Let’s find out why ukulele is the perfect choice for a beginner who is looking for his first musical instrument to play.
So, you like music. You think you’d like to play an instrument. But, you live in an apartment or dorm, so you don’t have a lot of space. You don’t want to spend a lot of money. A quiet instrument would be a big plus. And you need an instrument that can grow with you. The ukulele is portable, inexpensive, soothing and fun. It comes in many sizes to fit the person playing it. This is why it’s the perfect choice!
The ukulele is portable
A soprano ukulele can easily fit into a backpack. In fact, I put one on the back of my road bike when I rode across Iowa a few summers ago! That way I could stop and play a song with other people whenever I wanted. You can read more about my trip here.
Because the ukulele is so portable, it easily fits in an apartment or dorm room. You can even hang it on the wall as a work of art.
If you live in a dorm or apartment, having an instrument that doesn’t bother the neighbors is essential. The ukulele is a quiet instrument that you can play at any time. You will not bother anyone and you’ll increase your own happiness and joy with the beautiful sounds.
If you join a ukulele club, the ukulele is quiet enough that 30 people can all play and sing at once without painful overstimulation. (I don’t think I’d want to hear 30 trumpeters in one room at a time!)
The sound is joyful and soothing. But don’t take my word for it. Look at what Eddie and the ukulele buzz site have to say about the ukulele’s sound.
The ukulele might be small in size but the sound it produces is rich, full, and entertaining. Another reason why people like the ukulele is because of the calmness of the sound it produces. Unlike other types of instruments, the ukulele does not produce any annoying sounds. ukulelebuzz
Life is serious. Life can also be tough. Maybe you’re having a horrible day at work, perhaps burnt out, or stressed out about the bills and other stuff you’ve got to take care of. Playing the ukulele makes you smile. Eddie
The ukulele comes in many sizes
You can always try another size. The soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles all tune the same to GCEA so you can easily switch from one to another. The main difference is that adult hands are often more comfortable on the tenor. Children are sometimes more comfortable on the soprano. Once you can play a little on your entry-level ukulele, try out different sizes to see which one fits you best.
Many ukulele players have more than one ukulele. They use one for traveling and one for singing and strumming. When you get more advanced you can use one for chord melody and one for playing clawhammer in a fiddle band. With the tenor and concert sizes you can get low G tuning instead of the re-entrant tuning pictured above. This makes the sound more mellow like a guitar.
Different types of ukuleles sound better in different styles of music. You’ll feel good about yourself because you keep switching instruments for different sounds. You’re playing the ukulele but with the different tunings and sounds, you can play all types of music and have fun.
The Ukulele is FUN
With its portability and beautiful sound, the ukulele is a ton of fun! You’ll be playing in no time and will be able to play music in all kinds of styles. If you’re not a singer, join in with other people who are. You can sing and play around a campfire and share the gift of music with everyone you care about.
When you take your ukulele to your next community get-together, you’ll be thrilled. You’ll realize why ukulele is the perfect choice, indeed.
Are you struggling with strumming?
With our book and course, you’ll become a fluent 3-chord strummer.
Do you know what’s the difference between high-G and low-G tuning?
Sometimes you’ll hear ukulele players refer to “High G” or “Low G” tuning on their ukuleles. It can be confusing if you don’t know what they’re talking about. And, why does it matter? Recently Colleen reached out to me with this question:
When I watched the YouTube video where you teach “Edelweiss,” I noticed your ukulele sounded different and you said it had “low G tuning.” It sounded really nice the way you were able to pluck the strings with that kind of tuning. Can you tell me about Low G Tuning? Is that the tuning you use in all of your songs? Do you recommend it?
I answered her by telling her that it really depends on personal preference. Whatever type you choose for your ukulele is up to you. It depends on which sound you prefer.
Difference Between Low-G and High-G Tuning?
All soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles are tuned to GCEA. This tuning is called re-entrant because it starts high, then goes low and then goes high again. A lot of really cool effects can be done with this tuning, but that tends to be for more advanced players.
High G tuning is when the G string is higher in pitch than the C string.
You can see that the first note is higher than the second, which is one of the reasons the tuning of the ukulele sounds so unique.
Low G tuning is when you use a low G instead of a high G.
I mainly play with a Low G tuning because I like the deeper sound, especially for accompanying singing and for chord melody playing. Concert and tenor ukuleles can support the “Low G” tuning. A soprano ukulele will not work with the Low G string, because the lower-pitched G string will end up being really loose. Think of a loose rubber band to get the idea. If you want to switch out your ukulele to Low G tuning, it is very easy to do. It doesn’t work for soprano ukuleles, but for tenor and concert, all you need to do is buy a low G string. You can either replace the string yourself or have someone do it at the music store. Check out our recommendations page for low G and high G strings as well as other ukulele accessories.
Why I Use Both High-G and Low-G Tunings
My soprano ukulele is more portable. And, it supports “High G” tuning. I have recently learned to play a lot of “clawhammer” with my soprano uke. Here is an example of what “clawhammer” ukulele sounds like. “Clawhammer” works better with the “High G” tuning.
When I play chord melody or accompany myself singing, I like to use “Low G” tuning. Here is an example of that on my tenor ukulele.
So, I use both tunings depending on the style of music I am playing. It gives me more variety of sound and is a lot of FUN. Knowing about the difference between high-G and low-G tuning can help you decide which one you prefer. Or, if you have more than one ukulele, you can have one with “High G” tuning and one with “Low G” tuning. Then you can more easily play all the styles of music you love.
If you want to play the latest hits, you need to learn essential skills first. 21 MORE Songs in 6 Days will teach you these skills.
There you are, practicing your musical instrument of choice. If you’re like many people, you may do the same things over and over without improving. And that’s very frustrating! But help is on the way. There are ways of practicing that are effective. By effective, I mean that you are able to improve at whatever it is you are practicing. There are also mental ‘hacks’ that can help you feel less frustration with practice. In this article, you’ll learn seven tools for dealing with frustration about practicing.
Ready to learn some great practice tips and hacks? Let’s get started.
1. Set more realistic goals
Frustration happens when reality doesn’t meet our expectations. If you alter your expectations to a more likely outcome, your frustration will go away.
You have to accept that you may not get the results you want when you want them. Learning takes however long it takes. You definitely want to be as efficient as possible, but it’s still going to take a lot of time. If you can learn to enjoy practicing, the time will be a pleasure. And who doesn’t want that?
Choose music you can realistically master
A main area where students cause themselves problems is with the music they choose to work on. Most beginners and inexperienced teachers also choose music that is much too difficult. This only breeds frustration for most students. Be sure your repertoire is realistic.
Don’t be fooled by the word ‘beginner’ or ‘easy’ in the title. Beginning books always sell more copies than more advanced books, so publishers use these words to sell more books. It’s better to progress quickly through music you think is on the easy side. This approach will build skills that you can then apply to more difficult music. You wouldn’t give a 4th grader reading material at a college level and expect them to use practice to master it.
Once an early intermediate adult piano student heard me working on the Chopin “Etude Opus 10 No. 1,” considered one of the more difficult of Chopin’s many difficult piano studies. He said, “Can I work on that?” I said “No, not until you’re much further along.” This is like a weekend tennis player thinking s/he could take on Serena Williams.
He said, “Why not? I can sight read it at home.” I was familiar with this student’s sight-reading level. By sight reading, he meant that he could play the piece through very slowly. He would also be starting and stopping when convenient.
So, when you pick songs to work on, you want to choose something that you can play at the right speed. And, without starting and stopping. Just because you can play through a piece slowly with many pauses does not mean that you could master it.
Be sure the skills you are trying to learn are realistic
I had someone come once for a special lesson on piano technique. He wanted to learn how to raise his ring finger as high as all his other fingers. I told him this was physically impossible. Test it yourself – put all your fingertips on a tabletop and try lifting each one individually. The fourth finger does not lift as high because it has tendons running over the top of the knuckle.
(Classical composer Robert Schumann injured his hand and was not able to play piano anymore. It’s rumored that he was trying to strengthen his 4th finger with a special machine.)
I showed the student a way to get evenness and power in the fourth finger by moving the finger, hand and arm together. He was very disappointed. He felt I had not answered his question and left unhappy.
The moral of the story is that there are some things that are impossible to do no matter how you practice. You could never learn to run a marathon in cement shoes, no matter how you practice.
If you are feeling frustrated about not meeting a practice goal, do some research. See if other people are able to do what you are trying to learn. If so, then you can learn to do it too. If not, maybe there’s some other way to get the results you want. Keep researching until you find an approach that works for you.
2. Learn how to practice effectively
Practice is different than playing your song(s) from beginning to end. That’s playing music, not practicing music. Think about sports. Baseball practice is completely different than a baseball game. Practice means analyzing the problem you’re having, and working to overcome it.
Work in shorter sections
Most students choose sections that are too long and/or too difficult which creates frustration with practice. Let me introduce my friend George Miller, a psychologist. He discovered that most people could remember at least 5-6 “units of information”, and no more than 8-9 “units”. Seven was most typical number of bits of information that people could handle.
How does this apply to music practice?
When practicing, you are putting new musical information into your short-term memory. Once you have done this enough times, it becomes permanent, i.e., learned. This means that practice sections should have no more than 7 bits of information.
If you are learning to read melody tab, it might mean that you only play 5-7 notes at a time. You could repeat your chosen notes 3-7 times, and then move on to the next set of notes.
Here’s another example. Let’s say you are having trouble making a chord change quickly. Isolate what individual movements are required and practice them one at a time. Then combine them – but no more than 7 movements at once. Soon you may start thinking of two or three individual movements as one thing.
That’s great! That’s effective practice! Now you can add in some more elements to your group of seven.
Combining strumming with singing
And here’s a final example: learning to combine strumming with singing. I’ve gone into a lot of detail on this one for two reasons. First, to give you a feeling for how to break things down and learn them in small chunks. And 2nd, because many ukulele beginners have trouble combining strumming and singing.
Here’s how to learn this crucial skill.
Make sure you can do each skill separately
The first thing to do is make sure that you can do each of the skills separately. Can you strum your chosen song all the way through without stopping? Can you sing the whole song through without stopping? If not, practice each skill until it is are easy.
First check that you can strum the chords for your song in time to a video, backing track or metronome. Then learn to sing the song without playing. Listen and hum along with a recording or video to learn the melody. Then try singing along with a recording. You can refer to a book or sheet to help you remember the words. If that is too hard at first, try chanting the words in the rhythm of the song. Then add singing the words to the melody you have learned.
When you can sing the song, try clapping along as you sing the song, using the rhythm of the strum you will use. This will prime your brain to coordinate rhythmic hand movements with singing.
Integrate singing with playing
Now we’re going to integrate singing with playing. Try humming the tune along with your recording while holding an easy chord with your left hand. Next, try humming and strumming an easy chord. You can always start with an easier strum, say all downs, and then switch to a harder strum later. Finally, change from humming the tune to singing the words while you strum the chords for the song. Now you’ve got it!
If things still fall apart, there are several things to try.
Go back and repeat each step until it is easy, not possible.
Next, focus in on one line of the song at a time. For example, sing and strum the first line of your song as many times as you need to until it feels easy. (Or at least improved). Then move on to the next line. Continue until you can perform each line of the song easily.
Then try singing and strumming the first two lines of the song in a row. You will probably make errors that did not occur when you did each of the lines alone; this is normal. Go back and review each of the lines a few times, and then try repeating the two lines in sequence. After several tries, you should be able to play and sing the two lines together. Go slowly enough that you can play with reasonable accuracy.
Next, review the third line to remind yourself how it goes. Now try performing all three lines in the correct sequence. Again, new mistakes or confusion will most likely surface. Go back and review any trouble spots, and then try combining all three lines again. Repeat as needed.
Do a small number of repetitions
Again, the number 7 comes up. You should only repeat a section for as long you can maintain your concentration. For most people that’s 3-7 times. You want to be sure that you are playing as correctly as possible. If you do 20, 30 or 100 repetitions, your mind will glaze over, and you will be practicing playing in a mindless way. This is not the way to achieve good results – and it’s boring and frustrating.
3. Avoid frustration with deliberate practice.
James Clear has written a lot about an idea he calls deliberate practice. He says “deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.”
Our strategy for combining singing and strumming is an example of deliberate practice.
Here’s another deliberate practice strategy:
Slow down until you can play your chosen section perfectly. Then gradually speed up, while continuing to play your song with 100% accuracy. If you start making mistakes, slow the section down again.
If you have a teacher, ask him or her to show you some practice strategies. If you are part of a ukulele club or group, ask the more advanced players for some tips on how to practice. There are lots of friendly ukulele groups on Facebook. The book or method you are using may have some tips on how to practice. And please feel free to reach out to us with your questions about practicing. We’re happy to help.
4. Build your ability to concentrate.
You need concentration for deliberate practice. Concentration has to be developed. Heeding George Miller’s 7 items rule will make it much easier for you to concentrate and progress. You can also ask your teacher or musician friends for tips.
Consider setting up a plan for gradually increasing your practice sessions. You can also break your practice into two separate shorter sessions. This will make it easier to maintain your concentration.
Why can’t you concentrate?
It’s also important to figure out why you can’t concentrate. Here are some possible factors.
External distractions: If you’re constantly getting interrupted it is very hard to make progress.
Low tolerance for frustration: It’s important to know that progress is not linear. It’s more like a staircase where you stay at one level for a while and then jump to another level. Knowing this can help you deal with frustration.
No clear order or plan: It’s good to set a specific attainable goal for yourself. “I will spend 15 minutes working in small sections on the guitar solo from ‘Hotel California’”. That way when you accomplish your goal you can feel good about it.
Lack of energy: Practice at a good time of day for you. If you are a morning person, see if you can squeeze in some practice in the early hours. And vice versa for night owls.
No interest: Remind yourself WHY you are practicing. What is your purpose for learning an instrument? What is your goal in practicing ‘Hotel California?’
Commitment: How committed are you to mastering whatever your task is? If you’re not committed, it’s easy to give up. Why are you practicing? What is the long-term reward you are hoping for? Reminding yourself of the why is a way to stay focused on working in the present.
5. Set rewards for meeting practice milestones.
Try to notice the small signs of musical growth. You can set goals that are realistic for you such as:
Open my case 7 days a week
Spend at least 15 minutes a day working on the B-flat chord
Record myself once a month
When you meet your goal, give yourself a reward. This strategy can work well for younger players. But it works for adults too. We all enjoy feeling successful and getting rewards.
Try recording yourself at regular intervals. Then listen to older recordings to hear your progress. Many adults who are new to music are harshly judgmental about their playing. I recommend you reward yourself both for making a recording and for listening to it!
6. Take a break
The average human’s attention span is somewhere around twenty minutes. So, you’ll be more productive and less frustrated if you take some breaks to recharge.
Stop playing for a moment. Put your brain into recharge mode. You could set a timer for 3-5 minutes. Close your eyes, then listen to your breathing and the sounds around you. Maybe do some favorite stretches or grab some water.
If you are stuck, try working on something new i.e., new music or a new skill. Sometimes this will help you master the thing you were stuck on. There’s always time to go back to the old.
7. Find a practice buddy
You can agree to text or call this person each time you practice. Knowing that you are accountable to someone else can help you feel motivated. That motivation can translate into better progress and less frustration.
Well, there you have it. I hope you’ve found something to help you deal with frustration with music practicing. Perhaps you’ll even begin to enjoy your practicing! Once that happens, music will have a more permanent place in your life. To paraphrase a familiar saying, learning music is a journey, not a destination.
Are you struggling with strumming?
With our book and course, you’ll become a fluent 3-chord strummer.
So, can adults learn musical instruments? Most of us humans love music. Many people didn’t have the chance to study music as a child and wonder if they can learn as an adult. Read on for the answer.
Neural plasticity continues into adulthood
Many adults think that only children are able to learn music. It’s true that children’s brains are very flexible. However, brain flexibility continues into adulthood.
Norman Weinberger is a neuroscientist at University of California Irvine. He has done pioneering research on the auditory system and the brain. He says that while it’s harder for the mature brain to learn an instrument, it’s not impossible. “A lot of people believe the brain isn’t very plastic after puberty. In fact, the brain maintains its ability to change,” Weinberger says. “Is it as easy to learn something when you’re 65 as it is at 5? No. But can it be done? Yes.”
Music uses a lot of the brain
That’s why, unlike with language, there is no single music center in the brain — rather, there are a lot of them. “When brain scans have been done of musicians, you find the enormity of the areas of the brain that are actually being activated,” Weinberger explains.
Playing music can also increase human growth hormone (HgH) production among active older Americans. A study by the University of Miami had two groups: one that took group keyboard lessons and one that did not. The group which played music had significantly higher levels of HgH than the group of people who did not make music.
Maybe you are convinced that music study is good for you. But you might still worried about whether you can play a musical instrument? Let’s look at some obstacles and come up with solutions.
Fear of failure
Many people are afraid to try new things because they think they might fail. But after 40+ years of teaching music, I can say with confidence that ability is not all that important. It’s much more important to have beginner’s mind and determination.
Children have easy access to beginner’s mind. Most things are new to them. They find music study hard, but they are used to trying tasks that are hard.Children also usually have low expectations of what they might accomplish. So they don’t get that discouraged when they encounter an obstacle or have a short term failure.
Adults are used to feeling competent in their job and daily tasks. So trying something brand new that is hard can be stressful. Having realistic goals about music study will help you persevere. And choosing an instrument that suits you well will also help.
Here are our suggestions on how to make time in your life for music practice.
Turn your phone off
It’s possible that you spend 20-30 minutes a day on social media or cruising the web. You could use that time to practice a musical instrument! Turning your phone off can be scary at first. But if you turn your phone off for 20 minutes and focus on one specific skill or piece of music, you’ll have much more success than if you respond to every text.
Life as you know it will not end if you turn your phone off. And when you turn it back on you’ll get the added bonus of feeling really popular when 16 alerts pop up.
Play less, more often
Yes, we just recommended playing less! You don’t have to play for six hours a day to stay sharp or improve. But make sure you keep up a daily schedule. As with physical fitness, shorter periods of regular, focused, distraction-free practice can make a huge difference. It’s much better to practice 30 minutes 5 days a week than 2 and ½ hours on the weekend.
Set up a schedule or a routine
Figure out what time is easiest for you to practice and plan your life around it. If you are a morning person, maybe you can get up 20 minutes earlier. If you are an evening person, you could play 30 minutes before making dinner.
Make it easy to get started
It’s much easier to start a task if you have everything you need at hand. So set up a spot for your instrument and gear. Then when the time is right you can dive right into work.
Set small goals for yourself so that you can get to done sooner
The brain releases a chemical that makes us feel good each time we complete a task. But learning to play music takes months, if not years. To get around this, create a short term task list for yourself. What mini tasks do you need to do in today’s practice? Write them down in a notebook or planner so you can have the satisfaction of checking them off.
Find music to work on that is fun for you
Once you get past the beginner level, study music that you love to play. Knowing that you will be connected to something you love as you work will help keep you motivated.
Yes, adults can learn musical instruments!
Our adult brains have plenty of resources to learn something new. Besides being enjoyable, learning an instrument as an adult will help you in many ways.
Have you started learning an instrument recently? Are you considering starting? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear about your experience.
Are you struggling with strumming?
With our book and course, you’ll become a fluent 3-chord strummer.
If you’re thinking of starting music study, you may wonder if you need talent to learn a musical instrument. Let’s dive right in and explore this question.
What is musical talent?
“Musical Talent” usually means something like “aptitude”. It shows up various ways:
good sense of pitch and the ability to sing on key
good memory for music
keeping good beat or easily copying rhythms
ability to imitate music you hear
noticing off key or out of tune music
interest in a variety of music
sensitivity to environmental sounds
Aptitude is a less or more trait, rather like your height or weight. Everyone is somewhere on the scale. It’s not a yes/no situation where you are either talented or not. There will always be folks who are more talented than you, and also folks who are less talented than you.
And most people can develop the qualities just listed with practice.
But even if you have good ‘music genes’, you will need other things to be a successful music learner.
Here’s what you need to learn a musical instrument
models (music in your environment): we humans love to imitate one another. If you have never heard a certain kind of music, you will not be able to learn it. You will not even want to learn it since you don’t know it exists.
willingness to work hard: Learning any complex skill takes careful training and hard work. Even with the best training, you must be willing to put in the time needed. A great book about working smart is The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.
access to an instrument and good quality teachers: Unless you are a singer, you will need to rent or buy an instrument. You will also need a motivating teacher that you can connect with. A good teacher will help you learn to use your practice time efficiently. She will also help you learn skills in the right order so that you are progressing steadily. Most teachers (and students!) start off with music that is too hard and jump around in no particular order.
So, do you need talent to learn a musical instrument?
Talent can help in the beginning. You’ll have early success and stay motivated for a while. But in my experience, persistence and hard work trump talent every time. Successfully learning a musical instrument is more about practicing skillfully. It’s also crucial to and find the teacher(s) that are right for you and your goals.
You want to strive to become the best you can. And you can become really skilled as long as you have a good training, learn from others and persist!
Think about your goals
It’s important to think about WHY you want to learn music. As with happiness, playing music is more about the journey than the destination. We each can learn a lot from studying music. I’m still learning things about playing the piano even though I started when I was five.
So if you can focus on enjoying where you are right now, the question of how far you’ll get is less important. And the question of whether you have ‘what it takes’ to ‘succeed’ (whatever that means) is a lot less important.
Benefits of playing a musical instrument
There are many benefits to learning to play a musical instrument. And you can reap these benefits no matter how skilled or unskilled you are. Here are a few.
Improve your brain. Students who played music in school scored higher on the SAT’s than those who did not play music. How much higher? 107 points on an 800 point scale. than students who didn’t play music. (Profiles of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, The College Board, compiled by the Music Educators National Conference, 2002).
Composer Murry Hidary says “playing an instrument regularly as an adult is one of the best ways to ‘use’ the brain. And it has emotional and psychological benefits.” Such as? Improved memory and cognition, because of the intense fine-motor-skill focus required. Playing music can also reduce anxiety and depression. That’s because listening to music spikes your cortisol.
You can get these all these benefits without becoming a rock star or American Idol winner. And people worldwide learn music without first knowing if they are ‘talented’. Why not learn a musical instrument without worrying about your talent level?
No, you don’t need talent to learn an instrument
So, our answer is no, you don’t need talent to learn a musical instrument. Instead, you need kindness towards yourself, dedication, determination and a good teacher.
Are you struggling with strumming?
With our book and course, you’ll become a fluent 3-chord strummer.
People often ask, “What is the best instrument to learn first?” While this is a good question to consider if you’re new to music, it is a little bit like asking, “What is the best food to eat?”
The Ukulele Sisters play eleven instruments and have taught thousands of beginners. So we definitely qualify as balanced ‘’music eaters’ and ‘chefs’, to stretch a metaphor.
Here are some factors to consider when deciding what is the best instrument for YOU to learn first.
Pick the instrument that inspires you
The best instrument to learn first is the one that inspires YOU. Learning music is fun at first but it’s also a lot of work. Most of the beginners I have taught are surprised at how much work it is to learn an instrument. So you want to pick an instrument to learn first that calls to your heart. There are always challenging spots in learning anything. Picking an instrument you love will help you keep going when things get tough. To sum it up: learn the instrument that you love most first.
A second factor in deciding which instrument you like is your response to its sound. Do you respond to the gentle plucking of a harp or the energizing beat of a skilled drummer at work? Maybe you love the singing, surging legato of romantic piano music? Or does cool smooth saxophone playing make your day? Use your emotions about sound to help you choose an instrument to spend time with.
What’s your goal?
Another consideration is the musical style you’re interested in. If you want to play a particular type of music, learn an instrument that’s central to it. For example, if you want to rock out , learn electric guitar. If you love Scottish Highlands reels, learn bagpipe. If you love Beethoven symphonies, choose violin or cello.
Are you working towards becoming a professional musician? You need to know piano to get a music degree even if you are majoring in another instrument.
Do you just want to have fun and maybe perform sometimes as an amateur? Any of the non-piano instruments could work great for you
Why pick only one instrument?
Learning more than one instrument will dramatically increase your understanding of music. The more you understand about music the easier it will be to learn your chosen instrument.
I’ll talk about this more below, but each instrument focuses on one aspect of music. For example, the drums provide the rhythm or beat to the rest of the band. Rhythm guitar provides the middle of the music and some of the beat. Single line instruments like saxophone usually play melody parts.
Here are the best instruments to learn first
OK, so here’s my ranking of the best instruments to learn first along with my reasoning. Remember, everyone will have their own view on this topic and that’s how it should be. I hope reading my ranking will help you make up your mind on which instrument to learn first.
I have played and taught piano for decades so of course I am biased. But lots of other people also think you should learn piano first. Western music is organized by scales which are basically stair steps of sounds. The spaces between each sound are either half steps or whole steps.
Great visuals: The half and whole steps are laid out clearly on the piano keyboard. So learning piano can help you understand the structure of all Western music. You can just look at the piano keyboard to see how each pitch is related to another pitch. That’s why all music schools require students in all majors to learn to play the piano at a basic level.
Make a complete song: It’s easy to play more than one note at a time on the piano. That means you can make a a complete musical texture by yourself on the piano. You can play the tune (what a singer would sing) and the background (what the backup band would play) at the same time. You can’t do that with a single line instrument like the saxophone or trumpet.
Gigantic pitch range: The highest note on the piano is higher than the highest note an orchestra can play. The lowest note is lower than the lowest instruments in the orchestra can play. This means that piano music can have incredible contrasts and drama.
Stays in tune: The piano has thick wire strings under a lot of tension. Pianos are tuned by professional tuners and usually stay in tune at least 6 months. So you don’t have to fiddle around with tuning before you can start playing.
Lots of styles to play: You can play classical, rock, blues, folk, and even popular tunes on the piano.
Sound great from the beginning: Even cats and dogs can get a sound out of the piano – remember Nora the cat? You don’t see a lot of videos about animals playing violin or saxophone.
Big: The piano is large – about 6 ½” wide and at least 6” deep if you include space for the bench and someone sitting on it. That’s a lot of space for one instrument especially if you are sharing space with others.
Expensive: Sometimes you can find an old upright piano being given away for free. But, you get what you pay for. An instrument worth playing will cost at least $500-$1000.
Loud: The acoustic piano is quite a bit louder than some of the other options listed below. If you are sharing your space with someone who is working from home, you may have to limit your practicing times. Another option is to get an electronic keyboard. Then you can play with headphones when you need to be quiet. Electronic keyboards are very popular these days. However, an electronic action is not as good for practicing on as an acoustic action. But being able to play more hours makes considering an electronic piano a good idea. And your keyboard can create all kinds of sounds such as harpsichord, organ, and strings.
Takes a long time to master: The piano has 88 keys and three pedals. To play it you need to use all 10 fingers plus your feet at the same time. It can take a long time to get the coordination needed to play it well. By long time, we’re talking 10 or more years of lessons with a skilled teacher.
Not so great for popular music: The piano was most popular in the 1830s through the 1920s. It is perfectly suited for music from those years: classical music and jazz. Playing pop, rock, hip hop and rap on the piano can be tough. It’s pretty hard to play music that was originally played by 3-4 skilled musicians with only one brain.
Well of course on a site called ukulele.io we are big fans of ukulele. Here are some of the pros of learning ukulele as your first musical instrument.
Inexpensive: You can get a serviceable instrument to try out for less than $100.
Portable: The Beatles often took ukuleles on tour because they are small and easy to stow and carry. You can even get waterproof carbon fiber ukuleles to take to the beach or campsite.
Small and easy to hold: The ukulele comes in four sizes. Find out how to choose the perfect ukulele size for you here. The first three have the same tuning and the fourth (the baritone) has a different tuning. Even the largest ukulele is quite a bit smaller than a guitar. So, if holding a guitar is a stretch, the ukulele will be a great fit for you. Read more about ukulele sizes here.
Play harmony: Like piano and guitar, you can play complete chords on the guitar. You can even play the melody plus the chords at the same time which is called ‘chord melody’. It’s great to be able to play a complete song by yourself.
Easier than guitar: The ukulele has only 4 strings not 6 or 12 like the guitar. That means that the chord shapes you make with your left hand are simpler and easier to learn.
Great for popular music: Lots of popular songs sound great on ukulele. If you like music that has guitars in it, you will like the ukulele
Happy upbeat sound: Many people associate the ukulele with happy mellow feelings. And who can’t use more of that in their life?
Great for playing with others: Lots of people join ukulele clubs to play in a group with other strummers. There are clubs all over the world. Facebook is a good place to look for a ukulele group.
Or you can improvise or play duets with a friend. Many of our books include the melody written out in ‘tab’ plus chord symbols to make it easy for you to play duets. (Tab is an easy to learn way of writing down music.) One person can play the melody while the other person strums the chords.
Sound good fast: The four strings of the ukulele sound great all by themselves. And that’s before you learn how to play your first chord. It’s not that hard to learn to strum the ukulele, so you can play complete songs within a week or two of starting. In fact, our introductory book teaches you 21 songs in 6 days. They are easy songs of course. But you are creating complete songs with a melody plus an accompaniment all by yourself.
Lots of popular songs to play: The guitar is the main instrument of pop, rock, folk and country music since the 1950s. Which means that it is a great instrument to learn if you want to play any of these styles.
Affordable: You can buy a beginner quality acoustic guitar for around $200. No way could you start on piano or acoustic bass in that price range
Easy to jam with a friend: Like ukulele, you can easily play with a friend. One of you would strum chords and the other can pluck melody notes and/or sing. Just decide what scale you’re playing in and you’re ready to go.
Expressive: You can affect the sound you make by how you strum or pluck the strings with your fingers. It’s a very direct and intimate music making experience.
Acoustic vs. Electric? Again, this depends on what style music you want to play.
Acoustic guitar is generally more affordable to start, and electric guitar is a bit easier to play. The choice is yours and there is no wrong answer.
Lots of guitarists: There are a lot more guitarists than any other type of musician. This means that the competition to play in a group is a lot tougher.
Too big: For some folks, the guitar is just physically too big. Or maybe getting your small hand to wrap around the neck and cover six strings is too much of a stretch? In that case, we recommend the ukulele.
Which is better – piano or ukulele/guitar?
It all comes down to what you would like to do with your music. Do you want to learn some of your favorite songs, or play around a fire with some friends? Then I would recommend ukulele or guitar. If you would like to get deeper into music and maybe learn some classical pieces, I would suggest piano.
4. Bass guitar
Affordable: Beginner bass guitars are super affordable. Lessons are cheap and abundant online and elsewhere, and finding sheet music is very easy.
Different from guitar: Bass is a separate instrument from guitar. It is larger than a standard electric or acoustic guitar. It has four strings rather than 6 or 12 and its sounds are lower than the guitar. Because it is low, it usually works with the drums in a band to create a rhythm.
The electric and the acoustic (stand up) bass have the same strings. If you play the acoustic bass, you can really easily learn electric bass or ukulele bass because the fingerings and notes are the same. This also means that acoustic bass students can practice on an electric bass guitar at home! Being able to stash an inexpensive instrument at home will save you money and a lot of schlepping.
Big: The acoustic (stand up) bass is big. In fact, it is so big you might have to buy a new car to tote your instrument around. But you can get a smaller size bass for younger students. If you go with the acoustic or stand-up bass, it is really big – and expensive.
Strings are hard to press: to get those low tones, the strings need to be thick. That makes them harder to push down, which can tire out your hand and arm.
Usually in the background: If you like to be in the front playing a solo, you will not like the bass. Most of the time the bass works with the drums and rhythm guitar to create the supporting texture of a song.
5. Violin & Cello
Beautiful singing sound: These two instruments are the main part of any orchestra. They make a beautiful smooth singing sound. Some of the greatest classical music has been written for them. Violin also shows up as a fiddle in bluegrass, country and folk music. Violin even shows up in jazz played by artists like Regina Carter and Stephane Grappeli. There is a wonderful jazz violinist in the HBO series ‘Treme’, along with a lot of brass players.
Easy to learn in school settings: Many schools have orchestra programs which offer lessons and loaner instruments to students. One of the Ukulele Sisters has a day job as a middle school orchestra director.
Always a group to join: Orchestras need lots of violins and cellos. So if you become proficient you’ll always be welcome to join a group. There are many amateur orchestras for adult players to join too.
Definitely will need serious lessons: These instruments are not easy to learn. It can take a while before you can make a good sound. You’ll need one on one lessons with a professional teacher.
Expensive: Even the cost of a starter instrument is on the higher side. Most school orchestra teachers recommend that you rent an instrument from a reputable dealer. You want someone who will handle repairs when needed, and look for a rent-to-buy program. It’s best to work with a business that is located near you so you can bring the instrument in to the shop in person.
Violins and violas are $20-$35/month depending on where your rent. Cellos are double that.
If you get to the point where you need a professional quality instrument, watch out. You could be spending thousands of dollars on just the instrument. The bows that you draw across the strings to make the sound are sold separately and can also be quite expensive.
6. Saxophone & other wind instruments
Wind instruments are a large group of instruments that you play by blowing into a mouthpiece. The flute is an exception – it is played by blowing across a hole. The oldest known musical instrument is a fragment of a bone flute from 60,000 years ago! Other popular wind instruments besides the flute are clarinet and saxophone.
Easy to learn in school settings: As with orchestras, many schools also have band programs. Playing in the band can be a fun way to learn music and connect with other students in your school. I loved playing flute and piccolo in my high school’s marching band.
Not that many groups for adult wind players to join: Many wind players drop music once they leave school. When they don’t have a way to play with other people anymore it’s not as much fun. This was my experience. I didn’t get chosen for my university’s orchestra and never played flute again. For many years I wished that I had learned cello instead of flute.
There are not so many bands and wind groups for adults to play in because there’s not that much music written for band. Wind instruments like saxophone and clarinet sound great in rock and jazz. But wind instruments like oboe and flute are mostly limited to playing in orchestras. And orchestras usually need only one or two of each type of wind instrument. So you have to be really good to make the cut. The TV series Mozart in the Jungle tells the story of Hadley, an aspiring orchestral oboist.
Many years to master: There are lots of self-taught saxophone and clarinet players out there. But most wind instruments need training and discipline over many years to master. If you have a strong desire to learn one of them you definitely can do it. Just know that you will have to be very organized and identify a good teacher early on in your learning journey.
Fun: Drums are another instrument with a long history. It can be easy to make a sound at the beginning. But once you try to play with both hands and one foot at the same time, things become more challenging. Once you’ve passed this hurdle, you’ll get to a decent level where most rock blues and pop songs are playable. pretty quickly. In fact, choosing to play drums can be the quickest way to get proficient at playing a single instrument
Lots of opportunities to play: If you get moderately skilled, you’ll have lots of chances to join bands. And it’s a good thing, because very few people have ever written a percussion only song.
Expensive: At first getting your drum kit set up will be expensive. Once you have a basic set up you’ll be OK for a while. Then you can gradually add different drums and cymbals.
Noisy: The drums are loud. Very loud. So many learners train on an electric drum kit to help neighbors keep their sanity.
8. Brass instruments such as trumpet
Easy to learn in school settings: Many school music programs offer lessons and loaner instruments. Playing in the band can be a fun way to learn music and connect with other students in the school.
However, when you no longer have the support of a school program, it can be difficult to keep your instrument up.
Not that many groups for adult wind players to join: As with wind instruments, there are few adult music groups that need lots of brass players. Adult orchestras only need one or two of each brass instrument, so you have to be good to get chosen to play. You can play jazz and some rock and pop on brass instruments. But brass instruments are not so common in styles besides classical.
So, if you’re learning a brass instrument at school, try to plan on how to continue once you are out of school. A good plan can be to learn a second instrument such as ukulele, piano, or guitar. That way you’ll be able to keep playing music when you leave school.
Very loud: Brass instruments are used when the music needs a loud or piercing sound. Think marching band and army signals. But neighbors most likely will not be enthusiastic about hearing daily brass practice. You can get a practice mute or play with just the mouthpiece some of the time. But you will need regular practice time when you can play your instrument unmuted.
So what is the best instrument to learn first?
Now that you’ve learned about the many options, I hope you’re ready to choose what instrument to learn first. If you are feeling overwhelmed with information and pros and cons – don’t freak out! Choose SOMETHING to get started. Even if you only try it for a month or two, you’ll learn a lot about music. And the knowledge you gain will help you as you move on to a second instrument.