posted on YouTube that led me to finding his Discord server, to then finding Tonic and the incredible community of folks who have been making the app their home. It was this community that brought the overall spark of joy to my life along with the accompanying motivation to practice music again. Not only that, but I had never listened to classical music prior to joining Tonic, but now I am listening to it almost on a daily basis among the other music on my playlist, and have found a new love of guitar through classical guitar pieces. It is honestly an indescribable feeling—as cliché as it sounds, coming back to guitar later in life feels like pieces of the puzzle all coming together. I do play a few other fretted instruments, or at least I try to, but classical guitar has really taken a hold on my heart and made me love playing music again.
However, as adults, we are not able to practice for hours on end every day. We have jobs to do and bills to pay. We have obligations to life outside of our instruments. A full day of work in the office, then back home to do the laundry, clean the kitchen, and make dinner may not always lead to the best mental state to practice. Sometimes you may be lucky to get five or ten minutes with your instrument before you need to call it a night because your eyes are closing on you against your will. Maybe you are not able to manage even that because of night meetings for work with a team who is halfway across the globe. It can be easy to push off practicing your instrument when it is just a hobby. One day of not practicing may lead to two days, which leads to a week. Then before you know it, your instrument is gathering dust in a closet along with your thoughts of “is it even worth picking up again?”
You’re also reminded of how late you started learning (or relearning) an instrument when you’re carrying a guitar around as an adult and someone asks you to play something. Because you’re an adult with an instrument, you must be amazing at it, right? It almost feels embarrassing to say that you can’t really play anything that would seem impressive. Or at least nothing that feels like it would be impressive enough to meet the expectations of a casual listener. When you are young it is easy to brush off worries about being a beginner, but when you are older, it is another regret in life that you need to come to terms with. Instead, shift your thoughts to being grateful that you started learning again. After all, progress at any age is still progress. What you are accomplishing today is more than what you were doing yesterday. Everyone needs to start somewhere. What I have continued to tell others, now that I’ve continued my own musical journey, is that it is never too late to start. You will never know if you like or dislike something until you try it. And honestly, having an activity that can pull your full attention away from daily life and work can be beneficial to your mental health.
Life will always be full of surprises and challenges. As an adult it can be hard to manage everything that is going on between work, family, maintaining the home, practicing your instrument, and on top of it all, trying to take care of yourself. In many areas of life, mental health feels like a topic that is swept under the rug and forgotten. But it is an area that is just as important as practicing your instrument. It takes hard work to create a balance, but in the end, it is worth it in countless ways. Finding those boundaries in life and recognizing what is truly important to you is valuable when it comes to keeping a balance.
You take care of your instrument, so why not give your mind and body the same type of attention? As mentioned before, there was a phase where I was most likely going through burnout. In hindsight, I was not taking care of myself, and as a result now that I have a clearer mind to look back, it is an area that I have grown passionate about because I recognize how much my life has changed for the better. While it may not be the easiest to fit into my schedule, even just the ten minutes a day of practicing guitar gives my mind a different sort of break from the stress of everyday life. And while I am still personally working through the mental challenges as an adult musician, I am forever grateful that I have rediscovered my passion for playing music, even if it was in the most unlikely of ways.