I am a novice and have never played an instrument in my life, but me and my friends are starting a band as sort of a hobby. We have drums and an electric guitar and they had me writing songs and doing the vocals, but I feel like I could be contributing more to the group while I am still doing the vocals.

I am super invested in helping aid the group's sound as much as I can so I am looking at either learning keyboard or bass guitar. Keep in mind that in order to practice effectively, I want something not too bulky and cumbersome and I want to be able to hook up my headphones so I'm not disturbing anyone. With that in mind, which do you think would be easier to learn and aid the band more?

Thank you, and don't hold back, I know I am a novice and I am not easily offended!

EDIT: Sorry if I broke the rules, looks like the post got closed. I do want to thank you for all your amazing feedback and comments. I am going to go with Bass, and that decision was made without taking anything away from keyboard and was the result of all of your great feedback and some more research on my part. I am so excited to go on this new journey!

  • Go bass. Buy used. Rock out. – Todd Wilcox Jan 5 at 1:29
  • It was a very hard decision, but I think I am definitely going with bass! I personally have nothing against keyboard, and I always had a small desire to play one effectively, but something is drawing me to playing bass, I can't explain it. Hopefully this will be an exciting journey! – Shy Ronnie Jan 5 at 4:05

It sounds like you are mainly going to contribute to the band with vocals, but would also like to learn an instrument as another way to add to the music, if even just subtly at first. In that case I say keyboard. (This coming from a guitar player.)

Since you are not approaching music to be a "(insert favorite instrument here)-player," and really want to be a musician for the sake of serving the music, the keyboard will offer a clearer path to understanding music theory, as well as better versatility, both as a beginner and as a more advanced musician.

In terms of understanding music theory, the linear nature of the keyboard makes it easier for most people to learn/visualize intervals and harmonic relationships. Want a lower pitch? Go left. Higher? Go right. Higher yet? Further right. And every pitch occurs only once on a keyboard. Fretted multi-stringed instruments, like bass, can feel a bit more complicated, as many pitches occur in multiple places, and most playing is done on more than one string, adding a second dimension to the linear, left-right arrangement found on a keyboard.

As versatility goes, you can play a bass line on a keyboard, but you can’t do a majority of what a keyboard is capable of with a bass. Period.

And I want to help dispel the myth that bass is easy. Making noise on a bass is easy and most listeners aren’t tuned in to the subtleties of the instrument, so substandard bass playing may go unaccounted for. But the bass serves an under appreciated roll in the whole of a band’s sound. It often does not get the credit it deserves for pulling everything together, and just as often escapes accountability for things sounding a bit off.

As for affordability, I don’t have any specific recommendations for either, but you should be able to put together a "decent enough for starting a band for fun” bass or keyboard rig for under $1000. I suggest you go with a brand reputable for quality, and don’t get too enamored with bells and whistles. Shop with your ear-balls, not your eye-balls.

After all that, and most importantly, it’s all about having fun, so go with the instrument you find most enjoyable to play.


tl;dr: you need to decide yourself, but I tend to say keyboards are the more useful choice.

It's a popular cliché that playing the bass is easy just-laying-in-some-fundamentals work. As a matter of fact, that is a possible way to play the bass, and for some styles of music it may be sufficient... but it's not really doing the band any favours to approach it this way. In my book, the interaction between drummer and bassist (aka the groove) is the heart of any rock/pop/etc. band, and this is not a trivial task for the bass. So I would strongly recommend if you take the bass to make sure you're really interested in that instrument, rather than just “contributing something” to the band. If not, then it may be better if either the guitarist takes up the bass job (note that this does not necessarily mean she/he needs to completely switch to a bass guitar), or you add a bassist as an entirely new band member.

Keyboards on the other hand can be reduced almost arbitrarily. You can start with pad sounds where you only need to press four notes during an entire song, and then progress from there. Meanwhile, piano is one of the two most common songwriter's instruments (the other being guitar), and even when your playing is still too choppy for actually providing a full keyboard part live it can already come in very handy for writing songs. Bass can help somewhat with songwriting as well, but it requires much more imagination to fathom how the full band harmonies would come out. And at least easy-fundamental bass parts can be played pretty much just as well on a synth, as on bass guitar.

Both keyboards and bass can be very well practiced silently, and of both you can easily get decent starter models for under 1000 €/£/$.

As a compromise, you could also get another guitar. Advantage is that you'll get more harmonic capabilities than bass, but learn a technique that goes more in the direction of bass. This won't immediately help your band as much, but again maybe it's best to get a proper bass player in the band anyway, or for the time being the two guitarists can share bass-ish parts.

  • +1 pads. Sustain pedal for the win! – Dave Jacoby Jan 5 at 0:28
  • Thank you so much for the response. As I mentioned I am a novice, and I apologize if I offended in anyway how I referred to either instrument as just taking up a job for the band. Since my post I did a little more research and was enlightened and feel almost embarrassed by my opening post. I have decided to choose to pick up bass. For me I think its cost effective, a necessity for my band, and more portable. I also have this unexplainable feeling where I just feel drawn to wanting to play it. Just doing vocals, I noticed how the drummer controls the pace, and I want to help be part of that! – Shy Ronnie Jan 5 at 4:15

In any given band, the stereotype goes, the keyboardist is most educated in music, the guitarist is the flashiest and most egoistic, and the bassist ... doesn't know music.

There is some truth to the first two points (I say as a guitarist), but the bassist is the bridge between the rhythm and the harmony. If you can develop a basic knowledge of music and keep tempo, being the bassist can give you great control over where a song goes and how good it sounds.

I don't want to dissuade you from keys, because I love so many keyboard players and so many keyboards, but it is a money pit. The good keyboards — Hammond, Rhodes, Clavinet, Prophet, etc. — are expensive and often old and needing repair. There are great new keyboards, such as the Nord, that allow you to get the sounds, but again, expensive. Cheap for what they are, which is boxes of circuitry and magic, but likely over your budget.

It is against our remit to recommend or review specific gear, but in general, guitar makers are way into computer-numeric-control over neck and body carving, so "bad" guitars — low-end beginner instruments — are better today than they have ever been. The budget lines of major manufacturers, such as Fender's Squier and Gibson's Epiphone will get you an eminently gigable bass for under $400 and you can find practice bass amps from good names for a similar range.

There are good bassists. There are great bassists. If you go down this route, look up Victor Wooten. He'll always be better than you'll ever be, but wants in his soul for you to be the best player you can be.

And remember that both Sting and Kenny Rogers started out playing bass while singing. For instruments, playing the wrong note at the right time is preferable to playing the right note at the wrong time (right note at right time is best), so find simple bass lines you can perform easily and practice playing while singing, which is akin to juggling while on a unicycle.

Good luck, and I look forward to seeing what the keys folk have to say.

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    Re: your first paragraph, where does the drummer fit in? Nice answer Dave, I’ll skip the drummer jokes for now. It’ll probably be in the minority but reading it ALMOST makes me glad I decided to become a bas player! – John Belzaguy Jan 4 at 23:52
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    The expense of the equipment has nothing to do with the quality of the music at this stage. In fact, I've worked with many musicians who have used, inexpensive keyboards worth no more than 100 USD and made them sound outstanding. The same goes for guitar equipment. – Beginner Biker Jan 5 at 1:21
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    I'll definitely check out your suggestions. I was apprehensively sold on a keyboard and wasn't really too excited to pick it up and learn it out of fear that it would be too difficult. The bass on the otherhand, I am interested in regardless of the difficulty. As I mentioned above, it just calls out to me, and I kind of want to go with my gut feeling on this one. If I am wrong I can always pick up keyboard later, but I feel like I might be right about this decision – Shy Ronnie Jan 5 at 4:27

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