It’s a question I see again and again in my inbox: “Jacques, I want to learn piano or guitar, but I can’t decide. What should I do first? Is piano harder than guitar?”
In 2019, people spent over $600,000,000 on pianos and stringed instruments including guitars in the U.S. alone (1). Clearly, a lot of people are interested in learning to play these two instruments! And a lot of people are very curious to know which one will be easier for them as a beginner.
So our big question of the day is this:
“Is piano harder than guitar?”
Piano vs. Guitar: The Call of Pop Culture
No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”
We see piano and guitar in music videos, movies, and on our favorite albums. Many people grow up in houses where at least one of these instruments is around. You likely have a parent, sibling, or friend who already plays one, right?
The fact is, what you see as normal usually affects how you think about your goals. If your family and friends and favorite musicians play piano, you probably have taken lessons at some point. But if they play guitar, the odds are good that you’ve tried your hand at strumming along to a favorite tune in someone’s basement or garage at some point in your life. 😉
Why is Piano Regarded as Being Much Harder Than Guitar?
No matter what kind of musical background you have, you’ve probably got some of your views of piano versus guitar from popular culture. (2) So is learning how to play piano harder than learning how to play guitar?
I don’t know about you, but I think piano has gotten a worse rep than guitar. Otherwise, why would we even be asking if the piano is harder than guitar? Let’s take a look at some ways we often see these instruments portrayed.
Piano In Popular Culture
Traditional piano teachers are often portrayed as mean and impatient (and probably elderly and female). And traditional piano students are usually stuck playing and practicing when they’d rather be doing something else (I can relate!). If they happen to actually like piano, they might be a bit of a nerd. Or a huge nerd.
All that hard work has to lead somewhere. The way movies and TV explain it, the pianist ends up in either total despair or glorious triumph. The piano student might just completely embarrass themselves at their recital/talent show/concert.
Or else they’re going to work their butts off for hours and hours, day after day – just so they can finally play a flawless classical piece that they’re probably already sick of. There will be gasps of horror, or thunderous applause.
Either way, there’s a lot of drama and drudgery involved.
Guitar in Popular Culture
Meanwhile, the guitarist is portrayed as the cool guy (because in the movies, it’s always guys who play guitar – am I right?). They’re the ones who are the natural creatives, the singer-songwriters, the band members who get all the girls.
Guitar players don’t have to wear formal clothes or sit with a teacher for hours. They just have to learn a few chords and spend a little time strumming on their front porch or their best friend’s beanbag chair. Soon enough, it’s all coming together. They’re playing songs, they’re writing songs, it’s all flowing effortlessly. How cool.
It’s pretty ridiculous when you think about it: Does that match what you’ve actually seen of guitar players in real life? I know a lot of cool people, some of whom play guitar. But it’s not the guitar itself that makes them cool.
Dispelling Some Myths
So, is piano harder than guitar? Let’s get past some of these pop culture portrayals:
- Not all piano teachers are mean elderly ladies (c’mon, you’ve seen my photo. Do I look like I’m mean, elderly, or a woman?).
- Piano lessons don’t have to take forever – which is why you are on a website called Piano In 21 Days!
- Not everyone who enjoys piano is a nerd. My piano students range from age 10 to 90 plus years old, and you’d better believe they are from all different walks of life.
- It doesn’t have to take a huge amount of time to learn how to play real songs, and “real” songs don’t just mean classical.
Are you still with me? Great. Let’s address the guitar side of things:
- Guys aren’t the only ones who play guitar. Duh.
- Not all guitar players are songwriters, or super-creative types.
- (Do I really have to say this one?) Guitar-playing doesn’t guarantee you’ll “get the girl.”
- Some guitar players do need a lot of lessons to achieve their musical goals.
Your background and your experience are going to play a big part in your mindset about the piano versus guitar debate. But let’s take a closer look at what might make sense for your goals.
Is Guitar Better Than Piano?
Obviously, no one can make an objective judgment about whether guitar is better than piano. But we can take a look at which one is better in certain situations, because there are some musical genres that use one a lot more than the other.
If your favorite genres trend toward more of one instrument than the other, that could be an easy way to figure out which instrument is the right fit for you.
Let’s look at some piano-heavy genres:
Here are the more guitar-forward genres:
- Rock subgenres including punk, grunge and alternative
- Flamenco, mariachi, and many Latin American sub-genres
Where Do Your Interests Lie?
Are you a big country listener who also dabbles in folk and rock? Sounds like guitar might be the right fit for you! Or do you prefer your playlist to feature soulful ballads, gospel hymns and jazz tunes? That probably means piano is getting a lot more airtime.
Where Guitar and Piano Meet
“I played a guitar with a file, and a synthesizer.”
There are plenty of artists and genres that use both guitar and piano. Turn on your radio or Spotify and listen. You will hear a lot of popular tunes that aren’t boxed into one musical instrument category. (3) Pop, jazz, classic rock, the blues: They’ve often got great combos of guitar, piano and much more. And that’s great! The whole point of creating music is that …
… It’s Okay to Combine and Innovate
Genre expectations don’t have to be a hard-and-fast rule. Musicians are allowed to get creative.
And even if you’re looking at a genre where you are expected to have more piano or more guitar, that doesn’t mean you have to. It’s cool when certain songs or albums “break the rules” by making unconventional musical choices. So maybe you want to start a country band with zero guitars. Or maybe you want to learn an all-guitar rendition of that famous theme song from Chariots of Fire.
Go for it! I’m talking about the rule of thumb, not a legal requirement. 😉
Guitar vs. Piano: Choices That Make Learning Simpler
Here’s the thing: I’m not really a big fan of pitting musical instruments against each other. Everyone has their own musical tastes, and some people really prefer one instrument to another. But others just want to figure out the quickest and easiest way to play a real song.
A Common Point of Confusion
I want to take a quick moment to address something that people who are new here often ask. In my piano course, I mention that part of my song-learning process is doing a Google search for chords.
Most of the time, that search results in … guitar chords! (4) Here’s an example:
The top results come from a website called Ultimate Guitar. So what people want to know is, how are they supposed to use results from a guitar website when they play piano?
Can You Play Piano Using Guitar Notation?
The simple answer is, yes, you can play piano using guitar notation. In fact, with my chord-based approach to piano, you might even gain an advantage for future guitar studies. And vice versa. If you already play guitar, my lessons may feel even easier to understand.
That’s because everything I teach is centered around chords, and my piano students use guitar chord notation to play.
Guitar chords and piano chords are different due to the difference in how these two instruments are set up. But they are made up of the same exact music notes, and they can be written down in the exact same way.
The beauty of learning to play chord-based pianoor guitar is that you can use the same notation with either instrument. There is no need for scary sheet music, either way!
Asking Is Piano Harder Than Guitar, Finding Some Answers
Like everything in life, some questions are easier to answer than others. That’s especially true when we’re talking about subjective things like music preferences! (And the million-dollar question of is piano harder than guitar.) But we can at least drill down to a few key questions and we’ll give the answers our best shot.
Is Piano the Hardest Instrument to Play?
No, piano is not the hardest instrument to play. This might be a bit controversial, but I vote for bagpipes as the hardest instrument and the instrument least likely to work for playing top 40 hits.
That said, traditional lessons can make piano feel very hard. You have to dedicate hours of your life to practice – or your parents have to dedicate hours of their life to making you practice.
You are introduced to sheet music very early, but that doesn’t make it easier. In fact, it always seems to get more complicated as you go on. And no matter how much you practice, it’s unlikely that you can play Chopin or Bach or even Elton John without a huge amount of work.
Not only that, unless you are a budding concert pianist, you probably aren’t actually working on music you want to play. That was one of the biggest reasons why my own childhood piano lessons still felt hard years later.
Should You Learn Piano or Guitar First?
You should learn piano or guitar first. There really is no one right answer. Maybe you want to play to accompany yourself singing. Maybe you want to join a band, or play with your church’s worship team. Or maybe you just want to entertain yourself with songs you love.
Guess what? Either piano or guitar can probably work for either of those goals. There’s a different question you need to ask yourself. A question beyond “Is piano harder than guitar?” Or “Should I learn piano or guitar first?”
Is Piano Harder Than Guitar? It Is All About Preference
“One of my biggest thrills for me still is sitting down with a guitar or a piano and just out of nowhere trying to make a song happen.”
The question you need to really dig into is this:
“What do I want to play?”
Simple, right? What you actually want to play is the right place to start. Here’s why:
- “Easy” and “hard” are relative terms.
- Learning guitar vs. learning piano doesn’t have to be a mutually exclusive choice.
- What makes guitar or piano more attractive is your own perspective and what makes sense for you.
- You will almost always succeed more with projects you feel real interest in.
What have you been leaning toward more? A piano or a guitar? And what do you feel most excited about being able to play? That’s where you should probably start.
Does Piano Learning Limit You?
Okay, you’ve come to the conclusion that piano is the right choice for you. Does that mean you can never learn guitar? Absolutely not!
Like I’ve already said, piano versus guitar doesn’t have to be an exclusive commitment. Songs for guitar and piano often overlap. Singing with guitar vs. piano isn’t really too different once you gain basic competency in either instrument.
If you are learning chord-based playing the way I teach it, there’s an added benefit to playing piano. The foundations of what you learn here can actually help you understand guitar better later on. (5)
What You Need to Get Started
If you’ve come to the conclusion that piano is the first instrument you want to try, congratulations! You’re already a lot closer to that dream of playing real music. Now you just need the right learning structure and resources to get you started (or get re-started, if you didn’t stick with your childhood lessons). (6)
The Instrument Itself
Naturally, you need a piano or a keyboard. There so many great options out there, but don’t get overwhelmed. The two most important criteria are all you really need to focus on for now:
- 49+ keys total
- A sustain pedal
If you have an acoustic piano, you’ve already met both of those criteria! But maybe you’re in the market for a keyboard or digital piano. No problem. There are lots of reasons why something a bit smaller and more portable could be a great choice..
If your budget allows for it, try to get something with weighted or semi-weighted keys. The semi-weighted model I review here is one I personally use now, and it’s a great compromise between quality and price. Again, you’ll need to make sure you have a sustain pedal if you want to successfully complete my 21-day course.
Make sure you don’t get too hung up on one specific model option. Use what you can now, and you can always upgrade later to reward yourself for your progress.
This Will Be Easier Than You Think, Because …
Well then, is piano harder than guitar? I don’t think so. And In my opinion, the easiest way for you to start playing piano is to use my free 5-day workbook – just like the over 90,000 people have downloaded this workbook since I first created it!
In the five included lessons, I break down some of the biggest challenges that piano learners face and how to move past them without a lot of hassle. By the end of the workbook, you’ll know enough about piano to start playing not one, not two, but 36 songs – and that’s just the beginning!
Just so you know, I’ve heard some awesome feedback thus far. So while I might be a bit biased, I am also very confident that you are going to enjoy getting started with this free and easy-to-use resource.
In conclusion, I hope you have fun getting started, and I’m looking forward to being a part of your piano journey! Because the answer to the question of “is piano harder than guitar” is a resounding no.
- The Economist
- The Guardian