Learning piano vs guitar. This is a decision a lot of wannabe musicians will find that they have to make. We’ve recently had a great response to our post about whether piano or guitar is easier to learn, but this guide looks at the bigger picture.
In the learning piano vs guitar post below, we’re exploring not just the difficulty, but the benefits of both, which is more practical, and why you might pick one over the other.
Of course, there is no definitive answer to which you should absolutely learn how to play. Instead, it is far better to work out which of the two will suit you, your lifestyle, and even your learning style.
Our Top Tip – Follow Your Gut Instinct
You can talk yourself out of things doing this type of research, and we don’t want that to be something that happens to you. If you have always dreamed of being a guitarist, then you should go ahead and learn how to play the guitar. You shouldn’t shy away just because another instrument might be more convenient or simple.
Learning piano vs guitar definitely has some very big differences to be aware of, but neither is unattainable. There are lots of different options and learning materials out there, and thanks to modern technology, there aren’t too many barriers to entry. Even the price of a keyboard and starter acoustic guitar can be similar.
Learning Piano vs Guitar – The First Steps
It is definitely worth talking about those tentative baby steps you’ll be taking when learning the piano or learning guitar. We’ve covered this in detail in our recent guide to learning piano vs guitar and which is the easiest.
Ultimately, there is little denying which of the two instruments is easier to get started with. 10-20 minutes into a piano lesson you might be able to play a melody. Our Pianu academy is designed to get you started with playing quick and enjoyable songs in a short space of time.
However, if you pick up a guitar for the first time, you might be there for some time just trying to work out the frets, and get used to what your hands are doing.
At the very simplest form of the two instruments, a piano is just a case of pressing a key and a note being triggered. With guitar, there is more to it. You need to position both hands, pluck a string while compressing it with your fretting hand, and then you need to get used to hand positions. Playing chords for the first time can also be a total nightmare.
A lot of people can see a piano and play a simple melody that they learned when they were kids. The guitar is certainly not as simple as this. Pick up a guitar for the first time in 10 years and the knowledge will have gone from your head. If it hasn’t your hands might still struggle to keep up. There’s a bit more going on in terms of coordination at the start.
Guitar playing involves some undesirable side effects. You might get callouses all over your hands and fingertips as your hands adjust to what you are asking them to do. This is especially true if you are looking to play the acoustic guitar, as the steel strings can be harsh on your fingers. You may also have to work on your hand and finger strength before you even learn how to play certain songs.
This great video talks a little more about how hard guitar is to get started. There’s no denying that getting to a good level of piano knowledge is equally tough, but this is a fascinating insight into playing the guitar.
Equipment – Learning Piano vs Guitar – What Gear to Buy?
There’s no point in pretending that this isn’t a really important consideration when deciding on learning piano vs guitar. The two are different in terms of the equipment that is available, but, when you break it down, they aren’t that dissimilar.
If you are happy to learn how to play the basics of piano on the keyboard, then there is no reason not to buy a simple keyboard, preferably with weighted keys. These can be relatively inexpensive. There are many different options when it comes to design and function.
Obviously, if you are going to buy an amazing grand piano to learn on, be prepared to shell out. But we don’t recommend spending lots of money on an acoustic piano to start with for a few reasons:
- They require a lot more maintenance such as tuning.
- They are not portable, so you won’t be able to take them to band practices, for example.
- They cost a fortune.
- You might not stick to the hobby and discover you’ve wasted thousands instead of hundreds.
Guitars are pretty similar in terms of equipment cost. You can go out there and spend thousands on your dream guitar if you want to, but we don’t recommend it unless you’ve got money to burn.
A decent starter set for playing guitar can be found for under $200 if you shop around. The guitar included probably won’t be good enough to last you a lifetime, and if you’re ever good enough to play big gigs or festivals, it will definitely be time to upgrade.
For similar reasons, though, we recommend not spending too much on your initial setup. You don’t want to spend loads of money and discover guitar isn’t for you. If you are buying equipment for your children, there’s every chance they’ll try and get more expensive equipment, but try to make clear they need to earn it by learning on a more affordable kit first.
This is a good opportunity to talk about peripherals and accessories. When choosing learning piano vs guitar you should know that the piano probably has less added extras to buy. Guitars need tuners, sometimes amplifiers, straps, and much more. Eventually, you might fall down the rabbit hole of buying effects pedals and more to alter the sound. You can almost hear the cash registers just thinking about it, right?
This guide to 10 guitar accessories you should own is a good way to weed out the essential from the indulgent and find the right accessories if you do decide to go down the route of playing guitar.
The Portability Factor
If portability were the only thing that mattered, we’d all be walking around playing ukuleles and harmonicas. It isn’t the most important decision to make when it comes to deciding to play an instrument. When it comes to learning piano vs guitar, there is a winner for portability. Though, the contest is not as one-sided as you might think.
Both piano and guitar have portable options. If you need to, you can buy a keyboard or a digital piano, and many of these come with cases to let you transport them. Some digital pianos can weigh as little as 10-15 lbs. Companies who make them know that it is important for people to be able to take them to shows.
The guitar is still marginally easier to transport, though. A guitar carrying case with backpack straps means you can take your guitar out and about with minimal fuss, and still have both of your hands free. This is the same whether you are playing an acoustic or an electric guitar.
Check out the brilliant Back Axe design, which makes it more simple and straightforward to take your guitar with you wherever you wish to go.
You can buy 88-key keyboard bags and cases to protect and transport. This is the best option if you plan to opt for learning piano vs guitar. These cases are pretty affordable and straightforward to use. If you want to learn on an acoustic piano, or even a console-style digital piano, transporting it is going to cause a huge amount of issues.
Learning Piano vs Guitar – Availability of Learning Materials
If you are looking to learn an instrument and you aren’t too worried about which instrument, then the good news is that these two have an abundance of choice when it comes to learning materials. So much so, we can’t split them.
There is no accurate way of saying that “there is more info for budding guitarists” or for budding pianists, for that matter. The good news is that there is a huge amount of info for both.
This comes with its own problems. We always advise sticking to one course or learning method as much as possible, at least for the basics. This way, you won’t get a confused or convoluted method. Both guitar and piano teachers do things in their own ways. If you want to learn online, following a course designed by one company, that takes you from being a very beginner, is a good way to get started.
As well as courses to help you to learn piano online, there are an incredible amount of tutorials for individual songs. This means that if you already have in mind the songs you want to learn, or you want to get started with individual bands, you can look to YouTube or piano tutorial sites to help you to learn the song in question.
Does Learning One Instrument Make it Easier to Learn The Other?
This is a question we encounter quite a lot. Does learning how to play the piano help to make it easier to learn guitar in the future, and vice versa. The answer is “yes” in our opinion, but with some caveats.
The differences are made clear in this video, which has an interesting insight. Remember that the creator of this video is a guitar teacher, so keep that in mind when watching!
There are certain aspects of learning piano vs guitar playing that will be totally different no matter what. The way the hands interact with the instrument, the coordination, and the way the chords and notes are played are new, whether you shift from guitar to piano, or piano to guitar. Do not expect to be able to do so in a couple of short lessons.
So, how does learning piano help with guitar, and vice versa? Well, to put it simply, a lot of the musical terms, jargon and basic musical understanding will be the same. Some of the transferrable skills include:
- Learning to play in time. You should have a tiny metronome in your head helping to count your way through the music. Whichever instrument you are playing, this should be exactly the same.
- You will understand the names of notes and chords. You won’t be totally new to the language of music and how these sorts of ideas get communicated. You aren’t totally starting from scratch again.
- You may understand some of the theory that goes into music. Perhaps you have tried writing songs, and you understand which chords go together or how scales work? This knowledge will be handy no matter which instrument you switch to for your second.
- A more musical brain. Nobody fully understands what is going on between music and the brain, but it is pretty clear that developing your memory skills and aptitude for learning music is a skill that transfers between one instrument and another.
Have you ever met one of those virtuoso musicians that seem to be able to play any instrument as soon as they pick it up? It is likely that a lot of work has gone into this skill, but every new instrument might seem slightly easier for them.
Learning Piano vs Guitar – Can’t I Do Both?
So, with the knowledge that the two different skills have some crossover, you might well be tempted to start with both. A lot of people find it more engaging and interesting to keep switching between instruments to keep it fresh.
One thing we would advise against, especially for the first six months or so, is introducing too much musical info to handle. A sure-fire way to do this is to avoid choosing learning piano vs guitar, and to try and take on both. Some aspects might stick, but generally, a lot of the knowledge will be forgotten and confused along the way.
There is no harm in starting your musical journey with the idea that one day you will be able to play multiple instruments, but don’t try and get there all at once. Think of it as trying to run before you can walk.
Can I Be Mediocre and Still Successful?
This seems like an oddly specific thing to include in a learning piano vs guitar article, but it is actually really relevant to the debate.
You may have been to concerts where the guitarists playing were okay, but not amazing. You might have still loved the show. A lot of the time, guitar is secondary to vocals, and it is also masked behind layers of effects.
The point here is that if you are going to learn how to play the piano then you will need to be more precise to get to a level where you can play shows and play with other people. If you are inaccurate and hit a “bum note” during a show, it is far more likely that it will be obvious with piano. Hit the wrong note in the middle of a concerto and it might be blindingly obvious.
There is sometimes a culture of “blagging it” as a guitarist. Just learning the minimum amount of knowledge you need to play the songs. In this respect, guitar might even be a little bit simpler than piano. There’s less pressure to get everything right all the time
To prove our point, this fascinating list of guitarists who actually weren’t amazing players gives a fascinating insight. A good example from the list is Johnny Cash, who was a good player when it came to the sort of sparse country and rock chord progressions he needed, but would’ve been lost playing intricate technical pieces.
Mediocrity as a guitarist might be all you need to be a singer-songwriter. To be good at the basics, and not a lot else, but that isn’t the goal for many guitarists, and some might want to reach incredible levels of wizardry…
Learning Piano vs Guitar – Reaching the Top Of Your Game
We’ve focused largely on the process of getting started in this guide. Which of learning piano vs guitar is easier? Which can be done without spending a huge amount of time and money? We want to also provide an overview of what you need to get to the very top of your game.
We often mention the Malcolm Gladwell “10,000-hour rule” on this blog, when people want to know how long it will take them to learn how to play the piano or other instruments. Gladwell himself has talked about this being a bit of a rough estimate, but the thinking behind the rule is that 10,000 hours of practice will generally be required to reach the top of your abilities in pretty much anything.
The rule is not designed to scare people, or to give a specific figure when people ask how long it will take them to learn how to play an instrument. Instead, it gives some idea of the magnitude of the task ahead.
Musicians never stop learning. It is just the nature of the way music is, and the fact that there are so many new techniques and methods to learn as time goes on means that people who are serious about their musical ability can keep building on it for decades.
If you are looking to become a great composer as well as a great piano player or guitarist, it is almost inevitable that your abilities will improve as time goes on. Obviously, the exception of this tends to be rock musicians, many of whom burn out in their 30s and 40s, and spend their twilight years making less-than-ideal attempts to recreate their youth.
If you consider great classical musicians, jazz musicians and those willing to evolve and experiment with their music, you will see some of the improvements that continue to be made. In 2016, Ennio Morricone won his first-ever academy award. He was almost 90 at the time.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will not be great until later in your life. There are many factors that dictate your musical abilities, and when they might “peak”. However, the key is that if you want to reach the top of your abilities as a musician, be prepared to put the years of practice in.
If you want to be able to play some Clash songs on the guitar or some easy piano songs, it won’t take you years. However, to wow audiences, be ready to put the work in.
Learning Piano vs Guitar – The Social Side
Once again, this is not most peoples’ number one motivation for learning an instrument, but there is an element of sociability to both guitar and piano.
If you want to learn an instrument as a route into more social scenes, both guitar and piano can be effective, but we’d probably say that guitar is marginally better for this.
For a starter, most bands have multiple guitarists (bass, rhythm and lead is a pretty standard setup) and though there are some solo singer-songwriters out there, you’ll always find opportunities to play the guitar in a group setting.
Piano can be similar, but you need to approach it in the right way. If you want it to be a social event, make sure you purchase a portable setup. It is not a good idea to buy a grand piano and expect to play at band practices locally.
Playing the piano can be a solo endeavor. You can, in theory, become a world-class piano player and never leave your bedroom. If you are not the sort of person who enjoys socializing musically, this is totally fine.
If you dream of playing with others, there are piano opportunities. Why not join an orchestra? A piano club? Or play the keyboards in groups and bands? When it comes to the social side of music, life really is “what you make it”.
Conclusion – Learning Piano vs Guitar – The Choice is Yours
There are definite benefits to both, and there are challenges to overcome whether you want to become a rock guitarist or a jazz pianist. You should focus on which one you are most passionate about.
A lot of people eventually choose to learn both. Plenty of bands and artists can play both the piano and the guitar to some extent, and one doesn’t prohibit the other! If you are one of these people, the question should be about “learning piano vs guitar first” as you will eventually be able to progress to the other instrument.
The truth is that if you aren’t passionate about one of the instruments, there is no point in taking it up. You will find yourself to be disappointed and demotivated. It is much easier to stick at the habit if you know that eventually, you will gain a skill you truly care about.
Follow your instinct on which you will enjoy the most, stick at it, and get started on the road to becoming a piano or guitar maestro.