The so-called “critical-period effect” has always discouraged people from taking on something new in the middle of life. Scientists previously declared that unless you start early in life, chances are, you won’t do it, whether it is the sudden urge to learn a new instrument or pick up Spanish. 

But new research has discovered that the proverbial old dog can learn new tricks. Studies based on barn owls illustrate this idea – while the young ones could readily adapt to a virtual-reality experience which distorts their perception of the world, the old ones couldn’t. But after much probing, it was found that old owls can understand the VR experience. All they had to do was to break the job up into bite-sized pieces. 

I wouldn’t fancy myself an old owl, but for someone who used to play the violin, picking up a musical instrument at 28 is like learning how to walk only when you turned five. Since I’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar, I signed up at the Swee Lee Music Academy.

Within Two Lessons

The best part about the school, whether you want to learn the acoustic guitar, drums or ukulele, is that all its courses are idiot-proof. You don’t need to know where the ‘middle C’ lies or what an arpeggio means. I was lost when I first began, having forgotten most of my music theory, but in no more than two lessons, I knew how to play D, A and E major chords, as well as their minors. I was taught how to tell the strings apart in less than a minute. Aaron, my tutor (pictured above) gave me an easy way to memorise their sequence – Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie. It didn’t seem so hard to strum the chords either, but like the old owl, I needed to learn them in bits. Three callused fingers later, the chords he taught me became my key to a whole long list of songs. I was jumping chords and strumming Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’.

At the end of the day, I was pretty stoked that I finally did something I have been meaning to for years. I’d like to rival John Mayer some day, but till then, let’s see where D, A and E major can take me.

Find out more about the Swee Lee Academy here

This story was originally published in the October issue. Photo by Andy Wong, Rave Photography

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