Guitar or Piano – What’s Easier to Learn?

Most people (especially children) will choose one of two instruments if they want to learn a musical instrument: guitar or piano. Both have pros and cons, and both are relatively easy to learn. But aspiring musicians often wonder which one they should choose, so the question they ask themselves is, which is easier to learn – guitar or piano?

Children tend to find piano easier to learn, mostly because of the instant gratification of being able to play a basic song quickly. Adults often find guitar easier to learn due to its layout, chords that can easily be learned, its comparatively low price, and the capacity to self-teach.

We have to consider many factors when determining which instrument is easier to learn. This includes how easily you can play notes, the cost involved in getting started, and how quickly you can play actual songs. These factors also vary between people of different age groups, and there is no clear answer that applies to everyone. Let’s consider all of these factors in detail.

Factors Affecting the Learning Curve for Piano and Guitar

Melody vs. Harmony

The purpose of learning to play a musical instrument is often described as “being able to play songs.” But what do you define as a song? This is not an easy question since music consists of melody and harmony, both of which can be played on both a guitar and a piano, but they are vastly different.

Beginners, especially children, tend to have more appreciation for melody than for harmony. The melody is the actual “tune” of a song, the part that you would whistle when the song is stuck in your head. The harmony, though essential, is not usually recognized by beginners as being an important part of the song.

When you learn to play guitar, the first things you learn are usually chords. Chords, though beautiful, are really there to fill in the harmony of a song, and a sequence of chords by themselves is usually not enough to call a song. You could play for months or even years before you really start playing the melody on a guitar, which is also considerably more complex than playing the harmony.

Piano lessons, on the other hand, usually start with the melody. Most often, you will walk out of your very first piano lesson and be able to at least play some simple tune, like “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”

The instant gratification that you get when you walk out of your first lesson able to play a tune that people recognize adds some much-needed confidence and motivation to the process of learning to play the instrument. This is a valuable boost, especially for younger children, causing them to persevere much more easily and getting them through the difficult first weeks or months.

With a guitar, on the other hand, you start off learning the basic guitar open chords. These chords are simply strummed to form backing harmony for the tunes or melodies that are either sung or played by another instrument. These are also easy to master, but it lacks the sense of instant gratification that younger players get from the piano.

As you make progress learning to play the guitar, you will start learning more complex chords like barre chords and power chords, and then eventually advanced concepts like picking and other ideas that are more focused on melody than on harmony. By this point, you are already well past the beginner stage.

There are many stories of people who wanted to learn to play guitar but then gave up because they became discouraged. In most of those cases, they felt like they didn’t really achieve much even after months of lessons.

The Layout of the Instrument

A piano’s keys are laid out in a logical, flowing pattern. Each ivory key is one step up from the previous one, meaning that playing from left to right, starting from an A key, your B key will be next, followed by the C key, and so on up until G, after which you’re back at A again.

Similarly, an ebony key is always a half-note up from the note on its left or down from the one on the right, making it either a sharp or a flat variation of its neighbor.

This logical progression, in a format that even young children can quickly grasp, also makes the piano much easier to learn. Most beginners are taught the location of middle C during their very first lesson, and if you know where middle C is, you can quickly figure out where the other notes are, which means that it’s easy to start playing different songs.

This is simply because a piano has a set of strings, each dedicated to its own note. If you want to play a note, play that key on the piano, and the correct string will be struck.

Guitars are more complex since most guitars have only six strings, and the note that is played depends on the frets where you press down on the strings. The strings are also not really logically arranged since standard tuning puts them at E B G D A E. Young players will wonder what happened to C and F and why there are two Es.

When we also consider that there are multiple levels of tuning, it becomes even more confusing for beginners.

Guitars have a type of logical progression in their notes, though, similar to pianos. Since the top string is an E when it’s played open, it will become an F when you press down on the first fret, then an F sharp, G, etc. The problem is that this logical progression only comes into play once you start playing barre chords, power chords, or lead guitar. By then, you’ve been playing for a while.

By this time, the guitar’s strange layout has actually become an advantage since you usually won’t have to move your hand too far along the neck to find the right note to press. The scales on the guitar generally mean that you can play almost any note without moving your hand more than an inch or two, which is definitely not the case with the piano.

It’s clear that a more logical layout will make an instrument easier to learn, and in this regard, the piano wins again.

The Length and Flexibility of your Fingers

Both piano and guitar rely heavily on your hands, fingers, and arms. The size of your hands, combined with the length and flexibility of your fingers, will have an immense impact on how easily you can learn to play either instrument.

The piano is generally easier to learn if you have large hands and long fingers. Your fingers don’t have to be very flexible if they’re long enough. Sergei Rachmaninov, the famous 19th-century composer and pianist was known for having abnormally large hands and fingers. Frederick Chopin was also known for his long fingers and is still one of the most famous pianists who ever lived.

All through history, many of the most successful pianists had slightly long or abnormally long fingers. There are exceptions, so this should never be seen as a hard rule, and you should not be discouraged if you don’t have hands the size of a cast-iron lid. People with shorter fingers who practice often find that their fingers soon become accustomed to the movements and size of the piano’s keyboard.

Smaller hands and fingers tend to be preferable when you’re just starting to learn guitar. You can more easily press down complicated chords if your fingers are smaller and thinner. But in this case, flexibility is much more critical. Some of the open chords look like they were designed by a professional contortionist, and flexibility is a definite advantage when you’re learning to play.

As you progress with the guitar, you may want to start pressing strings on frets that are further apart, and longer fingers may become helpful. But again, this is not a critical factor, and you will be able to play with the best guitarists in the world even if you don’t have the most extended fingers.

The Cost of the Instrument

Some of us are blessed growing up with either a guitar or a piano (or maybe both?) in our homes. Not everyone has that privilege, and often the cost of buying the instrument can be a crucial deciding factor for which one you will start learning.

If you need to buy an instrument and you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t immediately buy the most expensive one you can find. The possibility is always there that you could lose interest or get distracted from pursuing this passion. There are affordable entry-level instruments available if you shop around.

Even so, a piano tends to cost much more than a guitar. A simple entry-level acoustic or electric guitar should cost you around $100 brand new, while a second-hand piano could easily sell for more than $1,000.

This cost of entry could be a problem for someone who wants to learn to play the piano. We should also mention that the running cost of playing guitar could get more expensive than that of a piano since guitars often have to be re-stringed. As you become more professional, you may want to buy amplifiers, pedals, and cables, while pianos only have to be serviced and tuned once in a while.

The crucial point here is that it could be more challenging to learn to play the piano if you don’t already own a piano and have a tight budget.

Preference for Musical Genre

This is an often-overlooked aspect of learning to play piano or guitar since it can be a crucial factor for both teenagers and young adults but not necessarily so much for younger or older players. Most people have a particular musical preference, which could range across a wide range of genres, sub-genres, and styles. These musical tastes usually develop in the early teen years.

Learning to play a musical instrument that doesn’t form part of your preferred musical genre is often more difficult than learning one that’s closely associated with it. For example, lovers of classical music will usually find it easier to play piano since they already have a close appreciation for the musical style. They can learn to play the music that they already know and love.

Those who have a preference for blues or rock will probably prefer to learn some form of guitar, like a classical or electric guitar.

The simple fact is that you will be more passionate about learning to play an instrument if you can play your favorite genre of music while learning. This passion will make it considerably easier to learn the instrument.

Parents should be careful when choosing an instrument for their children to learn. If your child is old enough to have a preferred musical taste already, don’t force them to play something they don’t really want to. They will quickly become discouraged and lose interest, and all of the time, energy, and money you spend on it will be wasted.

Which Instrument is Easier for Beginners: Piano or Guitar?

When we take all of the above aspects into account, the piano is easier for beginners in general. If the cost of a piano and the player’s musical tastes aren’t excluding factors, beginners will find it easier to learn to play the piano than the guitar.

The primary factors that make it easier to learn to play piano are the instant gratification of being able to play simple tunes immediately, the easier three-note chords for harmony, and the more straightforward, logical progression of keys.

It’s crucial to note here that most of the reasons that make piano easier to learn are personal reasons and have very little to do with the actual instrument itself. Statistically, more people carry on playing guitar after the beginner stage than those that start playing the piano.

Which Instrument is Easier to Master: Piano or Guitar?

Mastery of an instrument is a difficult concept. Whenever someone feels that they’ve mastered the instrument, someone comes along to show them how much they still have to learn. However, for simplicity, let’s describe mastery as being able to play the instrument on a professional level.

Of the two instruments, the guitar is the easier instrument to master. The guitar becomes much easier than the piano, even from the intermediate stage. Once an aspiring musician understands the basics of the guitar and has the music theory down (and the calluses are formed on their fingers), the learning curve is not so steep anymore.

After the “easy” beginner stage, the piano gets more and more difficult. The struggle of having to learn to play with both hands, combined with having to move the entire length of the piano’s keyboard, and the added frustration of left-handed people having to play the primary parts with their right hand, the process of becoming a master at playing the piano can get quite daunting.

Conclusion

Overall, it’s easier to learn the guitar than the piano, despite some more difficulty in the beginning. Understandably, most people will want to start with one instrument or the other, but we should also remember that the two instruments are not mutually exclusive. In fact, once you’ve mastered one instrument, learning the other one gets much easier. Start with the one that works best for you!

References

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