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 #77411
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 1 month 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:
- Resonator Guitar
- Upright Bass
- Electric Bass
- Steel Guitar
October 5, 2019 at 8:22 PM #77428
- This reply was modified 1 month ago by Frederick.
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
- This reply was modified 1 month ago by cricket.
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 #77448
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 #77467
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 1 month ago by Kaeleigh.
And thank you Cricket! I’m glad it’s no longer obvious how hard the fiddle was those first couple years!October 7, 2019 at 1:43 PM #77508
Ok cool, I’m the second of eight, I have one sister, and the rest brothers, how ever many of them there are….
It definitely doesn’t look hard when you play the fiddle, you make it look very easyOctober 7, 2019 at 2:01 PM #77509
Looks can be deceiving 😉
So we’re both seconds? It’s a fun place to be. Not the oldest, not the youngest, not the middle, perfect!
I’m surprised both you and Cricket put guitar as easy! It’s so hard!October 7, 2019 at 2:34 PM #77511
They sure can!
Yeah, being second is awesome for a number of reasons
I put guitar as the hardest when just starting, because it was the first instrument I learned. For the same reason, it scored easier on the next lists. It helped that I started on an electric guitar that had very easy playabilityOctober 7, 2019 at 3:29 PM #77517
I think because I was so young when I started on guitar, just on my own…I just didn’t have the awareness that any of it could be hard…I remember having purple, swollen fingertips when I first started, but I loved it so much I just didn’t care about that.
Well I come from a long line of only children…my grandpa that disappeared during the depression even had “Only” as a middle name…my mom was an only kid on a farm with a mom and an aunt…weird that in their generation, which would have been the WWI generation, that there were only two…their parents, my great grandparents i can remember from the farm…the great-grandmother had only 2 sisters…weird for that generation…the generation born in the 1800s…don’t know about my great-grandfather…but then there was me and one brother…he has one kid…I had one kid…she has one kid…just seems to run in the family…not many kids around…usually more dogs than kids…lol. I can’t imagine growing up in a large family…when I first went to college and got crammed up into a small dorm room with 4 of us in there on two bunk beds and hardly any room to turn…just in each other’s faces anytime we were there in the dorm…and the whole hallway being filled up to the max like that…go brush your teeth in a line of sinks loaded with other people brushing their teeth and sometimes even waiting in the hall to brush their teeth, get a shower, whatever…I mean…I about lost my mind from the crowded feeling i got in there that first year of college. Came close to quitting just because my nerves felt so shattered from all the noise and confusion…lol. I made it through, though. I still need a lot more quiet and space in my life than most people seem to…possibly because of all the quiet open space I had growing up.October 7, 2019 at 4:59 PM #77523
I wish I had started on Fiddle when I was young. I did want to but then I also wanted to play guitar, so I started it first.October 7, 2019 at 5:44 PM #77525
I think it’s common to start on the guitar before trying any other instrument. I know scads more guitar pickers than I do any other instrumentalists. The guitar lends itself so easily to singing that I think most folks are attracted to it for self accompaniment while singing.October 7, 2019 at 6:15 PM #77526
When I was growing up, guitar seemed so much cooler than the fiddle…and lots of people had abandoned fiddling for guitar. I wish I would have been smart enough to ignore all of that and pick up the fiddle back then, but at this point, just glad I finally got smart enough to pick it up in my old age…lol.October 7, 2019 at 6:45 PM #77529
Cricket, I can’t imagine not having siblings (although my mom is an only child) my family with the six of us kids is fairly middle sized among the families we know. At our church functions there are so many kids that you can hardly move without tripping over a toddler 🙂 And I can’t stand being alone, so probably, like you, I just got used to something!
I decided to play fiddle when I was three, after seeing Natalie MacMaster perform, so considering that it took me a long time to actually pick it up and play it! 😉October 7, 2019 at 8:01 PM #77530
What age did you start fiddling, Kaeleigh?October 8, 2019 at 3:00 AM #77545
I also couldn’t imagine not having siblings, and I also can’t stand being alone. And I’ve tripped over more toddlers…..October 8, 2019 at 6:40 AM #77552
lol…well I guess we’ve done a sociology study here…if you grow up with lots of siblings and trip over toddlers in your youth, you don’t like being alone…and if you grow up hardly ever seeing a baby or toddler, and wandering around the woods or fishing all by yourself, you can’t tolerate much of being in a crowd and have to get away pretty soon…we figured that out, didn’t we? We should collect our grant money now because we have already completed our study and now know all this stuff. I’m sure the reverse could also be true…lots of people who grew up with a lot of solitude time probably get tired of that and need to get into crowded situations…and probably lots of folks who grew up in tripping over toddlers might find themselves needing solitude because of that…who knows? It is interesting though. When I had my one child I had to stuff tissues into my ears lots of time to get through the days and nights…lol…I didn’t know babies could shatter the earth crying like that…of course, she did get into opera style singing as soon as she learned to say words, so, maybe she was just practicing. When we were all eagerly awaiting her child’s arrival, I had warned her about that…get some good ear plugs! Then, low and behold, he NEVER cried as a baby…I’m like…what? How’d you make him never cry??? Of course, though, he did learn to talk extremely early and has never stopped talking, even at 9 years old now…talking up a storm! He’s just got a lot to say…very smart little guy.
October 8, 2019 at 7:45 AM #77559
- This reply was modified 1 month ago by cricket.
This is what my daughter was practicing for when she was a wee little crying baby…lol.October 8, 2019 at 7:48 AM #77561
Like me…not knowing anybody who plays OT folk music…she knows nobody who wants to be involved in opera…so now she tries to do operas by herself on her own youtube channel…lol…a lot tougher to accomplish than doing a little OT by yourself. The above video was from college days.October 8, 2019 at 1:49 PM #77576
Now that I’m back to my keyboard (computer/not piano), here is my response. But first, a dissenting view…I am the oldest of 7 and very happy to spend time alone! LOL Not only did I trip over toddlers, being the oldest, I also changed diapers, fixed bottles, fed, etc…etc…etc…and on to my list easiest to hardest:
1. Percussion. I’m still intrigued that there are people who make a profession out of tapping a triangle. haha….yes, timpani is a little harder; and a drum kit takes some practice, but really….
2. Rhythm guitar. This doesn’t seem too hard for me. I haven’t spent much time playing lead, finger picking, flat picking, etc….but just rhythm isn’t too tough.
3. Mandolin. I think this is easier, because I already know fiddle. I couldn’t join a pro group as mando player, but I could hang in on a BG jam with one.
4. Banjo. I just started messing with it this summer. I picked the gist up pretty quickly. Like anything else, it would take a lot of practice to get up to speed, but I think I could get to jamming without too much more practice.
5. Fiddle. Sheesh….tough. And, because it’s tough and I want to keep progressing and get more advanced, I don’t mess around much with anything else. There is SO MUCH to learn on fiddle. And, intonation, holding the dang thing, speed, string crossings…it’s tough. Why do we torture ourselves when we could just grab a rhythm guitar and jam???
6. Classical violin. As hard as the fiddle is, just add in a million different positions, shifting back and forth, different bowing techniques, reading music, etc…..I took a lot of classical lessons, which was really helpful in getting a good foundation on the instrument and carried over to fiddling, but I NEVER got “good” on classical violin!
I’ve tinkered with some other instruments and might be able to get passable with some of them…piano, trumpet, cello, for example….but haven’t spent much time with them. I tried a few wind instruments and they didn’t come too easily…I lost interest quickly!October 9, 2019 at 2:03 AM #77594
Angela, I can totally see that being the case, especially as you’re the oldest. I think it’s as much a personality thing as whether you have siblings, but if you don’t you better be happy alone or you won’t be happy muchOctober 9, 2019 at 6:30 AM #77595
Classical violin…I can imagine that is so hard…you’d have to spend hours and hours and years and years and still a struggle, I’d say.
I agree we could all stop the fiddle struggles and play rhythm guitar, but…really, that’s so boring to do…lol. I’m sure some people are good at it and also love doing it and it’s really necessary too. That’s what I’ve done a lot of when I was in the BG band and it was really boring to me at least. I gotta say I wasn’t that good at it either. I’d rather be involved in a fiddle struggle, myself, although getting good enough to do that with a band isn’t easy either.
Thanks for contributing to our ongoing sociological study of family size and the need for quiet vs the love of crowds…lol. ONe day we will figure it out.October 23, 2019 at 12:14 AM #78060
I’ve played guitar since age 9, and it seems easy now…. but for my adult guitar students, it’s pretty hard to learn late in life (IMHO). I picked up banjo at 18, could play Foggy Mtn Breakdown in 6 months, so I rate it easiest to learn. Fiddle was tough. Still is. Mandolin came easy, only because I had the fretting down from guitar and played fiddle first. Resonator came last, and since my right hand already had the rolls from banjo, it came easily to me. Pedal steel, OTOH, with knee levers and pedals blows my mind.
My rating, easiest-to-hardest, for an adult just starting out:
I don’t play bass, even tho I have one. Won’t fit in my Jeep….October 23, 2019 at 6:46 AM #78069
Interesting! How does one become a guitar teacher? I’ve tried to show people stuff and they never came back for more…lol…which makes me self conscious that my efforts backfired in the wrong direction. I’ve always thought it would be so cool to become involved in getting people back into playing music…make folk music come back…fight the commercial junk music industry that has invaded the world and get people back to the wholesome, healing, community-building and happiness of getting together and playing instruments for themselves. I love what John is doing with his fiddle camps…I would love to know how to become good enough to do something like that and get some folk music and community built on common interests together…but I guess maybe I’m not qualified to know how to do this, plus don’t know anybody anywhere around me with any interest, so…don’t know how people do it. Anyway… it must be cool to be a guitar teacher. Do you teach any other instruments?
P.S. Get a bigger vehicle so you can play that bass…lol!
October 23, 2019 at 7:28 AM #78073
- This reply was modified 4 weeks ago by cricket.
Are there any music stores in your area? They often facilitate lessons in their stores, and that’s where people go to find out about lessons.October 23, 2019 at 10:03 AM #78085
I’m not an “official” teacher, altho I did teach at University of Phoenix for a while when I worked at CAT.
I just offer free lessons to anyone who wants them. So far my banjo, dobro & fiddle “students” have fizzled out. But there are a couple adult-learner guitar players in my neighborhood that I teach. And by teach, I mean I drag them to jams, give them extra pointers between songs, maybe sit with them one-on-one occasionally. I wrote up a 4-page “Music Theory for Dummies” that I carry around and pass out. Helps guitar players learn to capo and find their singing key. And I give them read-only access to my Google Drive folders with hundreds of Country and Bluegrass songs, with chords & lyrics.
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.