By Jonathan Duffy, Arctic Meta
In the vast world of musical instruments, many are chosen by prospective students on their path to melodic success. The first instruments we ever play will always have a lasting impact on us; sometimes it leads to big things, sometimes it is just something fun.
Most millennials can probably remember playing the recorder in elementary school, then mastering ‘mary had a little lamb’ and thinking, ‘I’ve succeeded at the recorder, now what next?’
Two instruments, in particular, seem to be the most frequent choices for those who want to gain some musical training. They are incredibly different but also quite complimentary.
The two instruments I’m referring to are the guitar and the piano.
Both the guitar and piano are great instruments to start out on. They provide musical education and enough individual satisfaction to keep a student wanting to learn more, but the question that has plagued students, parents and teachers alike is: Which one is easier to learn?
Well, the answer to that isn’t the most simple in the world, so let’s unpack it a bit to see what we find out.
Comparing Pianos and Guitars
You might think that comparing learning the piano to learning the guitar is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, and you would be both right and wrong there.
Interesting fact: the guitar is actually much older than the piano. In the evolution of musical instruments, ancestors of the modern guitar can be found back thousands of years.
The piano, on the other hand, was sort of the final evolution of the harp.
The piano and the guitar are both commonly used as the first introduction to musical education, but the kind of education a student receives is quite different for both.
To make it easier to compare them, we’ve pitted each instrument against each other in a few simple categories below.
Easiest For Learning Songs
When looking at how easy each instrument is for learning songs, it’s good to define what exactly that means. For the purposes of this blog, we are saying that learning a song basically means learning how to play the chords of that song on the guitar or piano. To learn the chords and their arrangement well enough that you could actually sing along as you play.
It’s much easier to learn a song for the guitar than to learn it for the piano. This is because most students can pick up the strumming patterns and formations of chords on guitar pretty quickly.
So, in theory, it’s entirely possible to pick up a simple strumming pattern and learn a couple of chords in a few hours and be able to play a song with all of them by the end of a day.
Because of the way guitar chords are formed, it’s also much easier to make sure you’re playing the right notes. Generally, when you have your fingers in the right place on a guitar chord, only the right notes will be able to make a sound.
On the other hand, you have the entire keyboard available to you when you play the piano.
When you learn the piano, you can still cover some basic chords quickly, but normally it’s best to start with some basic music theory first.
If you skip this step, it will be much harder to be able to improvise and have fun later. There’s also the addition of a second hand to play bass notes or even tap some of those high notes nobody could ever sing (except maybe Ariana Grande).
The piano does win this one because its layout is pretty straightforward.
A piano basically has a series of white and black keys that stick to the same pattern. The playable notes on a piano are broken into small groups called octaves. Each octave has 7 white notes and 5 black notes. The lower keys are on the left, the higher keys are on the right.
The layout of a guitar is a little bit more complex. Most guitars only have 6 strings, and on each of those strings is a little sectioned part of the guitar neck known as the fret.
When you pick a particular string and place a finger on a certain fret, you will change the string’s pitch. When a guitar is horizontal in the playing position, the top strings are lower, and the bottom strings are higher. Unfortunately, this is about as linear as guitar playing gets.
It might be easier to go from nothing to playing a whole song on guitar because you just need to learn the placement of the fingers to make the chords, but because of the guitar’s layout, it’s unlikely you will know the individual notes you are playing to make that chord.
So as said before, learning a song is easier on guitar, but it’s much easier to develop the principles of music theory on a piano.
Easiest Techniques For Beginners
When you start learning to play an instrument, there’s the time when you are an absolute or early beginner (the first month or two), then there’s the intermediate stage. The experience is always different when you compare a beginner learner to an intermediate one.
For the early-beginner stage, the guitar is a bit trickier. The reason for this is mainly physical. You need to press hard enough on each string when forming a chord; otherwise, the sound won’t be clear.
The pressure required to do this can be uncomfortable and make the fingers a bit tender until you form calluses.
There’s also extra coordination needed because one hand is forming the chords while the other is plucking or maintaining a strumming pattern.
It’s a bit like that old ‘pat your head while rubbing your tummy’ exercise.
Easiest Techniques for Intermediates
Once you have gotten to an intermediate stage, it’s difficult to say if the guitar or the piano is easier to learn. Both have their unique set of challenges.
With the guitar, there’s more variation that comes from the strumming pattern or picking. It can be a bit more difficult to achieve the exact sound you want. There’s less gravity helping you press on the notes (strings), so you need to use a lot more of your own strength.
Then there are Barre Chords. These are very common chords that involve the index finger putting equal pressure on all of the strings, with the rest of your fingers forming the chord. This can take a really long time to master, and if you’ve never experienced a hand cramp, you will after attempting one.
With the piano, you have a massive surface area to cover.
The average piano is about 150cm (5ft) wide, and many musicians who compose for piano love to show how well acquainted they are with all of the keys. This means for a piano student, sometimes you have to cover a huge amount of musical space in a fraction of a second.
The other major challenge on a piano is that you have both of your hands playing notes independently. So in a way, this one is less like the ‘patting your head while rubbing your tummy’ exercise and a bit more like ‘texting your boss while doing your tax return.’
Easiest For Children
Kids might be more drawn to learning the guitar because they think it’s cooler or they want to be like the lead characters of their favourite TV shows (pretty sure the era of the Jonas Brothers made guitar sales soar in the mid 2000s); however, it’s not the most comfortable instrument for small learners.
As mentioned earlier, in the early stages of learning guitar, you can only play for so long before your fingers hurt too much. It takes time for the fingertips to become tougher and less sensitive. This can understandably not be very enjoyable for a child who, for a good reason, should think pain and discomfort are bad.
There’s also another challenge in the coordination required to play the guitar. In the early stages of learning, a child will still need to be able to form chords with one hand while strumming with the other. They have to be able to do this to make any sound come out or make any progress.
For all of these reasons, it’s generally agreed that it’s much easier for a young child to learn the piano.
They don’t experience pain in their fingers, and they can usually start to form melodies with just one hand.
Easiest to Self-Teach
It is by far much easier to self-teach on guitar than it is to self-teach on piano.
The main reason for this is that the music theory level required to start playing the guitar is much less than playing the piano.
In fact, many talented guitar players can’t really read music and simply play by ear (this can also be true about piano, but it’s more common on guitar).
All you need to start playing the guitar is a few chords and some basic strumming patterns. There’s also a lot that guitar players pick up by just playing around.
Easiest to Enjoy & Play With Others
The guitar and the piano are both great for sharing music with other people, but one of them is the clear winner in this category, and it’s simply because of portability.
The guitar is a very portable instrument. An acoustic guitar doesn’t need any amplification. It can be popped in a case to take with you just about anywhere.
It’s a bit hard to pack for a trip to a summer house by the lake and fit the piano in the car’s boot for a family sing-along by the fire.
Easier to Maintain
Anyone who has ever owned a piano is probably going to guess the answer to this one. Pianos are amazing instruments; if you have the space for one in your home, it can easily become the centrepiece for some incredible family moments.
Many people have heirloom pianos passed down through generations. They quickly become the heart of a home, but they are costly to maintain.
Pianos hold massive amounts of tension in their strings, and they may be large, but they’re pretty delicate when you think about it.
Generally speaking, whenever you place a piano somewhere, that’s where it should stay unless you want to pay to have it tuned.
Guitars, on the other hand, can be tuned by the player. Their strings aren’t very expensive, and you don’t need them to be installed by a professional.
You can find both guitars and pianos in almost every price range imaginable, but generally speaking, if you are wanting to buy an instrument to just get started with, a guitar is more affordable.
That being said, if you can’t afford a full piano, there are plenty of keyboards on the market that have weighted keys and sound almost identical to the real thing.
Which is Easier to Learn: Piano or Guitar?
So, after all the things we’ve considered, which one is the easiest to learn?
Drum roll please…
Overall, the guitar is easier to learn than the piano.
If you consider the layout, learning songs, the ability to self-teach and a few other things, it is an easier instrument.
However, it’s the easiest on average for everyone. This means for people of all ages.
If you have a very young child, they will most likely find the piano much easier to learn because it’s simpler in the beginning and gives quicker instant gratification.
What Are the Technical Differences Between Learning Guitar and Piano?
Although many feel it takes longer to master, the piano is a bit easier to actually play. If we look at the technical differences, the theory that goes into mastering both is quite different.
The structure of a piano is quite logical, as is the sheet music.
Learning the piano will also give a student a bigger understanding of music theory. They will be able to play songs, but they will also know how exactly music works. Those who have learned piano are also far more likely to be able to quickly learn another instrument.
The knowledge and theory of guitar is quite specific to just that instrument. The way guitar music is written is completely different to most other sheet music.
To better describe the technical differences between piano and guitar, think of the piano and the guitar as two languages. They’re both great to know but learning one of them (piano) will enable you to understand many other languages.
Focus on Enjoying Learning a New Musical Instrument
One of the main reasons kids stop doing something is because it’s too hard or isn’t fun.
It’s incredibly important to remember that although we all want our children to be the best at everything, they are still just children, and enjoyment is a huge part of the learning process.
Sure, plenty of adults have the same approach; it’s just more obvious with children because they are less reasonable when it comes to doing things they don’t feel like doing.
The number one reason most people will stop doing something is that it doesn’t bring them enjoyment. Kids need to laugh, have fun and be entertained when they are learning; they’re also pretty smart and can tell when something is pretend fun and not actually engaging.
The biggest advice music teachers can give to parents who would like their children to learn an instrument is to remember that the most important thing, especially in the early stages, is that they need to enjoy it.
How Trying Mussila Can Help You Pick Which Instrument to Play
So you’ve read all about the differences between guitar and piano, but you’re still not sure, or maybe you actually want to know about another instrument altogether. This is where the Mussila app can help you.
This award-winning app enables kids to learn music theory through play.
It also lets them explore different instruments by name and sound. Mussila allows kids to experience music in an online space.
A child on the Mussila app can play around with different instruments before deciding which one to stick with.
An incredible benefit of this is that you can give your child the experience of playing an instrument before you have to make a major commitment to buying it and getting formal lessons.
How Mussila Can Help Reinvigorate Your School Classroom
Spoiler alert: Mussila is also available for schools.
From empowering teachers to cultivating market-leading musical learning paths for children, Mussila is able to deliver an extra melody to your school’s musical curriculum.
Helping children find joy and education in music has always been the aim of the game for the team at Mussila. With over 30 courses and 1500 musical challenges available in 32 languages you can be sure we’ve left no stone unturned to support children’s education systems all over the world.
If you’d like to learn more or simply dive a little deeper into how Mussila can help your local school or district, we’d happily welcome you with warm discussion.
Don’t worry we don’t bite, and neither does our monster.
Perhaps you are now completely decided on which instrument is the one you’re going to go with; maybe you’re undecided; maybe you’re going to pick a different one altogether.
The main point is that whatever you decide, a musical education has untold benefits for a child on their learning journey.
Even the slightest introduction to playing an instrument will give them skills no other form of education can.