The instruments I play ranked by difficulty
October 5, 2019 at 12:16 PM #77408
Ok, little disclaimer here, I picked these instruments up in about six month intervals, so the ones I started later would be easier proportionally.
Ok, to the topic at hand, I’m gonna try to rank my five main instruments by difficulty, in a few different categories. The instruments are (in the order I picked them up) Guitar, Harmonica, Fiddle and Mandolin, and I’ll add Ukulele for fun.
So, that list was for just starting out each instrument, and it’s not objective because I had a different level of experience before picking each one up. The mandolin was easiest because I already had lots of experience, and the Ukulele cuz it’s similar to guitar. Guitar was hardest cuz I had no prior experience.
So, this is a very different list, it’s about when you’ve been playing a while, how easy is it to start improvising or playing more advanced material, and just being comfortable just randomly playing with the instrument. This list is influenced by both the amount of time I’ve played each instrument as well as the layout of the instrument. I find the banjo to be super intuitive and easy to play, and play with, but others may feel differently (but they’re not making this list, so they can’t complain ?) definitely the harmonica is the hardest to get good at because there is a lack of both learning materials, and good players to emulate, and same with ukulele, most people who play it only play a few chords and sing.
So, (I say that a lot), this is basically which one is physically the easiest. Honestly, it depends on whether I’m sitting and where, but the only reason banjo is lower than guitar is my shoulder gets tired holding my arm up in first position. I’ve always found ukuleles awkward to hold, and depending on your lungs and the shape of your harmonica, it can be unpleasant too. And it’s no secret that the fiddle is an awkward thing to hold, I haven’t had any trouble holding it in a long time, but my bowing arm gets very tired. I added bass for giggles, it’s bass guitar (not upright) and they’re super heavy.
So, this is the last one, it’s an all things considered list. The Ukulele is the easiest, because the simplicity of the chords and the forgiving nature of the instrument make it very easy to make nice music. There’s a reason why so many people play them, and if you’re a serious musician, there is some advanced material to learn, a lot of innovation waiting to happen, and a very low Audience expectation when you take it out.
The guitar is next, everyone has one, and it’s very forgiving similar to ukulele. There’s a reason everyone plays one. And when you’re advancing, there’s so much material out there to learn and numerous artists to look up to.
Banjo, I found the open tuning super easy to use and think about, and there’s a lot of material to learn.
Mandolin, this one is pretty easy cuz there’s such a devoted following, information isn’t too hard to find, and there’s lots of material and great players. Also, since it’s rather obscure, it’s a great conversation starter.
Harmonica, this one is hard both to think about and to get good at, there’s several notes missing unless you can do advanced overblowing techniques. There’s very few real musicians playing these, and material is hard to find. On the upside, expectations are low when you get one out, and people will be surprised if you play well.
Fiddle wins most difficult, this wasn’t a blowout victory, it was a close contest, but fiddle is more difficult because there’s no frets, the bow is a **** and it’s loud, so not forgiving. But there is a great community of players you can find, lots of instructional materials, and no limits to the possibilities of the instrument.
I hope you enjoyed this list, it’s by no means scripture, it’s just my experience.
And for the record, when I say harmonica I mean ten hole diatonic, not chromatic ?October 5, 2019 at 12:32 PM #77409
Wow…that was a pretty thorough assessment. Thanks for pointing all of those factors out. I think everybody should chime in on this list.
I will, in fact…lol.
Let me take all of those factors into consideration and throw the instruments into one pile.
GUITAR: easiest for me. Possibly because I started at the age of 10 and just easily found my way around before I was old enough to think any of it COULD be hard. I feel like I learned a ton of theory just poking around on the guitar while I was growing up…stuff like chord progressions, chord inversions, chord substitutions, intervals, key relationships, etc., it’s all right there along the fretboard. I will say the more complicated I (attempted to) got with it along the way, the more difficult it became, although I think my hands just grew with the instrument so I learned to stretch and twist for whatever i needed in my own playing. I’m no expert and never will be, but I’m very comfortable with where i am after 56 years of noodling around with it on my own. Also…I always played on dreadnought styles, because everybody around me just did…but now I see that those are not the best for fingerpickers who sit down and play…I learned that finally after my son-in-law gave me an old Alvarez that was just taking up space in their house…I’m not sure what type you’d call it, but it’s smaller than a dreadnought…also, my friend walked on crutches for a couple of decades and destroyed his shoulder joints in the process, and playing a dreadnought is too painful for him at this point…and I’ve noticed myself, after playing the Alvarez, my dreadnoughts are tough on the right shoulder when you sit down to play them. But for me…guitar is easiest.
BANJO: easy as long as I don’t try Scruggs or melodic or any of those things. As long as I klunk along clawhammering or just simple two-finger strolling along, it seems ridiculously easy. Scruggs , etc., are ridiculously hard and I about lost my mind trying to learn that in my 20s, finally giving up and just playing simple styles.
FIDDLE, Viola: Used to be the hardest thing, but if I tune to OT tunings and keep the notes simple instead of doing really notey things, it’s not a tough instrument. If you get into Bluegrass stuff, double stop slides and fast notey stuff, you’re gonna get into some hard-to-play stuff.
PIANO: Too hard. I can Klunk with one finger but I don’t enjoy it much.
CELLO: Next to impossible…don’t know if I’ll ever learn to make mine sound like much and often wonder if I should sell it because it takes up so much space and I “play” it so little.
HARMONICA: No…too hard. Sounds awful when I’ve tried. If I could ever learn to sound good and handle the thing well I’d sell all the instruments and just have a few harmonicas…but I don’t see that happening in this life.
BAMBOO FLUTE: I’ve got one some guy made…sideways regular flute keyed in G and made of bamboo…just holes, no valves or anything…it sits quietly staring at me in my bow basket. No. No to bamboo flute…I cannot play it. I’ve held onto that thing for over 30 years…and can’t get one doggone note out of it. I can play a pop bottle better than I can play a bamboo flute. Never gonna happen.
That’s it. Somebody else’s turn!October 5, 2019 at 12:39 PM #77411JBoundsParticipant
I would think Mandolin would be kind of easy because it’s similar to the fiddle in that it has the same tuning, etc. You just don’t use a bow. I think I could play a mandolin.
Guitar is easy for me but been playing it forever.
Fiddle, well that one is a wild cat. But I’m gonna make it my pet some day and it will be nice to me.
I tried piano and although I can play a little it just frustrated me.
Singing I learned long ago and I consider my vocal chords an instrument but I don’t consider myself the best or anything. But it was difficult starting out and keeping in tone, etc
But , anyway thanks for the run down and list on your experience.
October 5, 2019 at 12:54 PM #77413
- This reply was modified 9 months ago by JBounds.
Cool, it’s cool to see others’ experience with these thingsOctober 5, 2019 at 6:15 PM #77420
Here are mine ranked easiest to hardest:
October 5, 2019 at 8:22 PM #77428
- Resonator Guitar
- Upright Bass
- Electric Bass
- Steel Guitar
Impressive list, Fred…and I can understand how piano is up in your easy spot…especially after having heard your piano music, which is amazing…like…I’m not sure Chopin and all those guys could play like you! I can understand where you place cello too, but…for real? …autoharp is hard????? Don’t you just push buttons and strum??October 5, 2019 at 9:20 PM #77432
You are right, Cricket. I amended my list to more closely reflect easiest-to-hardest. “Drums” is probably not in the right space either as I always found them very easy to play.October 5, 2019 at 9:53 PM #77433
What kinda drums? My grandson has a cheapie one of those African drummng drums…smaller version and cheap…that can be challenging, at least for me. But I do like to bang around on it sometimes anyway.October 6, 2019 at 7:14 AM #77447
Ludwig drum set for playing in a couple of rock bands when I was in high school. Also played kettle drums in HS. (Amended list again) 🙂October 6, 2019 at 7:49 AM #77448fiddlewoodParticipant
1.Stand-up Bass – for some reason I just picked it up and could play & understand it, But it does require a feel for the pull.
2. electric Bass – need to understand the amp, etc as well. Bass has the most time between notes and gives time to think…it’s all bout feeling the groove. very easy to get bored and overplay.
3. mandolin – tuning wins this spot & it has frets…easier than guitar to understand fretboard but faster notes than bass
4 Guitar – Actually tied with mandolin…both plectrum picked and note speed comparable…guitar has more difficult chord position possibilities…longer reach than mando, but easier to sound correct notes on.
5. fiddle- small scale, no frets, bow…very easy to play out of tune or get terrible sound effects or tone from. Also the note can change where they are from day to day.
6. Banjo – this should have been far easier but I never had the knack of playing a roll really in time.
Saxophone – it was an embarrassing experience.
Hammond chord organ – first instrument…always had on in the house when I was a kid, It was also my first experience learning to read “music”.
Trombone – another slide instrument…more chances to play out of tune
French horn – cool instrument and has only 3 valves and no reed…it usually gets stuck with musical parts akin to the baritone part in vocals.October 6, 2019 at 8:49 AM #77451
Wow, Fred, I can play at least something on at least twelve instruments on your list…October 6, 2019 at 11:02 AM #77460
lol…sorry to hear about you and the saxophone, Dave…glad you got into better instruments.October 6, 2019 at 1:50 PM #77467AngelaParticipant
Great topic. I’m enjoying the discussion and will contribute when I get back to a real keyboard.October 6, 2019 at 7:49 PM #77486
Oh I get it…lol…Angela, that made my head spin…I’m like…”What? Angela plays keyboard and she’s not playing a real keyboard and when she does she’ll list her instruments in the order of easy-difficult?” I sat here pondering this for a few minutes and then the lightbulb finally lit up for me…OHHHHHH….THAT kind of keyboard…yeah, I get it now.October 7, 2019 at 8:34 AM #77501
This is a fun one, Gunnar!
well, to be perfectly honest, no instrument has been easy for me to learn, so talking about relative easiness, here are mine. Easiest to hardest.
1. Harmonica. I picked this one up when I had a baby brother with colic. He had to be carried all the time and I could play the harmonica with one hand. I always found the blow/draw very easy to intuit and there’s was never a time I couldn’t play at least simple tunes.
2. Piano. My family piano has always just been there in the dining room of our house and no one else ever played it. I never could keep my hands off it, though I didn’t really start playing until maybe six years ago. I found easy to pick out melodies by ear, but much harder to add my left hand. I never had any instruction and I still don’t play right (I only use nine fingers) but it’s sure fun!
3. Mountain dulcimer. I found the dulcimer pretty easy to pick out tunes, but I was never satisfied with the way it sounded. Ours was borrowed, so I don’t play any more.
4.Ukulele. Pretty easy for me, but I found the rhythm difficult and the results pretty unsatisfactory!
5. Celtic Harp. It’s my sister’s and the fingering is hard, but if I think of it like a piano in reverse I can play a few tunes on it 🙂
6. Guitar, mandolin & banjo (And probably moist other fretted instruments!) very very hard on my fingers, so I don’t try very hard. I learn a couple chords on each, but can’t make ‘em sound even decent! My dad’s guitars are all dreadnauts (did I spell that right?) too, a little hard for my five-two self to handle physically!
7. Fiddle. I personally found the fiddle really, really hard! The intervals are not straight forward and it’s hard to bow. Also, I’m not the slightest bit ambidextrous and having to do all the hard stuff with my left hand almost made me quit! I’ve got it now though, mostly 😉
8. Trumpet. This was my most embarrassing and shortest lived musical experience! No explanation:) I still think it’s mostly impossible to play!October 7, 2019 at 8:38 AM #77502
Hey! I just saw that someone listed singing! If that counts then that is actually my easiest. I always have sung, even as a baby.October 7, 2019 at 11:37 AM #77503
That’s cool Kaeleigh, I’m curious how many siblings do you have? And which finger do you not use playing piano?October 7, 2019 at 11:59 AM #77504
Kaeleigh, I’m kinda surprised you listed fiddle as difficult…watching and listening to you play, you sure are well beyond that stage…hearing you play difficult stuff and making it look easy! Like Gunnar, I’m kinda curious about the 9-finger piano method!
Well yeah, if singing counts…I have sung since I can remember…back when I was only about 3 years old I thoroughly enjoyed singing in church…the only music I was involved with, my family being not only un-musical but really skeptical about and just not too thrilled about musicians…lol. I do know the reason for them being like that, but didn’t understand that until I was probably 40 years old.October 7, 2019 at 1:23 PM #77505
I don’t use the thumb of my right hand while playing piano. I don’t know why, I just don’t seem to be able to incorporate it 🙂
Gunnar, I’m the second oldest of six (I’ve one sister and four brothers) What about you?
October 7, 2019 at 1:38 PM #77507
- This reply was modified 9 months ago by Kaeleigh.
And thank you Cricket! I’m glad it’s no longer obvious how hard the fiddle was those first couple years!
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