A good foundation for any project is vital, and if you choose music, a solid foundation is also needed. But which route is the best to take, and what will give you the best start? Most people consider taking either the piano or the guitar to start off with, and both are excellent instruments to master - guaranteed to give any future musician the possibility of conquering several different genres and styles.
But the answer to which is easier to learn? Well, this is neither a black or white answer, and ultimately the final decision will depend on you, your goals and your circumstances. Each of these instruments has their advantages and disadvantages, so let’s see which one plays the perfect note for you.
Let's get this one out of the way. If instant gratification is your goal in pursuing music or choosing an instrument, I’m going to go out on a limb and say...you’re missing the point.
Music is an everlasting journey, but most of all, it is a constant learning process. Like with any art form, there is always room for improvement. But, of course, you also don’t want to feel like a student for years to come, right?
In the beginning stages, the piano will provide more gratification than the guitar for most students. All you need to do is sit up straight and press the keys, and you will hear a beautifully pitched note. On the guitar, however, you will most likely hear a shrilling sound as you try to retain an awkward wrist position and strum at the same time.
After a few months’ guitar lessons, you won’t feel the urge to shake the pain out of your fingers every few seconds anymore and you will also be able to rock a few songs with that three or four chords you’ve got in the bag by now.
Being able to play a wider variety of pop songs on the guitar will make you feel more successful if that is your desire, but the piano will challenge you more in terms of the coordination of your hands.
With motivated practice for about 18 months, the playing fields are level between the piano and the guitar.
With learning the technical aspects, the piano has proved to be easier than the guitar. For a beginner, it’s easier to understand musical patterns during piano lessons because it repeats in the same pattern across all the keys.
As for guitar lessons, the note patterns are more complex and you can play one note in numerous ways by changing the string, or the fret. Understanding how to play all these positions of the same note are trickier when compared to playing notes on the piano.
On a piano, there is one key for each note, as well as repeating note patterns - with each repetition being an octave lower/higher than the other one. Note patterns on each guitar string have a different arrangement of the notes, thereby lacking the logical layout you will find on the piano.
Another aspect that can be taken into consideration is how the brain is used during the playing of these instruments. The piano is arranged in such a manner that both hands perform mostly the same tasks, and in terms of using both sides of the brain, the piano makes it easier as a beginner.
The guitar is slightly more complicated as two hands need to perform two different tasks. The right-hand needs to strum, while the left focuses on pressing the strings. It’s almost like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time; it can be done, but confusing and overwhelming at times.
On the technical side, the piano is easier because of the simple sequence it follows across the keys, repeating patterns, and the fact that you only have to do one thing ( press the key ) for the sound to come out. With the awkward wrist positions, trying to press the correct chord with sore fingers, it’s possible to say that the guitar’s learning curve proves to be more challenging.
Music-Smarts and Theory
By learning a new instrument, you also want to improve your knowledge of music theory. At the end, it will only make you a better musician and open doors for you from a composer’s perspective.
Somewhere in the future, you may want to make your own mark as an artist and write your own music. This will all come down to you learning the basics of music theory. So, which one will be the easier learning avenue?
Compared to the guitar, when one looks at the note patterns and sequences, the piano has proven to be the ultimate theory and composition instrument because of the way that it’s logically laid out.
The main reason why the piano works better for learning music theory is because there is only one key for each note. This makes it easier to see the distance between intervals, and learning these intervals are the foundation of music theory.
Intervals on a guitar can be easy if you stick to one string because moving up or down between the frets represents a half step. This is similar to moving from the one key to the next on the piano. However, because you move across all the different strings, the study of intervals becomes more difficult on the guitar.
The functionality of the piano, as well as being the easier way of learning music intervals, lends itself better to the understanding and reading of music. Even as a guitar player, you are going to want to learn how to read and translate notes. Interestingly enough, studies have also shown that learning the piano and the theory behind it, can make you a better guitarist.
The final reason why the piano is easier on the music theory-front is the way it can help you when writing music. On the guitar, you are limited to a maximum of six notes at a time. On the piano, you can play eight to ten notes at one time. The piano gives you a wider range to work with, which is a big advantage from a composer’s perspective.
On That Note
While both instruments can provide a beginner a good opportunity in learning and the understanding of music theory, the piano offers more gratification in the beginning and an easier approach to understanding music theory and technique.
While most music teachers will agree that the piano is the easier one between the two on the technical side, as well as with the understanding of music theory, this does not mean that you have to forgo your ambitions of learning the guitar. You simply have to expect a steeper learning curve.
At the end, it will always come down to preference. An older student will most likely prefer a guitar due to it adding to the “being cool” factor. If you are willing to work a little harder in your guitar lessons, nothing can stop you from succeeding. Both of these instruments open doors that lead you to the same room – a place where the love of making music is shared.
About the Author: Helen Baker
I am a freelance teacher and writer based in Ann Arbor, MI. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, I spent some time teaching English in Paris and, thereafter, returned to Ann Arbor where I was involved both in the media and academics. Currently I am a stay at home mom, working as a freelance writer and teacher. I love all my guitars and I also have an affinity towards old grand pianos. I love singing, traveling, reading, writing, watching films and spending quality time with my husband.