Last Updated on December 22, 2020 by IDS Team
Learning a new instrument can be an intuitive way to become a better artist, improve muscle memory, and occupy your creative side while you’re trapped at home during the coronavirus quarantine.
For both adults and children, instruments are hallmarks of the learner’s individuality. However, some are easier (and more fun) to learn than others.
Anyone can excel at learning to play a musical instrument, but comparing them more carefully reveals that some are more accessible than others, particularly for certain kinds of people.
Whether you’re an adult worried you’re too far up the creek to learn a new art or the parent of a child worried that they won’t be able to devote the time and energy to learning an entirely new skill, this guide to the easiest instruments to learn should help sort through the pile for you.
In this article, we go over some of the qualities that make instruments harder or easier to learn, as well as some of the resources to keep in mind that can make you or your child’s learning experience smoother.
Simple Expectations – Simple Instruments
The first step to finding the instrument that will be easiest for you to learn is to assess what your expectations are for this musical journey.
Depending on how far you hope to take your craft, you may prefer an instrument with fewer keys and a less complex playing format.
For instance, a harmonica is an ideal instrument for adults that don’t need to become concertos but just want to learn something simple, either to show off at parties, play accompaniment in a band, or just amuse themselves creatively on their off days.
Harmonicas are portable and don’t require any setup. Even toddlers can have fun with them.
Even better, harmonicas are always in key and most people don’t feel pressured to learn the notes down to an exact science.
For those that just want something easy to noodle around on, harmonicas make accessible hobbies and are probably the easiest instrument overall.
Percussion Instruments: Don’t Go Too Simple
This may seem counter-intuitive to the title of this article, but it’s an important point: when managing your expectations for your journey to becoming a musician in your off-time, you need to realize that there is such a thing as too simple.
This is because the absolute easiest instruments to pick up and play are probably maracas, triangles, shakers, bells, tambourines, castanets, and other extremely simple pieces of equipment, most of which can’t change pitch.
Note that any instrument, even the simplest shaker, is difficult to master and all of them have a place in a professional orchestra.
But if you only expect to learn an instrument as a hobby or side gig, you may need something more complex than the simplest shaker.
At the level you want to learn, those likely won’t hold your attention for long or give you a satisfying sense of accomplishment once you’ve mastered … the maraca.
For a similar “pick up and play” concept that offers a more complex and satisfying experience in the long-term, simple drums are a great pick.
Bongos make great alternatives to the full drum kits that not every adult learner wants to buy, store, and learn.
Bongos provide an affordable, amusing instrument for budding little percussionists or adults that want stress relief the simple way.
Another option is a simple xylophone, or glockenspiel, which requires no specific guided education like embouchure training to get started playing.
Playing simple songs on a wooden or metal percussion instrument like these might seem childlike at first.
But they’re not only perfect for children if that’s not what you’re looking for – they also offer the ability to advance and grow.
People play them professionally, after all.
They offer enough complexity for you to keep learning and becoming impressive, achieving that sense of accomplishment that is so essential to the learning experience.
Even though we’re looking for easy instruments, the easiest to learn may not always be the easiest to feel good about.
The String Family
For those that want a little more excitement and complexity, they may have gone into the instrument buying experience with strings already on their mind. Guitars and ukuleles offer probably the biggest reward for your time of all the instruments that are relatively easy to learn.
That’s because it’s easy to set your own pace with them and they’re instantly recognizable by anyone.
People are far more likely to be impressed by a song on a guitar or ukulele than bongos, so if you’re looking for easy instruments to learn to show off a little, you may need to put in the effort.
Playing around a college campus or just at home while you’re working there or relaxing on your day off can give you a boost in confidence and make you feel like you’re learning something.
Thankfully, there are a ton of online resources for teaching guitar and ukulele, including charts, fingering guides, online lessons, and other text and video content to get you started.
If you’re going to go ahead and try guitar, which many readers probably will, you should also make sure you pick up the right guitar for your needs.
Make sure you buy a guitar with nylon strings so it’s easier on your beginner’s fingers. Steel-string, 12-string, and other classical styles are available too but tend to be less forgiving.
Ukuleles are by far the easiest string instruments to learn, with fewer strings and far more forgiving chord arrangements.
For those that want the highest returns on their investment, ukuleles are a great choice. They impress friends and girlfriends, and make great pick up and play hobbies.
Upping Your Game with Wind Instruments
We already mentioned harmonicas and yes – that’s technically a wind instrument.
Typically, however, when you’re buying a new instrument, wind instruments refer to those that require some kind of embouchure, tuning, or other meticulous learning.
Of all the wind instruments that require these things, the easiest for children and adults to learn is the recorder.
Recorders not only make fantastic instruments for older first-time musicians but also provide an ideal stepping stone for a child that you want to encourage to be passionate about music.
A recorder can lead to a flute or clarinet for a young student and provides an easy introduction to the basics in practicing, reading notes, and learning songs.
There are simple online tutorials to get you started on how to play the recorder.
For your efforts in learning something a little more complex in terms of the muscles and coordination you have to use to get your fingers and breath working in sync, recorders have a high ceiling on your potential to learn and grow with them.
They may seem like child’s play but people play them professionally as well.
The Staple: Learning the Piano
The piano used to be the go-to staple for people that wanted to learn an instrument. There are two great things about learning the piano to this day, and a couple of drawbacks that put it lower on this list.
The first great thing about the piano or keyboard is the wealth of resources you have available to learn from.
People have been teaching and composing for piano for centuries and you’ll have no trouble at all finding skills exercises, scales, chords, charts, and songs that suit your needs and your expectations for your new skill.
The second great thing is that the piano can take you as far or as short as you want to go with learning a new instrument.
You can stop at the basic songs or learn up to a professional level if you want, which is a less rewarding ambition on something like the tambourine.
Those that want something easy to pick up but difficult to master may find their new artistic calling on the piano.
The drawback of the piano is that they’re big and expensive. Even keyboards will set you back quite a bit if you want something of decent quality (people make their living on them, remember).
Not everyone has room in their life for a piano, and it’s certainly not the easiest instrument on this list to begin with. You may need lessons to take it to the next level.
But for those that want a challenge, the right keyboard offers a lot of learning opportunities.
How do I choose? A Beginner’s Buying Guide to Instruments
Now that we’ve bombarded you with information about a bunch of instruments, you may be wondering how to choose between them.
We created this 3-step buying guide so that you can figure out, not just which instrument is the easiest to learn for everyone, but which is the easiest way to fulfill your needs as a new learner.
Before you buy an instrument, ask yourself these questions:
1. Why do I want to learn a new instrument?
This is the single most important question you should ask before you decide the type of instrument that you want to learn.
The instruments in this article that are technically the easiest, like the harmonica and tambourine, can only take you so far. Depending on your expectations, they may be easy without being worth it.
Do you want to learn a new instrument to challenge yourself? To impress someone? To play your favorite songs? You may need to expand your limits a little and choose from the more difficult, but still relatively easy instruments on this list like the ukulele.
Most of you probably aren’t looking for the literal easiest thing to play, especially if you’re motivated to learn a new instrument because of boredom brought on by quarantine or the desire to be creative and improve yourself.
You’re probably looking for the easiest thing to enjoy playing. Knowing what that is, requires knowing your expectations.
2. Do I have any experience?
Different instruments might be easier to learn based on your experience.
For instance, a trumpet player might be able to take up a trombone more easily than a recorder, even though to the general population, the recorder is an easier instrument.
We know you’re probably not a trumpet player. The point is that this reasoning carries over to other aspects of learning. If you already know how to read music, for instance, you may prefer to pick up a recorder rather than a harmonica. If you just want to play it by ear and never learn academic music, the harmonica might be the better option (different models even have different fixed pitches to make things easier).
Maybe you took piano lessons as a kid or know that you have natural good rhythm. The point is that your experiences could change the answer to the question of which instrument is easiest for you.
3. Is cost an issue for me?
Not all the options here are cheap – a keyboard is more expensive than a harmonica.
People who go all out and get a professional keyboard may not need to worry about the cost.
For most of us, the instrument that’s easiest and cheapest is preferable.
Learning a new instrument can be enjoyable or tedious, costly or cost-free (relatively). While everyone’s cooped up inside, it’s only natural to want to take on new hobbies and learn new skills.
A new instrument can be a daunting task, however, and that’s why we made this guide on how to choose one for your needs.
What’s the overall takeaway? The best answer is that everyone’s needs, experiences, and expectations are different.
So the easiest instrument for them to pick up and get the most out of learning may not be the same for everyone. However, there are some basic answers.
For a parent that wants a child to learn basic music and maybe transition to harder things later, a recorder could be ideal.
For any older adult, especially those that don’t want to worry about technique as much, a harmonica is the easiest instrument out there.
Whatever you choose, it’s essential to compare your needs with the instrument first.
Everyone is a little different.
Depending on how much (or how little) you want to devote to this new skill, you may surprise yourself with the instrument you end up choosing.