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I'm a soon-to-be psychology graduate, however my big passion is playing guitar, and I was wondering if I could turn my hobby into something more serious.

I've been a bedroom guitarist for about 6-7 years, and I know how to play a couple of scales and some known riffs, but I don't think I'm at a level where I could even go out on the street and play a song from start to finish. So, I thought about taking up a music degree, but this would involve creating a portfolio of music before I could attend any school.

Do you have any good advice or tips on how to approach this? Maybe just words of hope? :)

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Getting in to a music program at the post-secondary level usually requires an audition and some serious proficency already on an instrument. If you can't play a song, how would you audition? My advice is to check out the questions on here about practicing effectively and then practice, practice, practice. See: music.stackexchange.com/questions/1338/… –  Ian C. Feb 27 '11 at 15:36
    
When you say you can't play a song start-to-finish, are you saying you couldn't play an audition-piece instrumental bit? Or you couldn't bash out chords to "Louie Louie" for someone to sing along to? –  VarLogRant Feb 28 '11 at 5:16
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4 Answers

The biggest difficulty for adult learners is that we're scared/embarrassed of our mistakes. Kids and teens aren't afraid of mistakes, and just practice anyway. Adults have a clear vision of what we want to sound like and when we fall short, it hurts. The primary chemical abused by adults to reduce the inhibition caused by embarrassment is also the same chemical that destroys our ability to perform and recognize that we suck - alcohol.

As for the university level instruction, if you are able to convince your music department to let you in for guitar practice, go for it. But I'd avoid the music degree idea as the incoming students will most likely be much better than you, along with the audition requirement coming in. Many music programs require a second instrument, but that's usually accommodated by voice or piano.

When I was working on a second bachelors, I was in a multidisciplinary program that I learned much later automatically allowed my to bypass requirements such as "student must be enrolled in a [specific] degree" or "student needs consent of the department". I managed to get myself into music theory courses (which is what I was interested in), but they had a requirement for sight singing, and as these were first semester courses for incoming music students, they were scarily more advanced than I was (being about 15 years older than everyone else in the class wasn't helpful either).

But I don't think I'm at a level where I could even go out on the street and play a song from start to finish.

Most American college level music courses require a recital performance at least once per semester.

Advice: practice anyway. Look for an instructor that offers adult instruction.

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I'd recommend finding some peers to encourage and push you. For instance, look for a blues society/club in your area, and get involved jamming and learning.

In particular, I mentioned the blues, because it's a very wide range of styles, and ages, and difficulties in playing. You can learn simple blues chord progressions and scales, then build on top of them, and even if you're rough, you'll still fit in nicely.

They'll have lots of informal jams and performances, and because of the simple chord progressions, you'll be able to play along soon, which will encourage you and help you get over the anxiety hump of age, and ability.

Be honest about your abilities, or better, be a bit self-depreciating, and friendly and go in with an attitude of learning, and I'm sure you'll be plenty good in no time because you'll be playing your fingers off.

Rock and jazz are built on the blues so it's a good stepping stone to the other genres.

And, if you think age is an issue, check out players like Hubert Sumlin, who we saw in concert last year, and is one of my wife's favorites or David "Honeyboy" Edwards.

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Being involved with other musicians in any capacity, is a must –  DRL Feb 27 '11 at 19:15
    
The thing to watch out for is that a lot of local blues clubs are filled with blues purists. You need to avoid the clubs that believe that the blues ended in the fifties. These clubs are stale to the point of being boring. I usually play standard twelve-bar blues progressions as i7-iv7-v7 instead of the more traditional i-iv-v form. Substituting minor 7th chords for straight minor chords opens up the progression and affords one the ability to solo in diatonic minor modes such as Aeolian and Phrygian without the result sounding weird. –  Anonymous Mar 2 '11 at 15:59
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There's really two keys: Playing with people and playing in front of people.

When you play with other people, the specifics of your failings -- your timing, your tendency to count to three instead of four when counting measures, your same lame licks, whatever -- come into view, usually in a fairly obvious way. You may think "Man, I want to learn how to flatpick! I want to learn how to play flashy licks!" or whatever, but when you as a new player come away from playing with others, you'll recognize issues of timing, phrasing, and other of the fundamentals.

When you play in front of people, it's a performance, when you blow a lick, you can't call time and start it over. The urgency is there.

I play for my church, and I started at 30 years old about ten years ago. I had played jams and such before, but not much, and to the extent I can play, I can play because I weekly played out in front of other people with other people.

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I'm 31 - and I've been playing the guitar on and off for 8-9 years now. I never took it seriously till around 1.5 years back. That's when I started attending classical guitar classes (actually, it was after a gap of 5 years) - since that's what I wanted to play. With a demanding day job and everything, a weekly class seemed to be the best bet for staying on track. I managed to clear a Trinity College (London) Grade 2 exam, and am planning for the next one. I don't have my sights set on a musical degree, but I'm definitely planning to clear all the Grade exams. End of story.

Here's what I have learnt about becoming a musician at a later age -

  • You will no longer have the time to practice leisurely you had as a kid, so you would need to carefully structure your time. A weekly class is essential as a guiding path. In your case, this might be some kind of a foundation course. Also needed is a good teacher who understands your situation and is willing to map out a musical improvement plan tailored specifically for you.
  • The big advantage you have over younger players is that you would (most probably) know better time management and have better focusing abilities. You would know what 'deliberate practice' (ala K. Anders Ericsson) ** can transform you into.
  • As the Tin Man has already mentioned, playing with other players is very important. They need not be in your age group, but it's easier if they are (in class).

I'm not sure what kind of music portfolio you require to be eligible for a music degree, but I'm sure you can get there! Hope this helps.

** K. Anders Ericcson - The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance - available online here - http://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.169.9712&rep=rep1&type=pdf

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