News and Guides

I'm over 50 - can I learn the bassoon?

September 27th, 2019

I'm over 50 - can I learn the bassoon?

I'm over 50 - can I learn the bassoon?

Article Author: Martin Ludlow, In-House Bassoon Specialist and Director at Double Reed Ltd.

At this time of year, with the summer light diminishing more each evening, many over 50s start to think about how we will occupy ourselves during the approaching autumn and winter. For some, learning a musical instrument has been a long-held wish that time constraints have prevented. But, we over 50s are now beginning to find time on our hands – time to flourish, and time to build upon what we have already accomplished.

Indeed, over the years that Double Reed has been providing and restoring bassoons, some of the most inspired and dedicated musicians we have met have been in their 50s, 60s, 70s and older. 

So, why do over 50s learn the bassoon?

There are many reasons to start learning the bassoon in later life.

Some start because the bassoon is in demand by amateur orchestras, so it is easy for a relative beginner to get into an orchestra. Playing in an orchestra brings immense social as well as musical benefits of course, and playing the bassoon makes one immediately attractive to many orchestras.

Others take it up because of a long-held desire to play the bassoon, unfulfilled in earlier years because of the cost, but with more disposable income it now becomes possible.

Others just have an increasingly strong feeling of "now or never" after years of thinking about it, which encourages the older person to take the plunge.

Others are looking for something which proves they still have what it takes to do something intellectually challenging which is also immensely satisfying - learning an instrument as difficult and rewarding as the bassoon fits the bill.

Or a combination of all of the above.

How hard is it to learn the bassoon in middle age or older?

The first hurdle is to find the right bassoon teacher. The bassoon is a challenging instrument to learn, and therefore self-teaching is rarely an option. The best way to learn is to find a bassoon teacher who is willing to tailor their teaching approach to the needs of an older learner, and to fit in with the goals that that person may have. With a good teacher, patience and time it is perfectly possible to reach a decent standard on the bassoon, certainly good enough to join an amateur orchestra reasonably quickly.

Now the challenge really begins…

Whether you have ever played another instrument, and whether you can read music or even sing in tune will help define your starting point, but not necessarily the degree of challenge you will be taking on as these are all hurdles it is relatively easy to overcome in the first few months.

There is one challenge nearly all adult new learners have to overcome, whatever their chosen instrument. This is based on the degree of self-expectation adults bring.

Adults are used to being successful and accomplished in their daily lives, unlike children who spend a lot of time trying to do things they have never done before. Therefore adults, unlike children, expect to be successful early on when playing an instrument. Inevitably they will be disappointed as learning a musical instrument is much, much harder than it looks and requires countless hours of practice. Disappointment can quickly change to self-doubt and despondency. However, the older learner should not despair – time and patience always results in steady progress, with no exceptions!

Focus on the journey, not the destination

The answer is to accept that learning is a lot harder than you initially envisaged (not helped perhaps by viewing children on YouTube playing your selected instrument to an incredible standard!) and focus on the journey rather than the destination.

Make sure you enjoy the learning process and take satisfaction from small, incremental improvements with the occasional big breakthrough. If you find that your improvements are too small for weekly lessons to be worthwhile, then have fortnightly ones instead.

Practise is a science, not an art – be structured with it

It is also worth bearing in mind that learning how to learn an instrument – how to practise, what to play, how long to play, and so on – is important. And no two people are the same, so you have to find the best way for you to practise rather than just relying on what works for others.

For tips on practising the bassoon effectively, see our article called 'Six steps to practising the bassoon and achieving results fast'.

What are the specific challenges for over 50s?

The bassoon is a complex instrument with a big range and therefore has lots of keys to press, with lots of fingerings to be learnt and practice repeatedly. So to begin with it will be more of a challenge than a simpler instrument, and therefore the initial stages of learning will take longer. But what are the specific challenges for middle-aged and older adults learning the bassoon?

The most obvious is the physical size and weight of the instrument. Seat straps, harnesses and balance hangers can help with handling the instrument when playing. A case with back straps helps with carrying it. And plenty of cork grease to allow easy disassembly will not go amiss.

As the bassoon is such a big wind instrument it is unsurprising that it also needs plenty of air to make it work. Therefore breathing correctly to provide the air is a skill to be learned and needs a certain minimum level of fitness to provide.

So, can I learn the bassoon if I’m over 50?

If you are up for a challenge, have a basic minimum level of fitness, and want an instrument you can play in an orchestra as soon as possible, then go for it. The experience of quite a few customers who bought a bassoon from us later in life is encouraging; many of them are very enthusiastic about playing and are keen to tell us how it has changed their lives.

However old you are, it is perfectly possible to learn to play the bassoon to a decent standard with plenty of practice. Just expect to go a bit slower than you would have done as a child. But rather quicker than you will go if you left it another five or ten years.

Article Author: Martin Ludlow, In-House Bassoon Specialist and Director at Double Reed Ltd.