So you decided on learn how to play your first musical instrument. Fantastic! The question is – what to play?
You should ask yourself this first – Is this something I really want to do? Don’t feel you have to learn to play out of some kind of obligation or simply to impress someone who happens to be the object of your desires and don’t do it simply because it makes you look “cool.”
Do it because you have a burning desire to learn or you want to experience the sheer joy of expressing yourself through the music and most importantly it’s about having fun.
Learning to play music should be a natural process – it’s something that you can’t force upon others especially children or yourself. Nothing is more frustrating than to find yourself struggling with something that you have absolutely no love or desire of doing. Music is organic and free flowing and you have to let it come you naturally.
So Many Choices
Now that we established that learning to play is something you really want to do – the next step is deciding on what instrument to play. This is perhaps the most daunting decision to make because there is a plethora of instruments to choose from. There are also other factors to consider such as your own musical tastes – if you’re more of classical fan than you might consider a violin, cello or piano, not that these instruments can’t be used to play jazz, rock or pop. If rock n’ roll is more to your liking then the ever popular electric guitar is a good choice. Or the acoustic guitar is better for you if you’re more into folk. And of course there is also the bass guitar and drums to choose from. If jazz is something you enjoy then you can’t go wrong with the saxophone or trumpet – believe me, the sax is one awesome instrument to play. And one of the most important factors to consider is cost. You don’t want to get a cheaply made instrument with poor build quality – remember you get what you pay for and certainly you don’t want to spend your life savings on an instrument made out of some exotic material only for it to end up collecting dust in some dark corner of your closet. Always find something that will fit within your budget.
If you are still having trouble deciding then simply draw upon who inspired you in the first place. How did it feel when you first heard Eddie Van Halen shred through Eruption? Or when you first heard a version of the Star Spangled Banner played by none other than Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock? How did you feel when you first heard a Mozart violin sonata soulfully played by Izthak Perlman? You know that feeling. Hearing that one musician can greatly influence your decision as to what instrument to play. And where can find these musicians who can inspire you. Just open your ears and listen. You can find them just about anywhere there is music. Just google “most influential musicians” or “top 5 guitarist in the world.” Or just ask around especially among friends or family who can give you some insights on what their musical inspirations are.
One of the more fun ways to pick an instrument is to go visit your local music shop and try out as many of the instruments as you want – as long as you don’t annoy the sales people.
Go ahead and pick an instrument and just let loose. If you don’t like this one then move on to the next. Take a friend with you and maybe you can have a little jam session. Ask one of the sales people for his or her recommendations because most likely they happen to be musicians themselves and can offer you valuable advice as to what instrument is best for you.
Often times I hear some people asking “Which is the easiest instrument to play?” or “What is the best instrument to learn first?” or “What is the most popular instrument to learn these days?” or “Can I get lots of girls if I learn how to play the guitar?” I can’t help but shake my head in disbelief when I hear these questions because this is the absolutely wrong way to approach the subject of choosing what instrument is best for you. There is no such thing as an “easy” instrument – of course some instruments are more easier to play than others – each instrument has it’s own level of complexity and they maybe easy to learn in the beginning but you will soon find that it can get more challenging as you progress. As to what is the best instrument to learn first and what is popular or cool nowadays to learn, all I can say is choose the instrument that best speaks to you – not what is hip or trending today. This all goes back to who influenced you the most. Who is the one musician or group that inspired you to “pick up that guitar and play” – to quote a famous English rock band.
And for the guys who ask if they will get girls if they learn to play guitar, I won’t even go there!
I will break down the some of the different categories of instruments and show their unique characteristics to help you make an informed decision.
We are all familiar with the guitar, bass or ukulele. There are all different kinds of guitars which are more tailored for different purposes and styles, for example an acoustic nylon string guitar is better suited for soloing in classical or flamenco music and is harder to learn than others. If you want to start a band one day there is a plenty of alternative acoustic guitars that will fit well in many music styles such folk, county or bluegrass as well as a whole host of electric guitars or electric basses which are great fun and relatively easy to pick up – I can attest to to the fact that playing both guitar and bass are a blast to play. Depending on the guitar you choose it is versatile enough for those who aspire to be solo acts who are comfortable in small venues or to those who want to rock out in front of thousands of screaming fans. These instruments are not at all difficult to get started and in fact can be learned on your own although it is always a good idea to get some lessons down the road.
Other string instruments like violin, cello and double bass or upright bass require a lot of practice and patience in the beginning as progress can be slow which can lead to some frustration. You need quite a level of dexterity and co-ordination in the fingers. Some are fairly inexpensive, but as you progress you might want to shell out some more money on an instrument with a better build quality – no, you don’t have to get a Stradivarius. The violin – a staple in classical and other popular music styles like country. The cello – think of it as an over sized violin bulky and not particularly easy to carry around, used in classical, jazz and some popular music. Double bass or upright bass – even larger than cello, lots of versatility and used in many genres from classical to rock, and there are smaller sizes for children to learn. These instruments are great instruments to learn more about classical yet are well suited for jazz, country, and rock. I don’t recommend learning these on your own as they can be quite difficult to even get started so it would be wise to invest in some lessons as soon as you start.
Woodwind instruments are named mainly because you provide the wind to make a sound – in other words you got to blow into a mouthpiece. The flute and clarinet, which are small enough to easily carry; and their larger kin, like bassoon and oboe, which require great care when handling as they are fragile instruments. While learning to play flute and clarinet you will quickly get the hang of it and soon may want to switch over to saxophone which is an instrument that is so well suited for improvisation especially in jazz. Apart from classical music these instruments can be used while playing different styles such as jazz, folk and pop.
Most percussion instruments are bulky yet so fun to play because they make a lot of noise, so at the risk of annoying your neighbors you should think about soundproofing your room when playing. Playing is fairly easy to learn but you do need some hand and foot coordination especially if you aspire to be the next John Bonham or Buddy Rich. Drummers are among the most sought-after members of bands and they keep time and provide a strong rhythmic foundation for the rest of the band to follow. If you have a lot of energy and stamina then drumming is for you – jazz and rock and especially heavy metal drumming will give you a true workout. There have been studies that show percussion instruments and drums in particular are very satisfactory and beneficial to some children who have autism, playing drums can provide a safe haven for them.
The piano – probably the most popular instrument there is because it provides a strong theoretical base for learning other instruments and therefore is an ideal instrument to start with. The instrument itself is indeed large and don’t even think about transporting it – however it makes a great conversation piece even if you stop playing it. The prices for pianos can vary – you can get a used one fairly cheap, and of course you can shell out big bucks for a top of the line Steinway. Obviously the better the instrument, the more expensive it is, but the good thing about pianos is that if you’re attending a music school they usually have different quality instruments for you to play with.
The piano is most appropriate for quiet and independent or even introverted people as it is mostly a solo instrument, however it can also be played in a duet, ensemble or orchestra. It is very versatile in terms of genres starting with classical to pop music. Besides the piano there is also the electric keyboard to consider. They can be found in just about every genre of music from rock to pop to jazz and not only sound just like a piano but they can produce a wide variety of sounds – from strings to woodwinds to even sounds not found in nature. Keyboards are usually somewhat more easier to lug around than a piano but still can be quite heavy.
Other Instruments to Consider
The instruments mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg and are usually found in Western style of music. There is a whole other world of music out there with instruments such the sitar, oud, Japanese koto, bagpipes that you should check out so you can broaden your horizons and perhaps find inspiration you never thought would find. Some of these instruments found all over the world are difficult to categorize yet make some of the most beautiful music there is. No matter which instrument you decide to play, the most important aspect is that you love playing that instrument because it is what you want to do and brings you the greatest joy.
Rock on \m/