If you are a reader, then there are a couple of books I’ve read recently that may be of interest - “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle, and “The Laws of Brainjo, The Art and Science of Molding a Musical Mind” by Josh Turknett. The Talent Code book was so-so for me, but the Brainjo book was excellent. @xmark recommended that book to me. The author is a neurologist who also enjoys playing banjo. He brings the latest insights on learning from a neurological perspective and gives you practical applications to help you learn more efficiently in his book (whether it’s the banjo, guitar, etc. doesn’t matter). In one chapter he addresses the age issue (“The Advantages of an Adult Brain”) and you’ll be happy to know that you can indeed learn perfectly well at any age.
I’m in the process of stewing on and synthesizing what I’ve read in Brainjo and some other things and how to put it to practical use. @davidgear’s advice from his son on not practicing your mistakes is sort of one of the things in Brainjo. That also goes along with one of the mantra’s of my old high school basketball coach (he played in college at Ohio State with Havlicek, Lucas, et al), which was “Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” He introduced us to visualization techniques and what was called ‘psycho-cybernetics’ at the time (late '70s) saying that only in your mind can you practice perfectly every single time.
To try to summarize what I see as the main ideas of the Brainjo book:
When we learn a skill (like a new lick) we build a neural network. Once that neural network is built (increasing our neuroplasticity), the skill becomes automatic, or moves subcortical (you can do it without consciously focusing on it). One way you can test to see if you are reaching that stage with a lick is by playing with a metronome. Being able to focus on the metronome and playing in time with it means your brain can play the lick while paying attention to the metronome. (This alone impresses upon me the value of playing with a metronome.)
As we build our skills (expand our neuroplasticity) we build a large vocabulary of licks, phrases, tunes, etc. That, combined with understanding the rules of music, allows us to become good players. He makes a direct parallel to a child learning to speak (build vocab, learn the rules of language, begin to talk). The best thing here is that you don’t have to go to school to build the vocab and learn the rules - you learn naturally by listening. A lot.
The author also discusses using visualization, optimal practice durations and times, dealing with stage fright, and several other things.
One of the things I’ve been struggling with (I’ve not used tablature very much in the past) is that I learned a few songs by having that tab in front of me the whole time. I could play it great with the tab, but had no clue how to play it without that tab. I think that’s because I built the neural network to play that song by completely incorporating the tab into the neural network that I built. Now, I am trying to use the tablature wisely as a supplemental tool but getting away from it as soon as I can. I’m doing that with these songs I memorized from tab by breaking up those songs into smaller pieces, recording myself playing each portion slowly, then playing along with them by ear with no tab. Once I can do that, I’ll reconstruct the entire song, playing it completely without the tab. I’ll let you know if this works. This brings to mind another of my high school coach’s teaching methods: whole-part-whole. He always showed the whole big picture, then broke it down to teach in fundamental blocks, then reconstructed those pieces back into the whole again. I think Banjo Ben does this very thing perfectly. He gives you the lesson overview, then breaks it down into pieces to learn, then gives you the tracks to put it all back together again. Whole-part-whole.
Finally, remember why you play. Enjoy the experience. Play for you, and express yourself through your music. I’ll never play like Banjo Ben, or Jake, or half the players on this forum, but that’s ok! On the other hand, no one on earth will ever play like me either! For better or worse, LOL!!! Back when I played regularly on a worship team at a large church (2,000+) I rarely got comments from people about HOW I played. But I very often got comments along the lines of, “I like when you’re playing up there, you really look like you’re having fun.” The more important thing was connecting with people from the stage and sharing the joy of worship and of music. Enjoy the ride!