So when I first sat down and contemplated this question I thought it was straight forward. Piano is easier, right?
But then I remembered my piano lessons with Mrs Pohl, the fiery old Austrian lady. She always stared at me with those piercing eyes, asking me why I hadn’t practiced enough. Good times indeed. Not only was she a force to be reckoned with, it was heavy duty music theory from the get go. As a whole it was pretty much to take onboard. So the questions lingers a bit. What is easier to learn, piano or guitar?
There seems to be a little bit more to dissect here than I first thought, so let’s get cracking.
Why Are Piano And Guitar So Popular?
So why compare these two instruments? Why not harp and xylophone? Well, I think piano and guitar are the most universally adaptable instruments on the planet. When you think of core instruments in a band for example, almost all of us think about guitar, bass, drums and piano.
If you then think of which of these instruments would accompany a singer best, many of us tend to drop drums and bass. What we’re left with is piano and guitar.
They’re both equally awesome, whether in a band or their own. This often give them the top spots on people’s list of instruments they are attracted to.
Also, in bars or at parties you quite often find a guitar or a piano in a corner somewhere, waiting for someone to get the atmosphere going. Not many trumpets or violins lying around…
Piano Vs The Guitar
I feel blessed to be able to play both these instruments, even though I consider guitar to be my main one. Admittedly, I don’t play piano or keyboard very often these days, but I think I still have enough skills to play stuff that would be recognised as music.
In some ways these two are similar. They are both string instruments and they’re both chromatic instruments, meaning they are both capable of producing every note in the chromatic scale.
Now, at this stage you may not know what a chromatic scale is, and that’s perfectly ok. Who likes music theory, right? But the point here is that learning the one will make learning the other a lot easier. In case you wanna switch further down the road. Like I did.
The reasons I gravitated toward guitar rather than piano are many. And even though I think the piano is a wonderful instrument, I feel guitar is much more expressive. It also plays right into the whole rock scene that I’m so infatuated by, from bluesy Gary Moore and SRV stuff to hard rock and metal.
Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the many aspects of both these instruments, and the many different pros and cons they have. And there is a lot to consider here.
Of course, these are just my observations and experiences, and should be considered as such. I’m sure many other musicians have different perspectives, and that’s the beauty of music.
If you’re on the fence about these two, I hope this article will serve as good advice rather than as an absolute truth. So let’s take a closer look at the stuff that sets these two apart, and why one might be easier to learn.
In terms of difficulty the guitar is at a clear disadvantage. The learning curve for guitar is steeper, and sadly many beginners give up their goals too early in the game because of it. You can read more about that in Why Is Guitar So Hard? Piano on the other hand is a lot more forgiving in many ways, and is likely to take you to the next level quicker.
What do I mean by that? Well, anyone can sit down at a piano and start making sounds. Pressing down the keys on a piano is effortless, and you can show a complete beginner how to play easy melodies within minutes. I’ve done this with both my kids, and trust me, cranking out your first version of twinkle twinkle little star doesn’t take all day.
As your right hand starts to learn melodies, synching it with your left for accompanying bass lines is really not that difficult. Soon you’ll be pressing down several keys at once to form chords, and learning simple songs from there is pretty straight forward. And there is never any pain related to any of this, which makes the experience all the more pleasant.
With the guitar on the other hand, things are a bit different. It’s not just to “sit down and make sounds”. In fact, making notes ring out clearly is tricky and requires more precision. And it’s painful for your fingers and wrists. Fingering chords is awkward and takes a while to learn.
And synching your hands? Yup, that sure takes some patience. Expect weeks, sometimes months, of practice before you can hit all the right strings and create rhythmically correct strumming patterns while making chord changes.
However, you need to understand that getting really good at any of these two instruments takes enormous amounts of practice. Even though I found piano to be quite easy to get into as a beginner, it sure gets a hell of a lot more difficult once you reach intermediate level.
As you start playing more advanced stuff on a piano you’ll realize that your hands now are required to often play out of sync, playing different melodies simultaneously or doing things that are rhythmically very different from one another. This is something I struggled with, and it played at least some part in why I ultimately quit.
Also, at this stage piano is more dependant on music theory, and it becomes important to learn it in order to evolve. With guitar you don’t really need music theory at all, at least not to any greater extent. There are many guitar players who know nothing about music theory, yet they thrive.
All things considered though, the point goes to piano for being easier on the beginner and having a flatter learning curve.
Layout & Visualization
Again, I feel that the guitar is at a clear disadvantage here. At least for beginners. Let me explain what I mean.
The guitar is a two dimensional instrument, and you’re looking at six strings vertically and 22 or 24 frets horizontally. And to make things worse the strings are not in a chronological, or otherwise logical order. This makes it quite difficult, especially in the beginning, to find all the notes, chords and scales. In short, learning to navigate the fretboard takes time.
Conceptually I find piano to be so much easier to understand. All the keys are lined up horizontally and repeat themselves every octave. Each octave consists of 7 white keys and 5 black keys.
That, and the fact that it’s easier to visually get an overview of where everything is, makes it both logical and easy to find any given note or chord. Definitely another point for the piano here.
Again, piano scores another point, at least in my opinion. When playing the piano you realize that there isn’t much that goes into manipulating tone. Creating tonal varieties, as far as technique is concerned, is not a big thing. You can either press down a key hard or soft, let it ring out or not. That’s pretty much it. All notes always sound the same without much effort, which is a huge plus.
On a guitar you have so many more options, which means even more things you need to learn and control. You can slide in and out of notes, bend them in various degrees, perform vibrato, hammer on or pull off, tap, sweep pick, alternate pick, finger pick, mute strings etc. This makes the guitar a much more expressive instrument, but also creates a bit of overwhelm early on. Hitting a note with clarity on a guitar, and without adjacent noise, takes precision and practice.
Easiest For Learning Songs
By learning songs I mean finding out all the chords played in the song and learning them. The most basic stuff in other words. I’d like to give a small advantage to the guitar here. Even though it’s a bit of a struggle to get started, once the initial hurdles are defeated you’ll be able to find the right chords and strumming patterns for most songs out there.
All of a sudden a lot of doors will open, because you have just acquired the key. At this stage, learning new songs on guitar will be a breeze.
Even though the same can be said about piano, piano parts in songs tend to be more melodic in nature. And for me at least, it always felt there was more to it than just knowing the chords. I always had to spend a little more time learning “the other things” as well before really knowing how to play a certain song.
Teaching yourself is always going to be the longer route to learning any instrument. However, in today’s internet-influenced climate there is no shortage of lessons and other great material available. So bright times for those who feel like going completely solo.
Based on how easy it is to produce good-sounding notes on a piano, and how easy it is to get a good overview of where and how to find notes and chords, I’d give this point to the piano. At least on a beginner level.
A lot of the physically demanding and technical stuff a new guitarist has to deal with is not found anywhere near a piano. In my opinion, it’s far easier to noodle away on a piano the “trial and error” way and actually learn things, than it is on a guitar. But only up to a certain point, since music theory plays a big part in intermediate and professional piano playing.
Easiest To Enjoy & Play With Others
Finally a big fat point to the good old guitar! Since the guitar is more portable, it can be taken literally anywhere with ease. Bring it to the cabin by the lake for your vacation, or to the beach for an evening of sing-along by the campfire. Or to a friend for a quick jam.
No matter how you spin this one, clearly the guitar wins hands down. I know a keyboard can be portable…but nah.
The elephant in the room. I personally find it more difficult to read music, or Standard Notation as it’s also called, than tabs. And so this is where I actually think it gets harder to play the piano.
As you go further as a piano player the amount of music theory will increase. Developing and learning new things depends on it. This is where playing the piano will become more complex, and may throw some people off course. At least that’s how I felt.
With guitar you don’t need music theory at all. Of course it helps you develop as a player if you spend time learning it. But it is by no stretch of the imagination essential to be able to play guitar. Understanding tabs will take you a long way, and if you wanna know more about tabs check out our guide How To Read Guitar Tabs. Another point to the guitar!
Songwriting And Music Production
Nowadays I don’t write a lot of music, but for some reason I always found it easier to write songs and create music using a piano or a keyboard. It’s easier to make key changes, and also to find interesting bass lines that match or harmonize with the chord being played.
Also, much of what you would do in a DAW ( Digital Audio Workstation) or in a home studio environment would be done using a MIDI keyboard. So knowing your way around a piano is very helpful. So piano picks up one more point here.
So far we’ve only discussed the actual learning and playing, which was what I initially sought to cover. But there are a few more things worth mentioning. They probably won’t tip the scales in any direction as far as how easy or hard these instruments are to learn, but could still have an impact on those still on the fence.
Now, tuning my guitars has never been an issue for me. It’s part of being a guitarist. But nonetheless, it’s something you will have to learn and master besides learning to play. More tips about that in How To Tune Your Guitar. Some will argue that it’s yet another thing to learn, and that it’s therefore a disadvantage. Or some simply that it’s a nuisance to continually having to tune your guitar, even on stage.
The thing is a keyboard doesn’t need tuning at all. And a piano needs it only once a year or every two years. A pianist can in other words focus solely on playing, and not be bothered with anything else. However, tuning a piano takes a great deal of skill, so most people rely on professionals for this service. If you would like to check out how to do it yourself there is a pretty good article here called How To Tune A Piano.
Needless to say, guitars vary in price. But you can pick up an acoustic guitar for under $100, and the same can’t be said for a piano. An acoustic upright piano is on average between $2000 – $6500.
Now, if you go for a high end electric guitar with an amp and a few pedals you’re probably looking at $2000 – $4000 or more. But that’s hardly something a beginner would contemplate.
There are of course keyboards that cost only a fraction of what an acoustic piano costs, but still guitar is definitely the cheaper option here.
Pianos are big and heavy, and once they’re in place they’re best not moved. Although it will serve as a beautiful piece of furniture to your home, it will nonetheless take up space. A guitar can be stored anywhere with ease.
Whereas a piano doesn’t require much maintenance, apart from the occasional tuning, a guitar will want a little bit more love.
Apart from changing the strings regularly you also need to oil the fretboard every now and again. If stored incorrectly, or if exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity the neck can get bowed, and you will have to adjust it. If you’re note sure how this is done, check out our guide How To Adjust The Neck On A Guitar. Also, there might be reasons for string height adjustments, intonation, nut adjustments or pick up replacements, just so that your axe sounds and plays the way it should.
Guitarist Or Pianist Personality
I know this is a bit far fetched, but what the hell. I have a sneaky feeling your own personality might have something to do with which of these two instruments you’re leaning towards. And therefore also why you might feel one is easier than the other. Or why you would disregard this notion altogether.
Guitar players and piano players occupy very different spaces in the musical world, especially as members in a band. Oftentimes the way they think and feel about music differs, and also what inspires them.
Musically they express themselves in different ways, and they often have different goals. In the end, the instrument you feel most drawn to is also the instrument you’re most willing to spend time with. And whether it’s difficult or not may not have anything to do with it.
If you’ve kept track of the score you’ve already concluded that I absolutely think that piano is easier to learn, no doubt in my mind. Piano is easier to get started with, of that I’m very sure.
But having said that, if your aim is to get more than the basic skills you’ll quickly realize that piano gets rather complex after a while. What seems like a comfortable journey at first becomes pretty demanding after a while, and only dedication and long days of practice will take you all the way.
Mathematically speaking the piano has many things going for it, and it sure looks good on paper. But that’s not how we make decisions. We follow our hearts and minds, and the music that inspires us the most. And it rarely has anything to do with how difficult it is to learn.
Despite its drawbacks, the steep learning curve, illogical layout and pain inducing ergonomics from hell, I still fell in love with the guitar and everything it represents.
It doesn’t mean I don’t like playing other instruments, because I do. In fact I think all of my other musical skills have helped me become a better guitar player. But the guitar gives oxygen to something inside me that breathes life into almost everything in my existence. And that is pretty damn awesome!