When comparing instruments, there are many things you need to consider when picking the one for you. I've learned many different instruments over the past 15 years and have a good idea of the pros and cons of each.
This article will give you an easy way to compare a few of the more popular instruments so you can learn from my experiences and make the right decision. We'll compare:
Of course, everyone is going to have their personal preference. My hope is you'll use this guide to choose the right path and hopefully avoid ending your musical journey in frustration.
What Makes An Instrument Easy To Learn?
There are a number of ways you can tackle this question. I've chosen to use a combination of metrics to hopefully provide the most in-depth answer possible. When learning a new instrument, the first few months are incredibly hard. Reducing any additional difficulties can go a long way for the beginner student.
The metrics I've chosen to use are the following:
- Amount of coordination required
- Accessibility of educational resources
- Strength and dexterity requirements
- Level of skill required to sound respectable
- Overall layout of the instrument
1. Amount of Coordination Required
This refers to the amount of coordination you'll need to develop before you can exit the beginner learning curve. If you consider the piano, there is the initial required separation of both hands before you'll be able to comfortably play any pieces. There is also a measure of coordination required with learning the drums (although it requires more body parts).
In my opinion, guitars and ukulele require some of the most coordination as you must precisely place your finger accurately on the fret board while simultaneously plucking the string with the other hand. Any mistake in any part of the chain will lead to an error.
2. Accessibility of Educational Resources
This has gotten extremely easy recently. There is an almost unlimited amount of educational resources to be found online (YouTube is particularly helpful). However, you should also be considering resources within your social circle. I bet all of you can list off 5 competent guitar players who you can track down - probably less so with the ukulele.
3. Strength and Dexterity Requirements
How many people do you know have tried to learn guitar, but gave up when it came to barre chords? Guitar takes a surprising amount of hand strength (especially steel string acoustic, or if you want to play for an extended period of time). Piano requires less hand strength, but can still be taxing on the forearm muscles. Ukuleles takes much less hand strength making them idea for children.
What about drummers? Have you seen how much drummers sweat after an hour of playing?
4. Level Of Skill Required To Sound Respectable
This is relatively easy on piano. Don't believe me? Next time you see a piano, just play all the black keys and you'll sound like you've been playing for years. Guitar takes a little more time to start sounding average because there is the initial strength and dexterity required to sound respectable.
Drums are pretty simple to start out with. Almost anyone can learn a basic rock beat within their first week of practicing.
5. Overall Layout Of The Instrument
Piano keys are incredibly easy to learn. It's the same repeating pattern across the entire keyboard. It will only take a short period of time before you can name and locate all of the notes on the entire range of the piano.
Guitar, on the other hand, is much more difficult. It will take you much longer to learn each chord inversion along the neck and memorizing the location of each note takes much more time. Ukulele comes with the same problems as guitar. Although, there is 2 less strings on the uke, making it slightly easier for beginners.
Drums require little investment in music theory to understand.
The Musical Instrument Rundown
Just for your reference, I have experience learning each of these instruments. I started with guitar, then keyboard, then drums and finally with the uke. I'll go through each instrument in some detail, but I've found the piano to be the easiest instrument to pick up.
Learning The Guitar
Guitar is by far the most popular instrument to learn. Most people love the sound of an acoustic guitar and many dream about being able to play some acoustic tunes beside a campfire. Although, time and time again I've seen people pick up the guitar only to make little progress and stop playing altogether.
Why? Obviously, there are many reasons. However, I believe many people underestimate the time and effort required to make a guitar sound respectable. All of the same musical timing rules apply with the added requirement that you must play your fingers in the correct location, with the correct pressure in the same instant that you pluck the string.
Because of these reasons, I find that it's much easier to hear mistakes on the guitar and that it typically requires longer than average to get passed the learning curves.
The grip strength and dexterity on the hand playing the frets needs to be developed before fast chord changes, barre chords, or clean playing can be accomplished. I find many beginners struggle with building the coordination required to strum in unison with chord changes. It takes a lot of muscle memory to be able to play the chord patterns without thinking.
Did you know that over 70% of guitar players quit within the first 60 days?
Guitar does have it's strong points. For one, some people's desire to learn the guitar is strong enough to get over the beginner's hump. The drop out rates decrease significantly once this threshold is reached.
Another benefit is the sheer number of people who have experience playing the guitar. The internet is full of competent players willing to teach you everything you'll need to know (for free!). You most likely will also be able to reach out to people within your social circle for advice or lessons.
Learning The Piano
In the above comparison chart, the piano scored the highest marks. This, of course, is based primarily off my experiences as well as the other musicians around me. The piano is more of a universal instrument and can be played by almost anyone.
The most difficult thing I found when learning the piano was the separation of both hands. After about two months of practicing, I was able to play a level of piano that I considered passable.
The number of mistakes you will make on piano will be far less than if you were to pick up the guitar. Removing the need to play a string and place your finger in the exact location simultaneously is more important than it sounds. Playing piano, you will be primarily focused on the correct timing of the notes, as well as the velocity with which you strike the key.
The piano is one of the most visually friendly instruments for beginners. Once you've learned the basic notes, the pattern is just repeated over the range of the piano. The education content is also comparable to guitar. The only major downside is that pianos are usually far less portable.
- Easy layout.
- Shorter learning curve
- Plenty of free educational resources.
Learning The Drums
I don't have too many negative things to say about learning the drums. It was a fairly smooth experience for me. There are a number of things you may want to consider if you go this route, such as using an electric drum kit or investing in damping pads for the tops of your drums.
My only hesitation in recommending that someone should learn the drums is that you aren't gaining as many transferable skills as you would learning a stringed instrument. You will be limited when it comes to music theory if drums are your only instrument. However, drums can be incredibly fun and satisfying. You will gain a strong natural sense of rhythm that can be transferred into other musical endeavors.
Drums are also fairly basic when it comes to coordination and strength. I found it was a lot harder to miss the snare drum compared to correctly positioning my fingers when learning chords on the guitar. You can also pick up a basic rock beat within a few practice sessions and be ready to make it through a basic jam with your friends in no time.
Taking out a lot of the music theory (arrangement, keys, scales etc.) makes drums fairly easy to pick up. Of course, one shouldn't diminish the musical ability of strong drummers, as drumming comes with its own unique complexities.
There are also plenty of free educational resources available - just don't expect to find as many friends that are able to lend you their experience.
- Less complexity
- Less finger coordination required
Learning The Ukulele
Many of the same principles of guitar hold true when considering the ukulele (with a few exceptions). For example, for beginners, you are still getting a complicated string arrangement and the issue of hand to hand coordination is still present. Additionally, mistakes will be numerous during your first year of playing.
That being said, I believe that the ukulele is an easier instrument to learn compared to guitar. The nylon strings are softer and easier to play and the reduction of strings brings down the level of complexity. It's also a little easier to manage size-wise for most people.
Keep in mind that with a smaller body you are taking a big hit in the level of projection (volume) that the ukulele is able to put out compared to a guitar. For this reason it's not always the best choice for campfire jams.
Ukuleles are much less expensive than any of the other instruments we have considered. If you are unsure if learning an instrument is for you, picking up a ukulele is a fantastic choice. You can easily upgrade to a guitar and transfer the skills directly over.
Piano is the easiest instrument to learn. If you have a natural inclination for the drums then they are a perfect beginner-friendly option. If you have doubts about your ability to stick with an instrument, buy a beginner-level ukulele and see how you progress. Ukuleles are wonderful instruments to learn on and they easily transition into guitar. If your goal is to jam around the campfire with friends, the guitar is the instrument for you!
I hope this helps and provides you with a different perspective on choosing your first instrument. As always, I am here to answer any questions you have below in the comment sections. Happy learning!
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