Yet another article floating around on facebook about adult starters, with many teachers coming forward to talk about the lovely adult students they keep like cute pets in their studios...It's never to late to learn; it's never too late to start learning. What many teachers think (and what few will tell you) is that you'll never be good. Any good. Very good.
Which is it, and what is good?
Will an adult starter ever be a virtuoso? No. I mean, very likely no. But there is a whole continuum between "virtuoso" and Joe Positive sawing out "Happy Birthday" a month after taking up the viola. I think of the teachers I have had: a soloist (yes, for you violin people; there are viola soloists); section violists; an associate prinicpal violist; a principal violist. Not one of them is a virtuoso (yes, we have virtuosi in viola). Is any one of these better simply by virtue of his title? Yeah? Which one is better? Do the section people bemoan the fact that they don't sit first stand? Do the principal people envy the soloist? Do any of them feel they failed? Do any of them secretly feel they should have quit, because they'll "never" get to that next level?
I don't want to be a virtuoso, or even a soloist. I don't aspire to play in a professional orchestra, or even a very good amateur orchestra. I would be thrilled to pieces to absorb anything from my teacher, but in reality I would like to get to the level of a good middle-school or maybe high-school violist. Is that good? Probably not. But it's a long way from not-ever-any-good.
I used to play bass guitar in some indie bands. The novelty (at the time) of female bass players notwithstanding, I was pretty good at it, and I was not the only person who thought so. I was lucky to have really good material to work with, and some very good musicians to play with, but the truth was I worked really, really hard at it. I once read an anecdote about George Harrison, how he labored over his solos note for note. That was me, sitting up late at night with this song, lifting the phonograph arm and putting it back down over and over, trying to figure out what this guy (the excellent, underrated Bruce Thomas) was doing. I remember thinking that if I ever learned this song, there would be nothing left for me to learn, and I would retire from bass-playing. Eventually I learned the song well enough to perform it live, at tempo, and then it wasn't the Holy Grail anymore, and there were other, more challenging songs to learn. I was maybe 23 years old. I started playing bass at 20. I was not a Suzuki Electric Bass kid. I was not a virtuoso. I was an adult starter.