Its it too late in life to play trombone well?

I recently was asked by a 61 year old retired band director how to improve his playing. “I didn’t spend most of my life working on the trombone but I now want to play well. Is it too late for me?”

Here is my response:

It would be too easy for me to tell you, yeah, just start practicing every day and you’ll sound like the player of your dreams in no time. Regarding your age, in one month I’ll celebrate my 60th and I have as much power as I ever have. Now, at some point I won’t be able to say that, but I work at it. I lift moderate weights (I don’t look like I do) and bike daily. Up and down steep hills for 10 – 15 miles. I also eat like a rabbit. I describe a healthy lifestyle in this post.

That isn’t a lifestyle for everyone, but when someone asks me about playing well, I talk about physical shape and health. After all, we’re not talking about sitting on a chair playing chess well. This is physical, as you point out. And yes, the lung capacity isn’t as important, as Jacobs proved, and yes, buy his book. Oh, and go outside somewhere and play without the limitations of a room where you are bombarded with your sound reflections.

What kind of music do you love to play? What level of playing do you aspire to? If you want to improvise/play jazz, I would say your technical limitations are much less important. If you have interesting ideas coming out of the bell over Bb blues, put a plunger in there and groove away regardless of tone or volume. If you aspire to play symphonic excerpts at fortissimo, you’ve got some work cut out for you.

In the end, my best advice is to be crystal clear on what you want to get out of your trombone playing. Then be at peace with your unique musical voice with all its shortfalls and abundance. Be as smart about your practicing as time, energy, and creativity allows. And most of all, have fun with it!


3 thoughts on “Its it too late in life to play trombone well?”

  1. Robert H. Allen

    Well I have learned never to say never. I am a “mature” B flat tenor trombone player and have played on and off for 60 years. I believe as long as one is capable of holding the horn up properly and physically being able to play it one should try to continue to improve if you so desire. I am 71 years young, and I fathered my fifth child at age 69. I am lucky as I am of hardy Scottish decent. We are currently living in Thailand. I played throughout my school years, in a US Navy Unit Band, in college and joined two bands in Band City, Allentown, PA. I was a member of the Musicians Union as well. So don’t sweat the small stuff, grab your trombone and build that embouchure back up!! It definitely can be done. I am living proof. 🙂 Rob in Thailand

  2. Rob, if you’re taking care of a two year old at 71, playing trombone for you should be a walk in the park! I’m struggling to raise my 14 year-old and I’m only 60!

    It seems to me as I watch and listen to more “mature” players, it’s not the embouchure that goes, it’s the air. How’s your air support?

    1. I am a late starter. I want to be able to play duets with my son, who is a very good jazz trombonist. I agree on the need for good air support. I came upon some trad jazz chord progressions that give me a good work-out. I arpeggiate the chords using the metronome progressively faster. It is fun and hard work. Overall, I keep my expectations realistic, and remind myself that this is just for fun.

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