The struggles of an adult learner

Learning to play an instrument later in life

At Allegro Optical we often read all sorts of articles. Both in the optical or musical press. We peruse all sorts online to keep up to date with our chosen industries. It was while I was doing this that I came across this interesting blog on the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music’s website.

The author Paul discusses the challenges of taking up a new instrument later in life. As I started playing my cornet at the age of 49 this article was of interest to me.

In the article Paul says that he had always sung by ear and that he tended to see written music as only a general guide to the ups and downs of pitch and volume! He then goes onto to say that he now sees the music with fresh understanding. Paul has got to grips with the basics such as understanding how key and time signatures work.

He goes onto to give some very sound advice to anyone who considers taking up a new instrument later in life. Paul warns about how much slower progress is compared to a younger person. The need to overcome pounding heart or tense fingers and the embarrassment we older players experience when we struggle with music that our fellow teenage players can just play easily.

Presbyopia and the musician

One thing Paul doesn’t mention is how ageing vision (Presbyopia) can hinder us when we play an instrument in later life. I see from Pauls picture that he is myopic and looking at his eye position I think he is probably wearing either varifocal lenses or possibly single vision lenses, with a focal length calculated for the music stand. This is perfectly fine for a beginner, or even when practising. However, things tend to go astray when playing in a group, particularly when needing to see the conductor and the music on the stand.

This is something I struggled with, I could read music when I took up the cornet, but I couldn’t read it on the stand, to find the right position in my varifocals I had to sit in a very awkward position, so I set the stand lower. That was fine for a while, but whenever I looked up at Dave our conductor, I then couldn’t find the right place on the music when I looked back. I tried new varifocal lenses and occupational lenses, to no avail.

Being an optician by trade I wasn’t going to let this beat me, and it didn’t. As a result of this discovery, several years ago now, I have gone on to help many musicians, friends and acquaintances. I find everyone requires a different solution and we tailor make our lenses to suit the player. A cellist, for instance, needs a completely different optical solution to a Harpist, Violinist, Organist, or a Trombonist.

Why we are different

We take into account seating position, (in the ensemble), playing position, instrument, prescription, age and the position of the music stand and conductor. We even take into account that many of these change according to location and venue.

In a way, I am so glad that I struggled early on, because as a result of my struggles, getting to grips with a new instrument in my late forties, Allegro Optical was born. We are the only opticians, that we know of that helps musicians who are struggling to see the music. As a result, we have helps musicians, presenters, dancers and music teachers from all over the world to see the music.

If you are a musician who is struggling with their vision, we can help. You may feel your musical ability is being called into question as a result of your deteriorating vision. Many musicians come to us considering retiring from professional playing completely and face giving up the thing they love. There is absolutely no need to do this, with the correct lenses, we can extend your playing life, and help you to see the music.

For more information contact or call us in Meltham, Holmfirth, near Huddersfield on 01484 907090 or in Leeds on 0113 345 2272

Post by Sheryl Doe