Is Piano Or Guitar Easier To Learn?
As I teach piano and guitar (sometimes both for the same students), I get this question often: Is piano or guitar easier to learn? Should I learn piano or guitar? …or…Which instrument should I start on?
This is not an easy question to answer (but, then, what are blogs for, anyway!).
Let me begin by assuring everyone that I have seen very young children and older beginners succeed on guitar as well as on piano, so I can’t say for sure that one instrument is “better” than another to start on. Much depends on the student’s interest and skill. As for the “piano vs guitar, which is harder” debate, I can give reasons why piano is easier, at least as a starter instrument. And I am of the opinion that, in general, piano is more reliable as a starter instrument.
THE CALL OF POP CULTURE
Unfortunately, a lot of young children prefer to learn guitar over piano because of the “coolness” factor. From music videos to digital gaming, guitars appear to occupy a higher spot in pop culture. Again, we certainly don’t want to discourage a child’s interest, and every child is different, but, in general, I doubt that a child’s interest should be based on what happens to be more “cool”.
If I were a parent, I would see about exposing my child to videos of pianists (including pop and rock artists like Billy Joel and Elton John) so that the child accepts the piano as a “cool” instrument as well. This way, the decision to start on one instrument or the other can be made based on other reasons besides simply that “it’s cool” (since both instruments, in effect, would be seen as equally “cool”).
Basic guitar playing involves a high level of finger coordination skill. (image source: http://photopin.com/)
THE TECHNICAL DIV >Just from a very basic technical standpoint, the piano is an easier instrument to play. While I have seen a lot of kids succeed on guitar when starting at a young age, I’ve also seen a lot of them grow more frustrated because of some difficulties they encounter when trying to play guitar. All you have to do to make a sound on piano is press a key. On guitar, you have to pick at a string (often with a pick) and simultaneously press a string down with your other finger. It is more like trying to do two or three things at once, while piano-playing is less complex.
The piano provides for a more comprehensive understanding of how music works.
Of course, we are speaking here about beginning lessons. The fact is (and I believe this is true for most any artistic skill), once you get past the first few years and begin to tackle more advanced material, it really doesn’t matter what instrument you play…it ALL is equally difficult. But, at the beginning level, especially for young children, executing even basic moves on the guitar simply is more difficult than on piano.
Furthermore, most children want to learn how to sound like pop and rock stars on the guitar, but to really begin to sound like that, they need to learn chords and lead techniques which are very difficult for little fingers to master. So, because it takes a while to get to that skill level, a lot of kids become frustrated and give up before they ever get there. And learning classical guitar is even more difficult!
Most music educators agree that the piano is a universally more comprehensive instrument for learning music. Piano music involves both treble and bass clefs (guitar uses only treble clef), chords and melody (as opposed to, say, trumpet or flute…which only express melodic lines). Most college-level music programs require all music students to learn some piano (even if they are majoring in another instrument). The piano provides for a more comprehensive understanding of how music works. Many college-level students of other instruments express regret that they did not learn piano as a kid.
Beginning piano requires less finesse than beginning guitar. Fingers simply press keys. (image source: http://photopin.com/)
So, because it is easier to learn (at the beginning stages), and because it is more practical as a learning tool, I recommend very young and beginner students start on piano. There’s always time to add guitar into the mix later. As a child approaches his/her teens, they tend to grow more interested in pop culture. But if they have taken piano while young, they will be better prepared if they decide to dabble in contemporary guitar.
Thank you for the advice !
Thanks for reading and commenting!
You talk a lot about what instrument is best for a child to pick up. What about an adult? Is one necessarily easier than the other to begin playing. As a vocalist, I have a general background in choir & some knowledge of reading sheet music, I’m interested in choosing an instrument to accompany lyrics & melodies I’ve written but first need to learn an instrument. I have both a piano & guitar but am having trouble deciding where to start. Any advice? Thanks!
Great question, Ashley! In many ways, I believe my points apply to adults equally…but the difficulty factor of learning beginning guitar definitely is more acute with young kids. Generally speaking, I still believe piano works best as a beginning instrument because it involves more aspects of learning music (both clefs, harmony structure). But if you are mainly interested in accompanying yourself or others in contemporary style chording, I really don’t think it matters. In some ways, this kind of accompanying actually can be easier on guitar, as there is no need to differentiate keys (black from white), and many of your chord formations work up and down the guitar fretboard without you having to change the shape of your finger position. For contemporary accompanying purposes, I’d be tempted to recommend you actually learn chording techniques on both instruments simultaneously, as I believe learning each instrument will reinforce what you learn on the other…then you can decide after a few months whether one instrument fits your needs more effectively. One (minor?) difference would be that most accompaniment situations on a (real) piano will involve you sitting down (unless you play like Jerry Lee Lewis!)…whereas most performance situations on contemporary guitar involve you standing up (though this normally is not true with classical and jazz guitar). However you proceed, I’m sure you’ll do great!
Ashley, I was in much the same position as you as an adult learner: I took three years of piano as a child but never became really proficient, but I spent a couple decades singing classical choral and other vocal music (at an amateur level) and wanted to learn to accompany myself. I could read music and knew rhythms and some basic theory (e.g. major and minor chords and scales). 18 months ago, at age 39, I bought my first guitar (a Breedlove Passport steel-string acoustic) and started taking lessons (and practicing 30-60 minutes a day). I focused on rhythm guitar (strumming chords, not picking melodies), and by this point, I can sight read and provide adequate accompaniment for typical folk and pop songs and most contemporary hymns, although jazzy arrangements are still quite challenging for me. My sense is that, for someone in my (our?) position, it was much quicker for me to become an adequate accompanist and sight-reader on a guitar than on a piano, largely because on a guitar it sounds okay to just strum chords in tempo whereas on a piano you need to fill in a lot more to sound reasonable (e.g. to the point where you would play in a public church or school setting). Also, you can read the chord names on the staff at a glance, which means it isn’t too hard to read and sing a vocal line too, whereas I think sight-reading and singing simultaneously from a piano score is much more challenging. It helps that, as an adult, I knew what I wanted to get out of the instrument, could focus on technique rather than theory (though I’ve learned a LOT more chord theory via the guitar, from dominant sevenths to flat nines), was mentally prepared for the initial frustration of not being able to play much right away, and could deal with the inevitable blistered fingers during the first month. I was actually shocked at how quickly I could “sound musical” and accompany fun songs.
Wouldn’t it be easier to go from guitar to piano though? I mean, when studying music using guitar, because the notes are not spread out linearly like piano it’s difficult to learn. BUT, because it is not visually spread out like the piano, you’ll pretty much train your ear better and pretty much force yourself to study the complexity. After you get all those, when you move on to piano, it’ll be alot easier to advance as piano player since this time, the keys are all linearly shown, which we just have to follow the pattern to play.
Tell me if I’m misunderstanding something
Interesting point! I’m not sure why the “visual spreading” or “linear” aspects should affect your ear training…or why you should feel forced to “study the complexity”…but it’s definitely worth considering! I think a lot depends on the student’s interest. I’d still maintain that if a student is very young (say, 10 or younger), having to multi-task on beginning guitar (press strings with LH, pick strings with RH) is still tougher than simply pressing piano keys. And (while I think that also can apply to older students), I still believe learning both clefs on piano provides for a more holistic, comprehensive perspective not only on note-reading, but on how music works generally. Ultimately, if learning guitar first helped you, that’s great! (Also see my comment to Ashley below).
I feel it is better to start on piano, then go to guitar. But I’m sure you could go either way.
Man I play the piano and I want to learn the guitar but mom is against it what should I do
I’m afraid I can’t address the issue of your mom’s opposition to your learning guitar. I would contend, however, that she might have a point insofar as learning more than one instrument at a time can detract from your focus on your primary instrument…and possibly also can cut into your mom’s pocketbook! Nevertheless, my general recommendation would be that if anyone is interested in learning more than one instrument, s/he should be allowed to do so…as long as you manage your time wisely. If you just want to learn a few chords on guitar, perhaps to use as accompaniment for singing, it shouldn’t take too much time or effort.
Dear T. H. Gillespie, I’ve been playing piano and keyboard for almost 14 years now and I was keen to learn how to play guitar properly. I know how to strum and some of the basic chords but unlike in piano, I find it really hard to determine the scales and notes in guitar. Any tips and recommendations to actually start learning playing? Thanks 🙂
Dear T. H. Gillespie, I’ve been playing piano and keyboard for almost 14
years now and I was keen to learn how to play guitar properly. I know
how to strum and some of the basic chords but unlike in piano, I find it
really hard to determine the scales and notes in guitar. Any tips and
recommendations to actually start learning how to play properly? Thanks 🙂
Edward, learning individual notes on guitar is not that difficult. The musical alphabet is exactly the same as on piano (A, A#/Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, etc…). You just need to know the notes of the open strings (low E, A, D, G, B, and hi E), then go up each fret and fill in the names of each note. Remember that each fret is a half step (just like moving from one key to the next on piano), and that E to F and B to C are natural half steps (with no need to account for a “black key” in between, as is true with every other pair of letter names; you can see this laid out plainly on a piano, while the guitar has no “black” keys as a visual aid). I’d recommend buying a beginning guitar method book which should get you learning and playing individual notes right away.
I quit the piano as a kid after a few years bc lack of time/interest and a need to focus more o academics (i was just getting started in competitive math and science back then.)
i’ve always had a genuine love for rock music so as a teen, it it too late/ time consuming for me to learn guitar? i still have to keep up with my academic competitions too.
There is no set amount of time that you must set aside in order to learn how to play an instrument. The more you practice, the better you’ll get…more quickly…but you can learn at a reasonable pace (especially the basics) if you devote even as little as 10 minutes or so a day. I usually don’t recommend a set amount of time so much as daily (at least 4-5 days a week) practicing of set amounts (say, a drill or two, and a line or two of music…or even a page or two). This way you’ll be more likely to accomplish specific goals rather than simply “practice” a set amount of minutes. Generally, I’d project that if you set reasonable goals, you’ll end up practicing around 15-30 minutes a day, on average. If you really start to get serious (playing classical repertoire or playing in a rock band), you’ll likely start spending closer to an hour a day (or more) practicing your instrument. Just remember that practice is not always “fun”…so you have to commit to goals and stick to them.
Ok me again… Is 14 too late to learn though? Because I looked up my favorite band members and all of them started young…
Jaco Pastorius, one of the greatest jazz bassists ever, didn’t start seriously learning the bass before he was 16. Of course, he practiced several hours a day…so maybe he’s not a perfect example of what you want to accomplish. Still, I’d say you are never too old to learn an instrument. Different people learn at different rates, but I still say around 30 minutes a day is all you’ll need to become fairly good within 2-3 years. Some of my students learned enough guitar in 2-3 years to play in bands locally…and some of them have gone on to become professional musicians.
I started at 12 and have friends that started at 20 and 25 haha I started teaching my 70 yr old dad guitar lol hes pretty good too its not too late bro
No!! Never too late
No! You can always learn guitar on the side! It’s reasonably quick to learn a few songs and scales and if you take lessons you will be playing amazingly in no time, and if you CANT take lessons there are literally MILLIONS of guitar videos of lessons and articles on playing style! I strongly encourage trying guitar, it’s a great skill to have!
Its never too late! Since you have piano backgrounds, it will be so much easier to learn guitar (trust me). I have 30 min lessons every 2 weeks, so I can keep up with academics and still learn guitar.
Mr. Gillespie. Can you learn music theory on a guitar? Is it a wrong if I learn guitar first and then move to piano?
Though I’m a ‘musical’ person, I don’t have any favorite instument in particular. I’d like to play the digital piano because it has the beautiful piano sound and the strings, which for me is the perfect combination. Also, you can play the rythym with one hand and the melody with the other, while on the guitar it’s either the one or the other.
I am the “quiet and highly intelligent” type of guy so I guess the digital piano would be
perfect for me. But I’m still in college and need to spend the little
money I earn wisely. So I can’t buy the digital piano now.
I bought an inexpensive, plywood, classical guitar (which actually sounds good), a complete guitar course book and also have access to reliable music theory material. Will I do okay with these? I want to become a skilled musician, not a campfire strummer. I wouldn’t mind spending the remaining 4 years of college practicing on a guitar and then, after getting a much better job, buying a high-end digital piano.
Thanks for sharing the message and music! I’ll try to answer your two questions. First, can you learn theory on guitar? Absolutely. I’d say some aspects of music might be easier to learn on piano, and most college-level music programs require some work on piano, but music theory is the same regardless of which instrument you play. Second, can you do okay learning music with a guitar course book and some music theory material? I can’t be sure, because I don’t know your skill level or potential. Some people can learn at amazing rates, even without a private instructor. I’d contend, however, that your best bet would be to take private lessons. Try to find someone who’s not too expensive (say, NOT a college prof or concert pianist, who often charge high rates for lessons) and who can teach theory as well as technique. Since you want to become a skilled musician, I’d say you need to count on taking such lessons for at least a couple of years (maybe more)…and practicing a lot. Most skilled musicians who are professional have taken lessons for at least 5-6 years and have practiced an average of at least 30 minutes a day for all that time.
Lastly, just a response to your comment about melody with chords. Such playing is also done on guitar…but I’d agree that basic forms of it are probably easier to do on piano for beginners. I’d also agree that piano commonly employs melody and chords, while guitar commonly focuses on one of these things at a time.
I feel that actually piano is an easier instrument as it takes two hands that do the same type of thing, where as guitar is also two handed but both hands do very different things. Also, there are many more styles of picking and fretting on guitar where piano is very simple of pushing down keys to make sound. I do recommend guitar more, though, because I feel it actually shows more music theory, like how the notes connect on the fretboard.
I play both instruments, I prefer guitar and I learned guitar first, hope this helped!
Don’t want to read everything — Here’s the point: piano is easier whereas, guitar is harder but I recommend guitar much more than I do piano.
I played guitar hero a lot when I was a kid so it should be easy to learn guitar right