Does Musical Ability Decrease With Age?

This is a topic that’s been nagging at me for a while now. I’m 52, you see, and I’m starting to think about what it’s like to get old.

 The last thing I want to happen is to not be able to pick like I could when I was 20. And depending on several factors, this may or may not happen.

Those factors fall into two obvious categories: those you can do something about, and those that you can’t.

Those you can do something about would include:

  1. Getting enough practice. I think that’s the main, number 1, factor in any of this. All else being equal (and that’s an important ingredient), enough practice gets you to the point where you want to be. Not enough, and you’ll always be striving for the same objective, with little progress.
  2. Your schedule. Yes, if you’re past high school age, then most likely you’re busy all the time. It comes down to being a matter of setting your priorities. BTW, Banjos should not be your main priority in life; they aren’t in mine. But nevertheless, you’ll want to leave time for your musical pursuits.
  3. Physical well-being. This includes diet, exercise and staying as stress-free as we can.

Then, there are the things you are no control over – those things that as we age, we simply have to accept. These include:

  1. Physical deterioration. That sounds so awful, though. Maybe I should call it something else, but I can’t think of a nicer way to put it. As we get older, we get to the point of not being able to physically do the things we used to do, plain and simple.
  2. Mental deterioration. Another not-so-nice-sounding condition we find ourselves in. I can hear myself now, 30 rocking chair years down the road:

“Young whipper-snappers! Look at ’em!
Why when I was 20, I had to play the banjo barefoot!…
In the snow!”

But like the serenity prayer (Lord, help me have the courage to change the things I can, serenity to accept the things I cannot, and wisdom to know the difference), we need to be able to tell which is which.

I think about Sonny Osborne and the loss of ability to raise his left arm due to a long-term damaged tendon. What a difficult time that must have been. I had thought that this was a career-ending injury for Sonny, but I saw a photo of him playing recently (I believe it was recent); hopefully they found a way to correct whatever was wrong. I’m sure I’ll find out at NashCamp next week!

If it’s the case that Sonny did indeed get this corrected, then this turned out to be something that could be addressed, not something to simply be accepted.

I think as long as we keep ourselves reasonable healthy, then chances are great we’ll be able to play well into our golden years. Earl Scruggs is still going strong in his mid-80s now.

Let’s hope we’ll all be as blessed as he has been with good health in later years.

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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One Response to Does Musical Ability Decrease With Age?

  1. Pingback: Are you too old to play the banjo? | My banjo life

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