What Instrument Should I Learn?

Do you want to learn a musical instrument? Good life decision, you won’t regret it. But before you dive into learning one, take a moment to consider which one because there’s more to music than guitars and pianos.

Here’s a fun way to help you work out which instrument would really work for you.

WhatInstrumentShouldILearn_InfoGrap

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We’ll now look at each instrument from the infographic and discuss the pros and cons (in no particular order).

What Instrument Should I Play?

Violin

The violin is arguably one of the most versatile and beautiful-sounding instruments you can play; however, it can take years to master.

For this reason, only younger children (from as young as 5 years) or older folks with plenty of patience should embark on learning it. 

Of course, the violin is not impossible to grasp (but some music lessons might not be a bad idea). Start by understanding the fundamental concepts surrounding finger placement, correct posture, and bowing technique, and learn some beginner violin songs.

With beginners, the off-putting part is that the fretless fingerboard and playing style make it hard to get in tune initially, but with regular practice, you could become the next musical prodigy.

A huge bonus here is that your instrument is portable, and you’ll learn how to read music, so with time, you become an expert in theory, too. Ultimately, the violin will open you up to the realms of classical, jazz, and folk music, as well as progressive rock.

To hear just how beautiful this instrument can sound, check out our list of the best violin concertos of all time.

Recommended: See our entire collection of violin articles.

Recorder

Perhaps you have a child who is a little impatient, or maybe you’re an adult who doesn’t have quite as much time to practice. If so, the recorder is going to be a great instrument to learn. In particular, the playing technique is quick to grasp and the design is easy for little fingers to handle, making it a fun learning tool for children between 0-5 years old.

A child will likely find one of these captivating from the outset as you simply blow into the mouthpiece to get a sound… Just remember to prepare for many loud, shrill notes blasting out initially!

But don’t get us wrong, these instruments are still capable of being used on a professional level, in fact, Vivaldi frequently had recorders playing technical solos in his concertos. Overall, the recorder makes a great choice for anyone wanting to instantly produce a tune, without spending hours practicing fundamental concepts. With a little effort, you’ll also be able to play in group ensembles and to apply your technique to progress onto saxophone and flute too.

Double Bass

You may think that a massive double bass is not a great instrument for kids to learn on, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

For children as young as five, you can get a 1/4-size student model. For those a little older a ½ size is the best option. On the other hand, adults will need a full-size musical instrument.

In terms of sound, double bass produces a very specific, low, booming tone, so make sure your child feels inspired by this and also classical/ jazz music, rather than wanting one for its novel aesthetic.

When it comes to playability, the fretless fingerboard will take some extra practice to master, so will suit folks with plenty of passion and time to spare learning to read bass clef. You also need to make sure you can transport and store your double bass both at home and in the car, so check you’ve got the space before buying one!

Guitar

This is probably the most popular choice among new learners, thanks to its versatility (especially the electric guitar). Whether you like rock music, classical, blues, or folk, you can’t go wrong with a guitar.

One thing to consider, however, is the type of music you’re looking to play before taking music lessons, this way you can focus your interests in the right direction.

For example, some of you may want to learn your favorite AC/DC tunes and churn out rockin’ solos, whereas others would prefer to play classical and read sheet music. If you go for the wrong teacher, you’ll be left feeling uninspired!

There are many guitar sizes available, so make sure you choose carefully and match the size and shape to the style of music you want to play, as well as your physical attributes. Full-sized acoustic guitars are most practical for adults, whereas student-sized versions are more comfortable when used by teenagers.

Very young children may find an acoustic is a bit of a stretch, and the strings are hard to press down, so it is often better to start them off on a short-scale guitar.

So long as you’re prepared to endure the sore fingers you get before your fingertip calluses are formed (that comes with pressing down the strings and making chord shapes), the guitar is a superb choice for people wanting to start a band or play solo classical pieces. Don’t forget bass guitars, too. They’re a fantastic option.

Further reading:

Mandolin

The mandolin (literal meaning ‘small mandola’) is a stringed instrument from the lute family that is picked with a plectrum. While it looks like it has four strings, on closer inspection, there are actually eight strings (four courses of doubled strings that are tuned in unison). You sometimes find 10-string and even 12-string mandolins, although they are much rarer.

Each course of strings is tuned in a succession of perfect fifths, with the same tuning as the violin (G, D, A, E). The tuning makes playing open mandolin chords much easier, as they can easily be moved across the strings.

There are many styles of mandolin too, including the Neapolitan or round-backed mandolin, the archtop mandolin, and the flat-backed mandolin commonly used in Irish, British, and Brazilian folk music.

Piano / Keyboards

The piano is a hugely versatile instrument. You can use it in tons of different styles of music, whether that be blues, classical, jazz or pop.

The layout of the piano’s keys is helpful too, especially when it comes to music theory (the black and white keys are easy to visualize and logically laid out). Thanks to this, the barrier to entry is much lower than other instruments and there are a ton of easy piano songs that you’ll be able to play without too much effort.

However, like any instrument, to get really good requires loads of practice and a lot of determination. 

‘Real’ pianos (aka grand pianos or the upright kind) are not cheap and take up a lot of space, not to mention removal and tuning costs. However, there are plenty of decent digital pianos to get you started.

There are even dozens of health benefits associated with the piano, such as improved hand eye coordination, thanks to the reading of the bass and treble clef in tandem.

Organ

You may think that the organ is pretty much a louder, more powerful version of a piano, but this isn’t exactly true. The main difference is that the organ is a wind instrument that uses bellows to pump air into pipes. In contrast, the piano is a percussion instrument that uses strings to produce a sound (for more on this, see what family the piano belongs to.)

Organs often have keys on different levels, stop buttons to control which pipe produces sound, and a pedalboard for tonal versatility.

Of course, the sheer size of these instruments creates a bit of a problem, as most people don’t have space or money to get one in the house. For this reason, organs are usually played in churches, so are convenient if you have one nearby.

In terms of learning how to play the organ, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do so without getting taught, so you’ll need to take lessons if you’re looking to really get stuck in.

Overall, their complexity makes the organ a better option for older children or adults who are patient and enthusiastic about orchestral music. That said, you could always buy a digital organ to use in the house.

French Horn

Perhaps you’re after a super loud instrument to get you noticed! If so, not many are as powerful sounding as the French Horn.

These wind instruments are designed to fill out sections of classical or big-band music, guaranteeing you stand out in a crowd. Interestingly, they also have several health benefits, as they give your lungs a workout and strengthen your core stomach muscles.

The downside is that due to the force required to sustain notes, the French horn is not really suitable for children younger than 13. You’ll also need to be fairly enthusiastic about classical music and prepared to spend plenty of time getting your technique correct.

Because the margin for error is so slight when it comes to playing in tune, and the constant physical effort of blowing is tiring, unfortunately, many impatient beginners are easily put off. If you keep at it, however, you’ll be playing in an orchestra or marching parade sooner than you think!

Tuba

The tuba is the lowest-sounding wind instrument in the brass family and is often heard in orchestras, brass bands, and occasionally jazz. For this reason, you’ll need to be passionate about these styles of music.

The tuba is also the largest of all brass instruments and requires the most air from your breath. For this reason, young children will usually struggle to hold and play one, so they are best suited to folks who are older than 13.

Although the tuba requires a higher lung capacity than a trumpet, they are usually easier to get a note out of initially, as the embrasure required isn’t quite as precise in comparison.

Overall, this is a great option for anyone interested in playing classical or big-band styles of music on a relatively straightforward instrument.

Bassoon

Maybe you’re fascinated by obscure prog rock or classical music like Grieg’s famous ‘Hall of the Mountain King’? If so, the unique bassoon tone may make it the wind instrument for you.

Ensure you’ve got the time to commit properly, as this one is notoriously tricky to grasp initially, and you’ll need to get your noggin around reading treble and bass clef. Both adults and children can learn, however. Kids under 12 should opt for a mini bassoon to make their fingering and posture more comfortable.

Having lessons here is also a must, as an incorrect technique is hard to self-diagnose and more down to your breathing and embrasure. You should also be aware that even beginner bassoons cost a lot to buy outright, so you should ask around your local community to see if they can borrow or rent one to save some cash.

Ultimately, the bassoon is best suited to people who want a truly unique sound and are committed to regular practice.

Cello

The cello is a large stringed instrument, played with a bow or plucked with fingers to produce rich notes, an octave lower than the viola.

They are highly sought after in orchestras and can be heard in pop and rock songs occasionally too. For this reason, they suit folks who have a love of classical music and plenty of enthusiasm for sight-reading. That said, anyone wanting to play both rhythm and solo pieces will get on with one, as these instruments are used in the bass, tenor, and treble clef, making them very diverse.

The best age to learn cello is around 6-7, as children absorb learning material faster than adults. Just remember, they’ll need to get a ¼ size model so that it’s not a stretch on their hands. Kids younger than this tend to find finger placement a bit of a challenge, whereas, with plenty of practice, adults can learn on a full-size version, too.

Cellos are fairly large, so make sure you’ve got the space and the muscles to carry one before you buy!

Oboe

Oboes are most often heard in classical music. However, they are also used in ensembles and jazz styles. These woodwind instruments produce a distinct, bright tone from a double-reed that vibrates when you blow into the mouthpiece.

Oboes are usually played in the treble or soprano range and work in solo and rhythm music sections. Of course, you’ll need to be willing to learn how to read music and will need to practice regularly to get the reed and complex fingering techniques correct. This requires quite a lot of time and patience, so only suits those that have the dedication and are up for a tough challenge.

Another thing to consider is that the oboe and its reed require constant care to keep a good tone, so folks who are very attentive and responsible would do well by choosing this.

Ukulele

Along with the piano or keyboard, the ukulele (or ‘uke’ as commonly called) is one of the easiest instruments to learn. It’s delightfully simple too, with just four strings. Thanks to its tiny body and neck, it’s great for people with small hands (and obviously, children), and the soft nylon strings are gentle on fingers. 

There are a few types of ukulele available, from soprano to baritone, but the most popular is the soprano size. 

It’s very easy to get up and running with too. After you’ve learned a few basic ukulele chords there are literally hundreds of beginner ukulele songs you’ll be able to play.

For inspiration, check out some of the superb ukulele players who are relatively unknown outside uke circles.

Recommended: Our collection of ukulele articles.

Drums

If you have tons of energy and more into your rock than classical music, a drum kit is a great choice (just remember, there are many types of drums to choose from aside from a drum set – for example, the conga, bongo, or djembe).

There’s no real perfect age to learn to play, however, very young kids will be best starting on a junior rather than a full-size kit. Energetic children will find playing especially beneficial and often develop well enough to play in school musicals and professional bands. However, all this energy must be balanced with precision and patience, as mastering limb independence and stick technique takes a lot of focus and practice.

You’ll also need the space to assemble the kit or a nice and compact drum kit. Neighbors who are tolerant of you bashing away at your drums will be handy too, though there are ways to quieten a drum kit.

Recommended: Our collection of drum and percussion articles.

Banjo

If you’re a fan of country music, folk, blues-grass, or Dixieland jazz the banjo is not going to disappoint you. While it doesn’t apply to classical styles too well, the banjo offers a good balance between traditional and contemporary music, so is a great option for anyone wanting a unique sounding, yet diverse stringed instrument.

It’s best to start learning the banjo from a young age such as 6 or 7, however with plenty of practice adults tend to find it’s an easy instrument to learn. Younger kids may find the strings a little tough on their fingers and the fretboard a bit of a stretch, so maybe better off trying out a ukulele.

After getting used to the fundamentals of handling a banjo, some of the traditional clawhammer and frail techniques can be quite tricky to learn, so you’ll need to be committed and persistent enough to keep trying if you want to become the next Alan Munde!

Recommended: Our collection of banjo articles.

Trumpet

Perhaps you’re a huge fan of jazz, classical, or brass-band music? If so, you’re likely to fall in love with the trumpet. This musical instrument is so loud it’s guaranteed to get you noticed, plus it doesn’t need a reed to produce a sound, so requires a little less maintenance than say, an oboe.

Older children and adults are best starting with a trumpet, as they require a fair amount of breath to sustain a note for a decent amount of time. You’ll also need to be willing to spend time perfecting your fingering techniques before being able to play melodies properly.

This is because the trumpet only has three finger pads, which are required to produce full scales by pressing them in different patterns. Because they are relatively difficult to play, trumpets are a great choice for determined individuals who want to capture the audience’s attention whilst booming out loud melodies.

Flute

As well as producing a beautiful, distinct sound, the flute is one of the most diverse woodwind instruments in terms of how you can apply it. Of course, most people will associate it with classical, but anyone who loves folk, jazz, funk, and even prog-rock will most likely love it too. Just remember, the flute is more of a solo, melody-driven instrument, so it will suit those who want to be noticed in a more elegant way than, say, the trumpet.

Of course, getting the right embouchure can take quite a bit of practice, so you’ll need to ensure you’ve got the patience to put up with some trial and error for a month or two before getting the basics in place.

Overall, the flute is great for younger kids and adults alike, as basic fingerings aren’t too tricky to master.

Saxophone

The first thing that comes to mind when we hear the word ‘Saxophone’ has to be those smooth, blues or jazz solos, so it’s easy to see why these instruments are going to inspire any fans of John Coltrane.

The really great thing about saxophone is the sheer number of different types available. This is advantageous as it allows folks of different builds to play the most comfortable size, without being squashed onto a small soprano model or stretched to reach the finger pads on a large baritone.

In terms of personality, the saxophone will suit any cool cats out there wishing to express their heart and soul through sound. With that in mind, it’s also great for beginners, thanks to the simple fingering positions and its ability to produce a note without too much embouchure practice. For this reason, it makes a great choice for anyone 7 years of age or older.

Clarinet

Perhaps you have a younger child keen to play a musical instrument without taking on a huge challenge? If so, the clarinet is one of the best and most affordable choices for complete beginners.

Because of its size, easy-to-grasp fingering technique, and ability to play a note without much practice, the clarinet is one of the most popular choices for children ages 5 and over. It’s also a great starting point for younger folks who want to progress onto saxophone or flute, as the playing style is similar among all three.

In terms of sound, the clarinet produces notes that are warm and full, but not quite as raspy as those of a saxophone. So, the instrument works really well when used in classical and jazz genres of music. One huge bonus here is that clarinet lessons are also widely available in most schools, so you’ll not have to look too hard to find a good teacher.

Lute

Maybe you’re a bit of a musical expert and have fallen in love with tranquil Renaissance and baroque-era pieces.

If that’s the case, the lute might be an inspired choice, even more so if you’re already familiar with the acoustic guitar. This is advantageous as you can apply the left-hand fingering technique and right-hand picking style. Plus, you’ll get away with reading tablatures instead of staff notation, which may be a huge relief to some.

For young children, the lute can be a little fiddly to grasp. This is mainly because the strings run in courses (two sets of strings played simultaneously). Some baroque lutes have as many as 24 strings, so, as you can imagine, they are a lot to take in initially.

You will need to take lessons to play the lute well, so make sure there is a good teacher in your area before buying one.

Harpsichord

Like the lute, the harpsichord was widely used throughout the Renaissance and Baroque music eras, so it is going to suit those with a natural enthusiasm for these styles of music.

If, however, you’re not familiar already, the harpsichord is actually more like an organ than a piano or keyboard, often having an extra row of keys and buttons to swap through octaves.

For this reason, even experienced pianists would best opt for lessons with a good teacher. This can be problematic due to the scarcity of the instrument and experts, so make sure to ask your local music shops for any contacts they might have.

Another issue is, of course, purchasing a harpsichord, which will be extremely expensive. Iif you are lucky enough to have a friend willing to share or a local music school with one, by all means, go for it!

With enough practice, you’ll be able to read both bass and treble clef, which is a skilled job in itself.

Harp

The harp is one of the oldest instruments and dates back to at least as early as 3500 BC.

Due to its size and cost (they don’t come cheap), harp players are a rare breed, but if you’re up for the challenge (and have space and money to spare), it’s a brilliant instrument to learn. Surprisingly, unlike wind and bowed string instruments, the harp sounds great from day one and is relatively easy to play simple pieces after only a few lessons.

However, to play to a high standard, the harp is a notoriously difficult instrument.

Hurdy Gurdy

If you want to go really obscure, the hurdy-gurdy is worth considering. This historical instrument (going back as far as the 13th century) is a mechanical fiddle that works by rotating a wheel (via a handle) along strings to make the sound. The humming drone sounds it creates are not dissimilar to a bagpipe.

They’re notoriously hard to get hold of, but if you look hard you can still find a decent hurdy gurdy for sale.

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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