I’m 21 and about to finish college. Learning to play an instrument has always been a long standing lifelong dream of mine and pursuing it has finally started to look feasible in the foreseeable future. With my higher education coming to a close giving me the free time to explore personal educational exploits and a good looking job opportunity on the horizon giving me some financial freedom I really don’t want to let this dream slip. I know I’m older and will probably still have to wait a few years for when I am more financially stable and so far have zero musical education but I still want to start pursuing this, I just have no idea where to start. I adore the way the viola and violin sound but also have an interest in piano which is where I’ve been told I should start, but have no idea how to find a teacher that could work with a working adult’s schedule specifically or how much I should save before pursuing lessons.

How much should lessons cost?

Is it alright that I have zero musical knowledge, instrumental or otherwise?

How can I find a teacher that will work for me?

Is viola or violin to far of a dream at my age?

How do musical lessons usually work?

I really have no idea what to do, or where to start or even what I’m really getting myself into. If anyone could give me a little insight it would mean a lot to me. Thanks.

  • Just a word of encouragement: I started playing guitar at 19 or so, with no musical education at all. I just picked it up and started playing. 30 years later i'm still at it and I love it (play in a few rock bands, one of whcih has been going since 1990). A good thing about guitar is that you can just pick it up and play (literally- make sounds with it just to see what happens): I've never had a lesson. But piano probably deserves some tuition because I gather there are tehniquestr for the fingering whcih mean it's possible to get into bad habits early on- which are very much best avoided. Apr 11, 2016 at 9:03
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    basically, go for it - you'll never regret it Apr 11, 2016 at 9:03
  • Piano isn't that bad to learn from my experience @user2808054 . Admittedly I did have a few years of violin under my belt, but with some help from YouTube I managed to pick it up. Unlike violin, it feels natural to play, which means of something feels weird, it probably is. Also, piano is great for theory, because it helps you visualize it. Apr 11, 2016 at 20:29
  • @Tom oh cool, did you have any trouble with fingering techniques? (f'nar) .. I've tried playing piano a bit but nded up getting my fingers in a knot so thought some tuition would be in order, although youtube etc counts as tuition of course so .. good point Apr 13, 2016 at 10:30
  • @user2808054 In regards to piano, putting left and right hand together was what seemed to take a bit of time and did confuse me often. If you stuck at it long enough though, it becomes easier to put together next time. Kind of like anything, practise makes perfect. Getting a teacher though would defiantly speed up the process, although if you have a friend that can play, talking to them about it can also be handy. Apr 13, 2016 at 20:21

5 Answers 5

  • How much should lessons cost?

The cost depends on the teacher (if they are famous / in high demand / highly educated) as well as where you live. Lessons in the city cost more. Lessons can range anywhere from $20-150/hr on average. Personally, I'd recommend you look in the $30-50/hr price point.

  • Is it alright that I have zero musical knowledge, instrumental or otherwise?

Absolutely. A teacher should not expect you to know anything unless you tell them otherwise. In fact, many teachers like students with no experience so that they can mold them to avoid bad habits.

  • How can I find a teacher that will work for me?

Several different options here. 1.) Since you're at a university, I'd recommend either going to the music department or send an email to a professor of the instrument you'd want to learn. Explain your interest and ask if they might be able to recommend a graduate student to give you lessons. For grad students, it's win-win because they'll work cheaper and they get to practice teaching. 2.) You can go to a music store and ask the clerk for recommendations. 3.) Use an online classified service (craigslist, etc.)

  • Is viola or violin too far off a dream at my age?

Absolutely not. Learning an instrument is not like ballet or playing a sport; you are never to old to start. The worst thing you can do is never try because you'll always wonder.

  • How do musical lessons usually work?

In your first musical lesson, your teacher will show you the basics of how to hold the instrument and how to produce your first sound. They might also talk to you about some of the parts of the instrument, but hopefully not overburden you.

As you progress, your teacher will give you weekly musical homework that you'll have to practice on your own. It could be to practice a certain technique, listen to music, practice a new song, or really anything they feel needs to be emphasized to see how you progress. The following week in your lesson, you will play for them what you have practiced. They will offer additional thoughts / revisions as necessary. Once they feel you understand the concept, they'll give you something else. Unlike other subjects, music is NOT something you can "cram" for - all musicians worth their salt know this. You can either play something or you can't - there are no short cuts. Better to practice 15 minutes every day than 3.5 hours the day before your lesson.

  • Scheduling Lessons

Teachers who teach privately are very used to working with various schedule types and often make themselves available specifically for their private teaching. For example, I have a friend who teaches trumpet privately. His work day doesn't start until 1:00p, but he'll teach until 7 or 8:00p, because those are the times his students are available.

  • Last Thought

I know it's intimidating, but don't believe what you hear about people having "talent". Those people are silly. Anyone can learn to be a musician. It's not a magical thing to be a musician, it just takes a lot of persistence and hard work. There is no substitute for work. Lastly, if you try those instruments and find out you hate them, be disappointed, but don't give up. Keep trying different instruments until you find your match. Think of it like a Harry Potter wand.

  • Thanks for bringing up talent. It may get you in the door, but it won't keep you there for long without practice.
    – user6164
    Mar 4, 2016 at 5:49
  • Good answer, but -1 for saying that it can be too late to learn ballet or sports. It is never too late to learn anything. Oct 5, 2020 at 14:03
  • @LittleHelper - Nice try, but sports like ballet require a young age for proper technique. Even in the best-case scenario, ballet is extremely damaging to feet / legs, and thus isn't something someone could do their entire life. An 80 year old couldn't begin ballet as a new hobby for the same reason. Similar is true for other sports; they are incredibly physically demanding and use up the body. This is why most professional sports athletes retire by the age of 40. Sure, they can do it for their personal enjoyment, but wouldn't be competitive. Music, however, is different. Oct 6, 2020 at 23:38

You were saying that you are still a few years away from being able to pay for lessons, but you can still start now! Give yourself a head start on music theory, from sites like http://www.musictheory.net and https://www.teoria.com/. These are both great and free sites that will teach you music theory. I personally would recommend learning the theory so that when you get your lessons, you won't need to worry as much about the theory. Also, in regards to the lessons, as a beginner, half an hour should be enough to begin with, but it's personal preference. Also, if you are pressed for time and/or money, consider having lessons every two weeks instead of every week. You might not learn as quick (you might though, who knows!) but it will save some money. If you want to learn though, definitely have a teacher. Don't decide that you can teach yourself and don't need one because you can pick up bad habits and start playing wrong. Good luck!


Viola vs. Violin

I would choose viola, if the increased size is not a problem (as could be with short arms, small hands). While the disadvantage is, that you have to learn a more exotic clef, all ensembles I know have a shortage of viola players. The parts are typically less demanding, so all players considering themselves better, chose violin instead, striving for first violin, of course.


This doesn't directly answer your question but is important:

Have a think about how you want to go about it, and the kind of music you'd like to play. I'm guessting you're thinking of classical, given the instruments you mention? I mention this because there seem to be two ways of going about playing music:

1) Learn by ear (ie teach yourself). There's always an element of this, but basically it involves finding the notes you want to play on the instrument dfor yourself. This is how a lot of rock / pop is written / played. Famous example: The Beatles. It's great for improvisation, writign songs quickly, and just noodling about with a tune simply because you like doing that.

2) Learn to read music & play what's on the page: This is more about recital, and (from my point of view) seems more aligned with classical / orchestral music, although a lot of people use this method to play pretty much anything.

I can't read music, so to me this seems like an amazing skill. The flipside is that I have played with some musicians (most recently a brass section) who had no idea what to do unless the music score was in front of them. To me that seems bizarre, but for them : They had no idea how my band could play without the score. Neither is 'right' .. just 'horses for courses'!

And that's my point:

  • Playing by ear enables informal, spur-of-the-moment stuff, which may / may not be 100% accurate to an original piece (if playing existing music).
  • Reading music enables you to play complex music (probably) with more accuracy, but doens't so much allow for making-it-up-as-you-go-along.

What I'm alerting you to is that if you want to play blues/rock/pop, then starting off with formal reading of music probably isn't necessary, and at the start might even slow down progress. If you want to play classical or music with a definite form, then trying to play by ear may not work so well - you probably need to read music to get the recital accurate.


My local music shop is putting on free taster music lessons to celebrate Learn to Play Day next weekend. If you're based in the UK I would recommend checking one out.

I'd say your local music shop is a great place to start!


  • I don't think this really answers the questions posed by the asker. Perhaps you could edit and elaborate on it? Mar 3, 2016 at 16:50

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