Low-Cost Options for Adults Learning Music

J. Harvard Feldhouse

While music is an integral part of the human experience, there are many adults who never learned to play music in their youth. 

Adults, especially college students, are often burdened by limited funds. They may not know where to start learning music without spending a lot of money, but there are several low-cost opportunities.

Randall Goldberg, professor and director of the Dana School of Music, provided a few options for people who are new to music. 

Goldberg said people should begin with their voice by joining a choir or other vocal ensemble with a low audition threshold. 

“People may not have formal vocal training, but they can sing; they can carry a tune,” Goldberg said. “You can do choir, and you’ll get pedagogical training in a group like that and also great experiences and performances.”

At Youngstown State University, Voices of YSU, Barbershop Singers and Pella Penguins are all vocal ensembles requiring little to no musical background to join. Voices of YSU and Barbershop Singers can be taken as a one credit course, while Pella Penguins is a student organization.

Jennifer Mosher, a part-time voice professor, said she strongly advocates making music with others because it exposes beginners to those from diverse backgrounds and musical experiences.

“[There is] nothing wrong with sitting in a room by yourself with your guitar. That’s great. But with other people, it adds a dimension,” Mosher said. “And you actually learn from working with people who are a little better than you.”

Outside of YSU ensembles, Mosher suggests joining one of many local church choirs because they always need volunteers and are willing to teach. 

Goldberg then suggests learning the basics of music on widely accessible instruments such as the guitar and keyboard. These instruments can be learned by going to classes at places like the Jewish Community Center, following lesson booklets from the store or using free internet resources.

“It’s easier to teach oneself a few basic rudiments on the guitar,” Goldberg said. “They can find a lots of YouTube videos about it. They can find websites about it. If you know a few chords, you can play millions of songs. That is a possibility that might be easier than someone who wants to learn violin, which is a much more challenging instrument.”

Cicilia Yudha, associate professor of piano, teaches a class called Keyboard Musicianship for Non-Music Majors that any student can take for one credit. In this class, students learn the fundamentals of how to read music and play the keyboard in a low-pressure environment.

“The students in the past have been students who are majoring in biology, math and criminal justice — they do something completely different,” Yudha said. “The piano becomes a way for them to kind of release stress and challenge a different part of their brains.”

Yudha also suggests that, since they can pay for classes with financial aid, college students, should take advantage of the many general education music classes to get a feel for different types of music. 

In Ohio, adults over the age of 60 can take any class for free with no credit, and Yudha has had a few older students take her keyboard class. 

“The physical muscles don’t move as fast as, you know, a 4-year-old would learn, but it’s never too late to learn because you’re always challenging yourself to be a better person, to learn new skills.”

At the end of the day, if someone is really dedicated to learning music, they will find a way to  learn. It may cost a little to do it, but the value it adds to a person’s life is worth the investment.