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I have never played any instrument. Now I want to learn some instrument. My deciding parameters are - it should be compact, inexpensive and can be learnt without a teacher.

I search over internet and found recorder and Harmonica as my options.

Please suggest if these can be the options.I recently developed this option as I need to impress a girl who likes music.

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Although you may not want a teacher, you'll never reach your fullest potential without one. –  American Luke Nov 21 '12 at 14:50
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Maybe not never, but it'll definitely take longer! –  luser droog Nov 22 '12 at 5:37
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If you're starting any instrument from scratch, even with excellent teachers, you're going to need a few months to build up stamina and muscle memory enough to even play one slightly impressive song well. If this is your only strategy, I would guess your girl would have moved on by then. Probably best to look at other options for now, and learn an instrument because you want to. Or at least as a preparatory strategy for next time. –  naught101 Nov 23 '12 at 23:02
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This is for you –  bobobobo Nov 28 '12 at 4:23
    
An harmonica is very compact, you can bring it everywhere you want but you have to choose the right one... Chromatic harmonicas are cool because you can play in any key, you do not need a specific harmonica for each song you play nor transpose a song in a different scale. However, they are a bit more expensive than diatonic harmonicas. What genre of music would like to play? –  esmitex Nov 30 '12 at 14:44

13 Answers 13

First, what's the instrument you want to play? If you are interested in it, you'll be more willing to practice, and, therefore, more likely to become a proficient musician using whatever instrument that is. For the most part, I wouldn't worry so much about how easy the instrument is to learn if you're really wanting to learn it anyway. I'd argue that you can teach yourself pretty well any instrument given enough time and effort.

Also, "portable" and "cheap" are very relative terms, so I'll try to give you (and whomever else reads this) a variety of ideas to help you find what best fits your needs. Also, anyone that wants to add to this - be my guest.

The harmonica is a great choice (I have no clue how to play it). It's about as compact as an instrument can get, and it can go surprisingly well with many songs. No other equipment is needed to amplify the sound, either. I've seen fairly decent, brand-name harmonicas go for less than $20.

The acoustic guitar is one I'd personally recommend, but I don't know your taste or situation. It has a moderate learning curve. It's compact in the sense that it can be carried in a car or in a case. You may be thinking "guitars aren't cheap," but, starting out, you can get a guitar for less than $100 at times. You can easily find one for less than $200 (compare this to "cheap" wind/brass instruments). The main thing is making sure the neck is in good condition and has a consistent tuning down the neck. Good strings can make even a cheap acoustic guitar sound fairly good. Again, there's nothing needed to amplify the sound. Finally, there are a HUGE amount of online resources helping you to learn various songs for the guitar. Also, I've yet to find a single song that doesn't sound good with the sound and note range a guitar offers.

Singing is musical, and is the most "compact" music-making method named. However, I believe that the learning curve for non-natural-born-singers tends to be quite steep (someone please comment if I'm wrong - this is personal experience with other musicians). Amplifying the sound isn't always necessary, but when you add in accompanying music, you'll need something to play the music (e.g. other musicians/instruments, or a sound system). That harms the s "portability" advantage for singing.

The recorder is certainly cheap and rivals the harmonica in portability. There are some really great songs that can be played on the recorder too! However, the recorder tends to have more limited resources to encourage learning than some of the other instruments. Also, there may be fewer songs/genres you see "fit" the sound of the recorder well. I personally see the recorder as a good short-term instrument to learn a couple songs on rather quickly.

Also, there is the keyboard. It is probably only compact when compared to an actual piano or a full-sized harp, but it is still portable in the sense you can carry it in car/truck fairly easily. A keyboard can be purchased cheaply, but there tends to be a strong relation between realistic sound and price. I haven't found a keyboard that sounds great without any help for less than a few hundred dollars. There is the option of MIDI connectivity, which can make a horrible sounding keyboard sound pretty darn good, but then you need more cables, software, hardware (often a laptop), etc. - in other words, probably not what most people consider cheap or portable. However, all that equipment can fit comfortably in most small rooms. Also, many schools, churches, and other places have pianos or keyboards for you to play and learn on. There are, like the guitar, a seemingly endless amount of resources to help one to learn piano. Also, pretty well all songs sound great on a good keyboard (sometimes modification of the song is needed). Also, I'd say learning the chords of a couple songs is really easy on the piano. Timing the two hands and intricate melodies are usually what trip up players, but learning chords on a piano is pretty easy. The melodic parts can be added later.

TL;DR
In the end, it's still up to you. What do you want to play, and how much effort will go into it? How much money are you willing to invest or not invest? How much portability is really needed? You'll get it.

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You could learn to play the Spoons. These come in a variety of sizes, each sounding at different pitches.

These are Piccolo Spoons (also known as Soprano Spoons):

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Below is a demonstration of how to play the Tenor Spoons:

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Spoons can also be made from a variety of different materials. These wooden Baritone Spoons have an earthy timbre.

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If you are not able to impress a girl with your Spoon playing, you may be able to use them to impress her in alternative ways. The Soprano Spoons can be used to make a nice cup of tea; Tenor Spoons can be used to share a delicious trifle; wooden Baritone Spoons can help you to cook a romantic meal.

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Failing that, I suppose you could always learn to play the Saw, which also comes in handy if you need to build furniture. –  Caleb Hines May 21 at 20:34

As others have mentioned, ukulele is a particularly easy and inexpensive "gateway drug" into the world of guitars.

I'll also add the melodica as another good option. All the breath control of a recorder, with all the fingering of the keyboard. Not sure how impressive they are to girls, though...

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I'd skip on the "recorder" recommendations: it is a "girly" instrument. For one thing, you'll only vaguely impress the "good" girls which are going to applaud politely and go elsewhere for the less civilized fun. For another, particularly those are likely to run circles around you in that department anyway, so you'll have to put in a lot of work to become impressive.

Instead, get a tin whistle. They are nominally cheaper ("nominally" because like with any "cheap" instrument, if you want to get into the "instrument is an ally rather than an opponent" category, you can invest a lot more than the "standard" price).

Then get a good tin whistle playing book and practice Irish tunes. It's actually easier than a full recorder and cooler. You are also moving into a genre where most girls don't have a full comparison readily at hand.

If you are going for harmonica instead, refrain from chromatic ones. They are more "versatile" and you "can play in any key", but you don't want or need to for impressiobatics. Just go for the straight "blues" or "diatonic" harmonica. Multiple keys are only a consideration when playing along with others, and you'll need a lot longer to get impressive there.

In theory, a harmonica can serve as both melody and accompaniment, but you'll still be more likely to hear unaccompanied tin whistle (the harmonies of typical folk are rather simple and are more or less sketched by embellishments and the whole of the melody line).

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I think a guitar is the best bet.

You can play and sing with it, which can not be done with blow instruments, and someone else can join in the singing.

Ukulele sounds OK too, but I never used one - except in a store the other day, and I kind of liked it. And it is small too.

Keep in mind that plain harmonicas or "harps" can not readily play all notes, unless bending notes, which takes time to learn, plus they are somewhat fixed as to a key or scale they are tuned too. Harmonicas are great, though. I also play them, but they do amount to cost. I sometimes play harmonica together with guitar with a neck brace. So maybe don't limit to just one choice - except for starting - and for starting, I think the guitar is better, and I mean an accoustic one, which needs no gadgets and is more portable.

Harps may be cheaper than a guitar, but they do go bad, then you may have to buy another one, since repairing is not that easy.

I think it should be more to what you like more than hoping to please others, which is inherent if you like and dedicate yourself to it. But this is just my thought, and surely not a total truth.

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Why has this answer been down voted? I see nothing wrong with it (except the grammar). –  gingerbreadboy Nov 27 '12 at 15:31
    
The guitar is easy instrument and not that expensive. –  user77035 May 21 at 13:51

I recommend Harmonica since it is probably the easiest instrument to pick up and play right away. If you are looking for a easy to moderate challenge pick a ukulele. Do not see it as a smaller guitar though. It really is an instrument on its own.

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+1! You can get a harmonica and simple how-to-play book as a set, um, everywhere, it seems! Just search "How to play harmonica" on a shopping site. –  Lee Kowalkowski May 21 at 9:39

Electric Keyboards are fairly inexpensive.

You can get some for around $300 which have light-up keys to show you what to play.

Lots of teach-your-self books out there too. However, a few lessons would be very helpful.

Otherwise, the recorder is a great instrument. If you have big hands start with an alto (also known as treble). It has a lovely tone, more mellow than a descant. Buy a plastic one - yamaha is a good brand - cost about $60.

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I've found Aulos also has a good alto. It's about $30. Both brands are pretty good, though. –  American Luke Nov 27 '12 at 14:38

Your voice.

It is very inexpensive, very portable, and you already have a great deal of familiarity with it. Granted, there may be some work to be done to learn how to use it musically, but that is true for any instrument. Also, as with any other instrument, a good teacher is highly recommended, especially in the beginning.

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Your voice is a beautiful instrument and you can improve and change it any time you like. –  kayley May 21 at 9:27
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It doesn't have to be singing either, I know quite a few people that cannot sing well but can rap or beatbox. –  Lee Kowalkowski May 21 at 9:43
    
Don't forget whistling, it's very underrated! –  cyco130 May 22 at 5:29

I would recommend xaphoon. Not much more expensive than a recorder, similar to play, but the saxophone-like sound is definitely more impressive and it is applicable to a wide range of music styles.

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Especially for Woodwinds I would not suggest someone to begin learning without a teacher. It is very hard to get rid of a wrong embouchure. So imho at least the first few months should be supervised by a teacher. –  eL. Nov 23 '12 at 12:51

I suggest harmonica (if you prefer blues) or MIDI keyboard plugged to computer. MIDI keyboard with Reaper (a computer program)& VSTi plugins is powerful instrument maybe not for playing live, but for creating music.

Have you thought about any guitar? There are some minified versions, which have less frets, but are still playable. After learning just a few chords you can play almost all songs-remember girls love guitarists :)

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I suggest you get a ukulele.
It's fairly compact and rather easy to get started playing some chords on. With only three chords you can soon play millions of songs! However you should probably be able to sing ok along with playing - beginners ukulele alone isn't too impressive after a minute or so...

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Interestingly, almost all the rock and metal guitarists and bassists I know now take ukuleles on tour with them - just for plinking and jamming. –  Dr Mayhem Nov 22 '12 at 0:31
    
I like this suggestion. Anything from that Eddie Vedder album is sure to impress. –  luser droog Nov 22 '12 at 5:35
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It's also appropriately hipster, and sure to impress ;-) –  user3169 Nov 28 '12 at 6:05

It depends on the girl, of course. It also depends on your taste in music.

If you and she both like blues, then blues harmonica would fit your criteria.

The instruments are compact and inexpensive. Note that harmonica players tend to end up buying several instruments, since you need a different one for each key.

You can learn "tricks" that sound impressive fairly quickly, from books, videos etc., and of course you can improve forever.

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Try the recorder, that's what used to be taught at school :-)

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Agreed - this is a very easy instrument to begin on. However it may not fulfil the 'impress a girl' requirement :-) –  Dr Mayhem Nov 21 '12 at 10:03
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Unless she's into classical music. :P –  American Luke Nov 21 '12 at 14:51
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Unless she's into horrible screeching. Heh. Even a well-played recorder sounds terrible IMO. –  Matthew Read Nov 22 '12 at 19:35
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@MatthewRead I pity your lack of musical taste. Listen to this piece, or this one. Horrible screeching, my foot! There's a reason the recorder is called "sweet flute" in Spanish. –  American Luke Nov 23 '12 at 1:17
    
@Luke Alright, I won't call that screeching ... but yeah I don't like the sound of the recorders. –  Matthew Read Nov 23 '12 at 2:30

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