Learning an instrument is a complicated process that requires discipline and patience. To learn successfully, you need to set some time aside for practice. Also, a foundation in music theory can help you understand the technicalities behind playing an instrument. It is just as important to think about the future when taking up a musical instrument since you can’t expect to be good right away. Remember that the big picture is more important than anyone’s moment in time.


1. Picking An Instrument to Learn

The first step is deciding on an instrument. Your options are nearly limitless depending on many factors, including your passion, budget, and physical ability. You can pick up a saxophone if you want a challenge. Often it isn’t practical to buy all the equipment and books and teacher’s fees necessary to begin immediately at the same time (that can lead to some early financial mistakes), so consider taking an inexpensive trial class at your local school or community center before committing too much money. That way, you can get your feet wet and decide if this is something you want to pursue further.


2. Getting the Right Equipment

To practice regularly, all you need is your instrument of choice and one other piece: sheet music. Sheet music shows you what notes to play on which string or key, how loudly or softly, and when—it tells musicians precisely how they must play to follow the music correctly. You can always print out your copy of sheet music (though you will need a particular printer with ink specially made for this purpose) or buy some at most any music store or online retailer. You do not need to spend much money on sheet music, so cheap copies are acceptable.


3. Setting Goals For Yourself

You should start setting measurable goals when you begin taking lessons—if you choose lessons, rather than simply picking up an instrument and trying to figure it out alone. Intermediate goals may include specific scales or pieces of music that you want to learn in the next few weeks/months, while long-term goals include:

  • Applying for band in high school.
  • Learning how to read sheet music fluently.
  • Mastering more complex music pieces.


Perhaps you want to be able to play all of your favorite songs or sing harmonies with a friend. Maybe you want to eventually learn enough that you can teach someone else how to play an instrument. Whatever they are, goals will motivate you and help you track your improvement over time.


4. Finding the Right Teacher For You

You may not need any additional help in finding the right products or resources, but when it comes to finding a teacher, there is so much variety that it can be hard to choose one when looking through phone books and online search results. There is no universal certification test for teachers, so when looking for someone qualified, ask friends and family members for recommendations and do some background research on each one. You can also ask your school or community center if anyone they recommend you study with.


5. Keep Practicing

It might seem obvious, but the practice is the most crucial part of learning an instrument—it will make up 90 percent of your success. It may be tempting to play only when you feel inspired or are in the mood, but successful musicians show up every day and give their full attention to what they are doing. If you want to go pro, that means practicing at least four hours a day. Set aside some time every day for practice, whether it’s just 30 minutes before dinner or three hours on Saturday morning; it is easier to learn an instrument as a child because more time during the week is built into their schedules, but that doesn’t mean an adult can’t do it too.


6. Taking Lessons Or Teaching Yourself?

You’ve decided on your instrument, learned how to read sheet music, and set some goals for yourself—now you have two options: lessons or teaching yourself. Lessons are great because they offer structure, guidance, someone to hold you accountable, and a knowledgeable teacher who will answer any questions you have about the instrument. On the other hand, there are loads of online resources available today where you can essentially watch tutorials on how to play almost any piece of music. You may not learn as efficiently this way as with a teacher at first since there is no one guiding your progress step-by-step, but you will eventually get there.


Learning an instrument as an adult can take longer than expected, but it is doable with dedication and practice. With the right attitude, background knowledge about playing, and the right amount of time set aside each day for the practice, you will be playing like a pro before you know it.