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#3079208 02/06/21 10:24 AM
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I’m a “multi-instrumentalist”, albeit at a pretty beginner level in all of them (haha). I play/learn piano, saxophone, classical guitar and violin. I’m learning each in a “serious” way, meaning I have a qualified teacher for each of them and I follow a recognized method (either RCM and/or Suzuki). Having experienced learning and practicing on all of them regularly, I always think to myself how they are so different. I’ve been doing a lot of comparing and contrasting lately, reflecting on my own personal learning experiences and I find it difficult to say definitively which instrument is the easiest or hardest. They are all difficult in their own ways. Although at the moment, for various reasons, I am “struggling” with 1 or 2 of these instruments more than the others.

New/prospective learners often like to ask on general internet forums (such as Reddit) questions such as:

Which instrument is harder to play/learn - instrument A or instrument B?
Which instrument is the hardest instrument ever?
Which instrument is the hardest to master?
Etc.

I guess the reason for them asking is so they can pick the easiest instrument to learn? I don’t really know. However, I do find that mostly, people on these forums will exclaim that their own instrument is the hardest lol. grin

If you ever go on a violin forum, the consensus is that the violin is the hardest instrument EVER. Likewise, if you go on a classical guitar forum, the consensus is that classical guitar is the hardest. I found sax players don’t care too much about such arguments but maybe that’s their way of acknowledging that sax isn’t really that hard? I don’t know but I find this all fascinating. I wonder what pianists on this forum think about any of this.

Then this morning, while scrolling through YouTube, this video by Robert Estrin pops up in my feed. How timely! And to top it off I agree with everything he said!

Why Practising Piano Is Different From Other Instruments

So what are your experiences with playing multiple instruments?

And don’t get me started on the snootiness level of the different types of instrumentalists. My experience on another forum nearly had my eyes fall out lol. crazy


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I think the difficulty of an instrument depends on what you want to play on it, and how well you want to play it.

Every instrument has music written for it that requires almost superhuman skill.

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I bought a bansuri flute last summer and thought it would be easier than it is. I've been playing some flute and sax before but it's not the same. It's another technique to cover the wholes and on big bansuris it's quite hard. And the blowing is different.
I gave up violin. I thought I could have some use of my guitar playing but that was a wrong conclusion and I didn't want to spend to much time to learn. The violin is decorating a wall instead.
But, I'm thinking of buying an electric cello for long legato melodies instead of using samples.

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I played flute in high school and violin for a brief time in elementary school. It seems like beginning pianists can play things that sound good, albeit simple and/or slow. Flute and violin were very hard to make sound good, violin especially, at the beginning level. It was probably torture for my family.


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Originally Posted by johnstaf
I think the difficulty of an instrument depends on what you want to play on it, and how well you want to play it.

Every instrument has music written for it that requires almost superhuman skill.

This, to me, is the reality in a nutshell. On either the guitar or the piano, one can learn a few chords and bang away to his or her heart's content. A person doing that on either instrument, would say that the instrument is easy to play.

However, to really learn to play an instrument takes time and dedication to consistent practice. It is a discipline and there really is no way around it because this is true with most any instrument. The person doing this would say that this instrument, whichever instrument s/he is really learning to play, is the most difficult to play.

Tony

Last edited by TonyB; 02/06/21 11:33 AM.

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I taught myself different instruments growing up which was as amateurish as you can imagine, and then my first ever lessons were on violin as an adult student, followed by piano which I had self-taught as a child and then returned to 35 years later. Violin, as Mr. Estrin says, is about technical challenges including, just, standing and holding. I'd say there was a back and forth influence between the instruments:

On piano for producing simpler music, if you have some kind of ear and musical sense, you can wing it. If you get the gist of how to produce notes with the left hand, sound with the right hand, you can also wing it on violin for a while, and I did. (I thought I was practising). But the results of poor technique, poor foundations, or these not being taught can have a bad effect physically and much earlier. Neck injuries are also more common since it sits near the neck. I got in trouble after a year - not just discomfort to the point of pain but the whole thing unraveled: couldn't physically reach notes. You will never lose sight of where F# is on a piano - it's that humungous black knobby thing.

When I got a piano again, I was aware of technique & physical motion because of the violin experience. What I had from my childhood self-taught days was poorish: I could not play even moderately fast esp. if it was forte. I knew to look for how I was moving, rather than just "try more and more" because I'd just gone through that with violin.

I'd say that piano presents a trap, because with other instruments you have to work to be able to produce a sound and you get aware of your physical actions. A note on piano is instant, a thing a baby or a cat can produce, so you may be unaware of how you move. Later when you progress to more difficult music, or want to bring out a set of notes from the whole, whatever playing habits you formed can trap you. You can move badly, sit in weird positions, and still produce simple music.

Students who already play other instruments can be especially caught out by that. "Oh, you play trumpet. Of course your hands will know how to produce sound that you've been doing with lip buzz and breath." - a teacher doesn't think that, nor the student, but that's what's actually going on.

I also found some positive cross-pollination. Remediating the collapsed violin playing has been sporadic, while piano has been ongoing. Having a supportive body balance counts for both - in fact, for winds you need to support your breath. Relaxed responsive wrists, fingers that move loosely, you're in 3-D space, movement within circles and elipses. Both my piano teacher and the violin teacher I was following said the same thing. "Nothing should be locked. Everything should be free to move everywhere at least a little bit."

There are obvious differences. In piano, each hand and each finger is responsible for two tasks:
- the right note
- volume, articulation, shaping of the quality of sound from note to note (crescendo etc.)
In violin, your LH gets the right note and can only shape sound somewhat via vibrato or degree of dullness (fleshy part of finger); the RH does volume, articulation, and everything else. On wind instruments, shaping happens via breath.

The notes part: I think I found polyphonic music on piano easier because I was hearing individual voices, but singing three or four of them at once. The multiple notes, chords, and also rhythm , those are particular challenges to piano, as Mr. Estrin pointed out.

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Originally Posted by WeakLeftHand
I’m a “multi-instrumentalist”, albeit at a pretty beginner level in all of them (haha). I play/learn piano, saxophone, classical guitar and violin. I’m learning each in a “serious” way, meaning I have a qualified teacher for each of them and I follow a recognized method (either RCM and/or Suzuki). Having experienced learning and practicing on all of them regularly, I always think to myself how they are so different. I’ve been doing a lot of comparing and contrasting lately, reflecting on my own personal learning experiences and I find it difficult to say definitively which instrument is the easiest or hardest. They are all difficult in their own ways. Although at the moment, for various reasons, I am “struggling” with 1 or 2 of these instruments more than the others.

New/prospective learners often like to ask on general internet forums (such as Reddit) questions such as:

Which instrument is harder to play/learn - instrument A or instrument B?
Which instrument is the hardest instrument ever?
Which instrument is the hardest to master?
Etc.

I guess the reason for them asking is so they can pick the easiest instrument to learn? I don’t really know. However, I do find that mostly, people on these forums will exclaim that their own instrument is the hardest lol. grin

If you ever go on a violin forum, the consensus is that the violin is the hardest instrument EVER. Likewise, if you go on a classical guitar forum, the consensus is that classical guitar is the hardest. I found sax players don’t care too much about such arguments but maybe that’s their way of acknowledging that sax isn’t really that hard? I don’t know but I find this all fascinating. I wonder what pianists on this forum think about any of this.

Then this morning, while scrolling through YouTube, this video by Robert Estrin pops up in my feed. How timely! And to top it off I agree with everything he said!

Why Practising Piano Is Different From Other Instruments

So what are your experiences with playing multiple instruments?

And don’t get me started on the snootiness level of the different types of instrumentalists. My experience on another forum nearly had my eyes fall out lol. crazy

Watching the video, the guy discusses how the piano is different in practice because the individual lines can be brought out dynamically separately. However, this is also true of the classical guitar. Individual and independent finger control is very important in classical guitar to make the music come alive, and anyone advanced enough with classical guitar will spend quite a bit of time on this aspect of playing. I found it interesting that the guy in the video never mentioned the guitar, which is probably the instrument most like the piano in terms of the skills required to REALLY play it well.

A drummer who plays a full drum set will also need to work on the dynamics of bringing out one drum over another.

Tony

Last edited by TonyB; 02/06/21 11:47 AM.

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Originally Posted by johnstaf
I think the difficulty of an instrument depends on what you want to play on it, and how well you want to play it.

Every instrument has music written for it that requires almost superhuman skill.

I agree with johnstaf as well.

Maybe narrowing the the idea down to something more specific like "Which instruments are considered the easiest for a beginner to pick up and reach a reasonable degree of proficiency?" would yield more agreement.


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Originally Posted by Schwa
Maybe narrowing the the idea down to something more specific like "Which instruments are considered the easiest for a beginner to pick up and reach a reasonable degree of proficiency?" would yield more agreement.
There is a concrete answer: recorder, melodica and alto saxophone. Guitar and violin are insanely difficult instruments; but for someone who already plays the violin it is relatively easy to start playing the guitar.
Just for information: in my life I have played the violin, viola, piano and keyboards, domra, melodica, recorder, ocarina, clarinet, alto saxophone; in the army band sometimes have played cornet, trombone, althorn, double bass pizzicato.

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I played the trumpet in high school. Still remember the fingering, but getting a good sound out of it 30+ years later especially in the high register? Forget it! LOL My wife plays flute and has tried to play the piano several times throughout the years. She always says I don't know how you can have the left hand play different stuff then the right hand smile I always say on the really hard stuff it takes me quite a while at times. Most intermediate stuff is not problem. I wish I could play the flute like she can. I love they way she makes it sing. See, most of us dream about playing another instrument it seems.


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Well, as a former violinist, my opinion is that the violin is, without a doubt, the hardest instrument to coax a good sound from. 😂😂😂. Seriously, it takes years to get a good tone.


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Originally Posted by Nahum
Just for information: in my life I have played the violin, viola, piano and keyboards, domra, melodica, recorder, ocarina, clarinet, alto saxophone; in the army band sometimes have played cornet, trombone, althorn, double bass pizzicato.

What? No jazz flute? Stop being so lazy, Nahum.


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I’ve heard that oboe is difficult

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I play piano and violin but I can’t say which is harder taking everything into account.

Both have their difficulties and their easier aspects.

I originally took up violin because my right hand just wouldn’t work properly for classical guitar (maybe I could have overcome that with persistence.) Bowing is easier than fingerpicking for me.

Being motivated is the key to progress and enjoyment- without that you’re pushing a boulder uphill everyday.

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Any instrument is just as easy or hard as what you're going to play on it.

Having said that, some instruments are easier to become adequate at for certain styles of music. I had only been learning electric bass for about four months before I started playing in bands, but even simple sounding rock keyboard parts can still be the equivalent of at least a few years of lessons and practice.

Also, some instruments certainly have bigger fundamental technical challenges than others. As a sax player, I can tell you that single reed instruments are quite a bit easier to play than double-reed instruments (e.g., oboe, as Wayne mentioned). Bowed string instruments can be hard to get a good tone out of until after a great deal of practice: I'd rather hear a total beginner play "Twinkle, Twinkle" on piano than upright bass ...

But the real answer, is, of course: piano. laugh


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As a lot of people here have pointed out, all instruments are difficult on advanced levels. A lot of people asking which instruments is harder is probably more referring to accessibility - which instrument is easiest to get started with? The piano is fairly accessible, you have the keys laid out before you and all you have to do is press them to produce the desired note, you could learn simplified versions of your favorite pieces/songs quickly. However, few people would look at the playing of a great professional piano player and think "that looks easy", because it is not and for many it has taken years/decades of rigorous practice to reach that level. Violin is a lot less accessible, it can take a lot of practice to even manage making a not-terrible sound, which can be discouraging for a new player who just wants to casually learn an instrument as a hobby, but I wouldn't assume a professional violinist spends more time practicing than a professional pianist on the same level.

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johnstaf +1

But the difficulties are different on other instruments .

I can say something about violin/viola because I played that.

On violin the reading of notes is generally easier, just 1 staff and 1 melody line. Here the difficulties are different than on piano. Piaying the correct pitch; or even slightly different pitch depending on the chord you or others are playing to make a really perfect chord instead of the fixed pitches of the piano; REALLY phrasing each note through its entire duration (and not just the initial attack of each note as on the piano), vibrato, etc. And that all in a pretty uncomfortable, contorted posture. 'relax' is the adagio here as well. But the problem spots that need relaxation differ from piano

The advanced repertoire goes into double notes and beyond. So all of the above, but for multiple notes. Glissandi (real ones, not fast scales like on the piano) with double notes. Each possibly with different articulations, left hand plucking part of the notes while the right hand needs to bow other notes. etc etc. In short, just as challenging as piano but in a different way

Remember that Liszt was highly inspired by the violinist Paganini

Last edited by wouter79; 02/07/21 09:12 AM.

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I started with a recorder which is an easy "woodwind" instrument. After that moved onto a violin which requires good ears. Unlike guitar with frets, putting your fingers slightly off would be out of tune. Just carrying the instrument home from school in winter would cause the strings to be out (moving between warm & cold). Otherwise the touch of each finger is not important. The L press the notes and the R move the bow.

The first 3 1/2 years I was playing single notes on a violin like a flute or trumpet. And I was introduced to double stops (2 note intervals) and broken chords involving 3 or 4 notes by playing them like an arpeggio.

I didn't get into piano playing until 3 decades later. Started with beginner pieces with single notes alternating between L & R, then chords & overlapping melodies such as Bach 2-part Inventions to a 4-part fugue and everything in between. In my younger days I considered the L & R coordination to be too difficult to master. Tuning a piano you blame it on a technician and a digital keyboard is never out of tune.

I was invited for dinner on Christmas. The teenage son in the family played the Bourrée from the Bach violin Partita #3 for us. He played all the right notes (fingers in the right places) and the counting wasn't too bad. There was only 1 problem I can relate to from my school days. The young man took the violin out of the case and started playing. The strings sounded slightly out of tune. Today people carry electronic metronome + tuner around so I assumed he wouldn't start until he spent a minute to make sure all 4 strings were in tune. In my school days not a single student did their own tuning. In the beginning of each class we'd hand our instruments to the teacher and he did all the tuning. I assumed a lot of students don't even know how to tune. A student would get an instrument tuned by the teacher and has to wait for the next lesson before it is tuned again.

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Your experience with string instruments was not mine in regards to tuning— at a young age, I was taught how to tune and it was forevermore my responsibility— at school, home and lessons.


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I played horn for middle/high school band. It was always harder for me, although it only uses one hand lol. (To me I feel like piano is more complex due to the two hand coordination.) I suspect part of that is I had been playing piano for ~4 years already when I started it so I was always ahead on piano. However, looking back I had some skills on horn that I don’t have on piano. I memorized all my music for marching band yet the idea of memorizing a piano piece seems difficult to me. (I used intervals, didn’t fully memorize.)

I always liked piano more, I think because I had more choice over what to play. But it would be fun to play in a group again, I think, and that’s probably easier with horn!

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