The benefits of learning to play music have been proven time and time again, so why do so many adults and children not take up an instrument? If there’s one reason, especially among adults, it’s because they think it’s too late. Or they think it’s too much of a challenge.
But here’s the thing.
Anyone can make significant progress in learning an instrument, however non-musical they think they are. It’s not good for you, it’s extremely rewarding too. We wrote extensively about the positive effects of music on health already, so in this article, we’re going to help you decide which you should try. Because some are easier than others.
So which is the easiest instrument to learn for adults and children? Let’s take a look.
The Easiest Instrument to Learn for Adults
Before you go out and buy any old instrument, it’s best to consider a few things first.
- First, you need to think about the music you’re into. For example, if you like heavy metal, buying a bassoon is probably not going to meet your tastes or inspire you much.
- You can learn to play some instruments, like bass, guitar, and drums without having to learn to read as much sheet music – but it certainly still helps if you can. On the other hand, taking up piano, flute or violin means being able to read music is a must, which requires some additional learning.
- Consider your musical goals. If you want to bein a band, drummers and bassists are always highly sought after, whereas if you’re going to play solo perhaps a ukulele, guitar or harmonica will suit you more. If you want to play classical, obviously don’t buy a drum kit, go for something that will fit into an ensemble or all abilities orchestra well.
So which is the easiest to pick up for adults?
The ukulele is by some margin one of the easiest. In the last few years, the ukulele has experienced a massive surge in popularity because of this reason. It’s common to find ukulele clubs in local pubs – where anywhere from 3 – 30 people strum along –and it is not uncommon to spot ‘uke’ fanatics at open mic nights. The ukulele is a four-stringed instrument which tends to be strummed using your fingers in a lively, simple style. There are four types of ukulele: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone, but soprano is the one you most commonly see and hear. The soprano is the cheapest, smallest and most high pitched ukulele. Getting yourself a uke teacher, or getting lessons from a friend who already plays, is the best way to fast track your learning. Many guitar teachers also teach it.
If you’re looking for something a little more versatile than a ukulele, and maybe a bit more substantial, a six-string acoustic guitar might be the right instrument for you. The beginning might be slightly more frustrating though; beginner guitar chords tend to require more fingers (and let us not forget that they have two more strings), but it still doesn’t take too long to establish a few basics that are fun to apply. Once you memorize a few chords, there are a ton of easy guitar songs for you to practice. Then, if you wish to take it further than that, you can work on proper guitar technique, music theory such as scales and finally soloing and improvising. If you plan to really put the hours in, it’s worth investing in an ergonomic guitar chair so you can endure longer practice sessions.
Talking of guitars, a lot of people try out the bass guitar with the hope that it will be easier than the guitar. In a way this is true: getting started generally involves using one finger at a time, not three and, of course, there are only four strings. However, the strings on a bass are much thicker, and the frets are wider apart. The bass suits some people, whether it be because they enjoy the sound of the low notes, or the length of the neck (which suits some larger framed bodies and thicker fingers). You’ll know if the bass is right for you as soon as you pick one up.
If bluegrass is your thing, and you’ve always admired people like Earl Scruggs, the banjo might be ideal for you. The most common type of banjo for beginners is the five-string resonator, which is right in between the number of strings on a ukulele and a guitar. Just like with guitar, it is easy to pick up a few simple chords that will let you play accompanist parts on a banjo: C A G E D, Em Am Dm are simple to get to grips with. If you wish to progress to the stage where you are ripping out banjo solos, it will take longer but will be worth it in the long run. It is, however, slightly harder to find a banjo teacher than a teacher of more familiar musical instruments.
Drums and percussion instruments such as the Cajon are fun but can be frustrating at the start. The fact that you need to develop ‘independence’ in your limbs can cause many a cool person to lose their temper, but at least you have the kit to bang and take it out on. Of course, this is a noisy instrument to take up, but a set like the Yamaha DTX430K (possibly the best electronic drum set available at the moment) can be used with headphones or an amp set to a reasonable volume. Once you get started with your basic rock beat: 1 2 3 4 – with the hi-hat on 1, 2, 3 and 4, kick drum on 1 and snare on 3 – you can play along to pretty much all rock songs. It’s the beat you recognize from ‘Billy Jean’ 🙂 After you have that, you can progress at a pace that suits you, knowing that you can at least drum like a rock star, already.
Some people love the bluesy, folky sounds of the harmonica. Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, and even David Bowie have made use of one. But is it easy to pick up? Well actually, yes it is one of the easiest to pick up. The highly portable harmonica is played by both blowing and drawing in breath, and the notes go along in a logical order: from C to D to E to F to G, etc. It’s easy to follow harmonica and getting started requires no previous skills. However, like with all musical instruments, developing a superior technique and level of musicianship will take time, effort and commitment.
So, we’ve covered some of the simplest instruments for adults, but what about kids?
Well, this is an entirely different matter as children tend to have shorter attention spans, smaller digits and are slightly less dexterous, depending on their age – of course, with teenagers, dexterity isn’t so much of an issue. So, ideally, a kid’s first musical instrument needs to be easy to handle and enjoyable to play.
The very worst thing you can do is force your child to study something they don’t enjoy. Not only will this cost you money for nothing, but it’ll also probably put them off for life. To avoid this, make sure your son or daughter is enthusiastic about it before you go buying an expensive instrument or paying for a half years’ worth of music lessons.
You may also want to consider which teachers are available in your area. If you live in a small village, there might not be a drum teacher for miles around, whereas if your children want to learn the piano or guitar, experts are usually more widely available. If you live in a city finding the latter shouldn’t be as difficult.
As well as that, remember that some are louder and more irritating than others. Your kids will probably love messing around on a drum kit, but the neighbors definitely won’t appreciate it! Ukulele or violin, on the other hand, are a little quieter and kind to your ears. With that in mind, most electric drum kits and keyboards can be listened to with headphones, which is a huge bonus.
But, which do we recommend? Here are our top five for kids.
1) Piano and Keyboard
The piano is a piece of art in itself – many people consider it the king of instruments – and is arguably the easiest musical instrument for kids to pick up. The piano or keyboard is a great way to introduce children to music too, mostly thanks to the simple, yet logical layout of the keys. All the notes are easy to visualize with sharps and flats in black and everything else in white. Taking up piano also means your child will learn to read both bass and treble clefs, which is a skill that guitarists, violinists, and flutists, etc often miss out on.
Children find physically playing piano or keyboard reasonably easy too, as there’s no painful finger callusing or awkward stretching that you get when learning guitar and violin. Some keyboards even come with light up keys to help teach kids chords and scales, which is a lesson in itself. With that in mind, keyboards can also provide a variety of effects that children (and adults) love to experiment with, or use to play popular music rather than straight up classical – which is never usually a kid’s first choice.
On a practical level, finding a piano or keyboard teacher won’t be hard, it’s likely that schools will offer lessons after class or during their lunch break. Another bonus here is that you can usually pick up a decent enough beginner keyboard on a budget, and keyboard amps are pretty easy to pick up at a cheap price too. That said, pianos can take up quite a bit of space and are costly, so bear that in mind before you think about getting one.
Most children love drums, not only because they’re a relatively unusual instrument, but because they’re very energetic. Getting kids to use up all that energy productively is often something that parents struggle to deal with, so in that way, drums are perfect for your little one. Of course, a full-size adult drum kit is going to be way too big for younger children; however, there are plenty of well-made kids drum kits out there that still sound pretty good.
Although drums are quite hard to grasp in terms of skill and limb coordination, they’ll allow your child to pick up rhythm and groove exceptionally well. This is also an advantage if your kids ever decide to take up another instrument later on in life. Having drum lessons will mean they develop a fantastic ear for timing and music composition in general. As well as this, finding a drummer is hard work for most bands, so when they’re ready to join a group they’ll be highly sought after.
Just remember, drums are a large piece of kit and can be expensive, as well as loud. But there’s always the option of an electric kit with a headphone jack if you have grumpy neighbors or cherish peace and quiet. Just be aware that drum teachers can be a little harder to find than say guitar or piano experts, so make sure you know there’s someone available nearby before you go buying an entire kit.
Perhaps you have a younger child who wants to play a stringed instrument? If so, a ukulele is a fantastic place for them to start, before progressing on to guitar or bass. Ukuleles have nice, soft nylon strings, so kids usually find it easy to play notes correctly and get a nice tone out of one too. However, ukuleles are not designed for playing classical music, more so for blues, country and popular styles, so make sure your child doesn’t want to do classical grades before buying one.
Having just four strings also makes the ukulele less complex in terms of theory, compared to a guitar. A reduction in strings means scales and chords become simplified, with less confusing ninth and seventh notes coming into the mix. Ukuleles come in a variety of sizes but they’re all relatively small, compared to a guitar or bass, so younger kids won’t feel uncomfortable or have to stretch while playing.
Another bonus here is that ukuleles are pretty cheap in comparison to stringed instruments like violins; even high-quality models cost less than $300. As well as this, they’re relatively quiet and portable, so you’ll have no trouble carrying one to lessons. With that in mind, finding someone to teach your children shouldn’t be a problem either.
There’s a reason the recorder is so prevalent in schools – it’s a fantastic way that young children can learn about rhythm, creative thinking, and music theory. The recorder was made famous by the German composer Carl Orff, who wrote lots of music specially designed for children. He believed the soprano recorder would make a great teaching tool and wasn’t wrong!
The thing that makes recorder so easy is its simplicity; there’s no strings, reeds, or bow needed – all you need to do is blow. The sound itself can then be manipulated easily by little fingers, by placing digits over the holes. So, it’s not likely to get your kids as frustrated when they try and hit a note, compared to say violin or guitar. However, to fully grasp the recorder, plenty of focus is still required, as the breath itself can change the recorder’s overall tone.
Recorders are also small, making them the perfect size for youngsters and are affordable in comparison to something like a drum kit. So, it might worth buying one even if your kid isn’t entirely sure they want to get into music, who knows, after a bit of playing around they might want to start having lessons. On that note, schools usually teach recorder in class so you shouldn’t have an issue finding a teacher either.
Violin is last on the list because unfortunately, it isn’t that easy for children to pick up due to being quite challenging in regards to achieving the correct fingering and tone. But it does make the list because once you get the knack, producing the correct intonation on a violin is a lifetime achievement, which in turn will significantly improve your child’s musical ear.
As well as this, the violin is an excellent way for kids to develop dexterity and finger independence, not to mention theoretical know how. This instrument is played in the treble clef, so after a little practice, your child will be able to read music too. Violins are relatively small and lightweight, so smaller body types should feel comfortable enough playing one and carting it off to lessons.
That said, it’s important to make sure your kid is enthusiastic about classical music, as most violin teachers will play and conduct exams in this musical style. It’s also worth remembering that initially, a beginner violinist will sound very out of tune and even screechy, so be patient when they start practicing and make sure they start out on a suitable violin for beginners.
Whether it’s for you or your child, there isn’t a correct choice when it comes to picking your first instrument; the best advice is to go with the one you like the sound of the most – the rest is sheer determination and patience.
However, if your kid is full of energy and can’t sit still, they’re bound to love bashing some drums, whereas if they’re quite young or small, a ukulele or recorder is a fun, yet cheap alternative that they’ll feel comfortable playing.
The keyboard is very diverse if you have a child that wants to be able to play their favorite songs and a bit of classical from time to time. Why not go all out and bring up the next little Mozart and buy a violin? With the right guidance, it’ll be worth it in the long run.
PS. If none of the instruments on this list float your boat, try something a bit leftfield like a xylophone, a clarinet or bongos.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.