2

I want to preface this question by saying I'm a beginner to music.

I recently attempted to learn the piano. I was fine with one hand but encountered several difficulties as soon as I switched to two hands. I painfully discovered that it is difficult(impossible?) for the brain to focus on more than 1 task simultaneously and multitasking is an illusion when in fact we can only switch tasks(albeit, in rapid succession).This is why a person can train (within a few weeks) to type unseen text really fast because they are pressing the key of either their left or right hand at one time so they are still doing only one task at a time.This level of speed is not possible(with any degree of training) if they were asked to type unseen and different pieces of text on different hands simultaneously(like a piano). Thus, muscle memory(on at least one hand) becomes important and extensive, repetitive labour is required to reach high levels of speed. Since each piece is unique, this means that labour on one piece is helpful only to a very limited degree on a fresh piece and practice on vast number of pieces is requisite to develop transferrable skills which can enable one to play unseen pieces of piano music at speed.

I am not averse to practice, but as music is my hobby, I won't be able to devote extensive amounts of time to it. Thus, I am looking for an instrument which doesn't require extensive amounts of practice per piece once I have learnt the fundamentals of the instrument. This is not to imply that I want an instrument which doesn't require independence of hands and with which I can play unseen pieces at speed. I just want that the amount of practice per piece is less than the piano. This may be due to less independence of hands, more transferrable skills or less complex muscle memory.

I am open to all instruments but am particularly inspired by pieces I have heard played on the violin. So, please include a comparison between the violin and the piano as part of your answer.

Thanks!

11
  • " I am looking for an instrument which doesn't require extensive amounts of practice per piece once I have learnt the fundamentals of the instrument" I would suggest the recorder. I suspect you fail to understand the fundamentals of any physical skill and playing a musical instrument is a physical skill - you only get out of it what you put in. As the golfer Arnold Palmer put it "The more I practice the better I get" Jul 31 at 21:19
  • 2
    In my opinion tin whistle is easier than recorder. Guitar is also pretty easy as long as you’re happy with simple melodies and open chords. Violin, on the other hand…
    – ojs
    Jul 31 at 21:38
  • 1
    My read of your post is that you were trying to play pieces that were too difficult for a beginner. Play pieces appropriate to your level of experience, and the process will be significantly easier.
    – Aaron
    Jul 31 at 22:02
  • 1
    Actually @BrianTowers it’s: “The more I practice the luckier I get.” :) Jul 31 at 22:29
  • 1
    @Boson can you list what your requirements are? What kind of a musical subculture do you have in mind, and what kind of a role would you want in that culture? Is live techno out of the question? Meditative electronic ambient? youtube.com/watch?v=8DTIddKwg98 Punk rock? Church music? Busking? Play surdo in a samba band? youtube.com/watch?v=idlXh_udWug Aug 1 at 12:29

7 Answers 7

3

Too much analysis, not enough experiment!

The fact is, lots and lots of people DO learn two-handed piano quite quickly, and it's demonstrable that, given adequate amounts of aptitude and application, it DOES become continually easier to sight-read increasingly complex music.

So give it a try before you decide you're not up to it!

Violin or piano? Well, you've picked what are arguably the two hardest instruments - but in slightly different ways. Piano is quite easy to get started on, hard because the sky's the limit - everyone can learn a 'song', but those Chopin Etudes... :-) Violin is a slower start, and the early stages are quite painful to listen to!

Clarinet is often quoted as the easiest 'real' instrument. But what do you want to do? Play in a band/orchestra? Accompany the singing in church? Write songs?

3

I will throw the recorder into the ring. A relative of mine, an excellent violinist, married a non-musician, and wanted to be able to have fun with her, playing duets in their spare time. So, they both took up the recorder. Big success.

Also, the recorder was one of my children's first instruments. He was able to make a lot of music, with sensitivity. Also he was able to learn to play in an ensemble. And believe me, he did not practice for more than about half an hour a day.

The recorder is an instrument you can hit the ground running with. In fact, in many German schools, all students learn to play the recorder.

But note: to play well and not get on your neighbors' nerves, it would be best to take some lessons (group or individual).

You would not be limited to playing baroque music. There are arrangements for recorder ensemble of a wide variety of musical styles. And it would be very appropriate for Andean duets.

Note that you can play duets with yourself by recording one line and then playing with the recording.

2

I've been playing piano and violin for many years. First of all here are two things which will be true no matter what instrument you play.

  • If you want to play better, you need to practice more.

  • The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to learn new pieces.

About the piano being more difficult than any other instrument. Sure, the piano allows you to play a lot of notes at the same time. Violin seems a lot easier, you usually only need to play one note at a time!

On the other hand, the piano gives you significantly less to think about in terms of tone quality and intonation. Just press the right keys at the right time and you're good, right? You don't have to worry about bow pressure or the depth of your vibrato – Easy!

The grass is always greener...

My suggestion would be to not worry about how much your brain can think about at once. If you pick the instrument you like playing the most, practicing frequently will be easier, and if you keep at it, maybe you will surprise yourself. One is not going to be easier than the other.

9
  • I think one problem is that music schools and courses insist on teaching specific technical skills that are needed for some very narrow, specific kind of music. Particularly classical instrument training is full of that - the goal is to one day become a professional player in an orchestra. The goal is NOT to have FUN, basically at all. Where is the music school where anything goes and teachers just help the student have musical fun in his/her unique way. That's what everyone wants really. Very, very, very few people start playing an instrument in order to become a professional musician. Jul 31 at 21:47
  • I'm not sure I agree with that. If by technical skills you mean reading music, ear training or music theory, it is absolutely helpful for a hobbyist musician to be able to play and communicate music with others. If you mean the goal should be to play music 100% creatively – that is composition. Every composition class I have ever taken will definitely indulge you in your fun unique way.
    – modenv
    Jul 31 at 22:02
  • There are different muslcal cultures where learning can be based on playing together, playing along with something or someone. If we abandon "classical" and "pieces", the world opens up. For example, in traditional Western thinking, there must be an active "performer" and a passive "listener". This is not necessary for musical fun. Then there is an assumption that music is in "pieces" that start from silence and end in silence. This is not necessary for musical fun. How about: there is music here, you come and join in, and when you leave, music doesn't stop, music stays there. Revolutionary? Jul 31 at 22:10
  • 1
    "On the other hand, the piano gives you significantly less to think about in terms of tone quality and intonation. Just press the right keys at the right time and you're good, right?" is outright false. You also have to let go of the right keys at the right time. Articulations like staccato and legato - along with pedal - can and will break an interpretation of a piece. For example, I find playing rock and metal on the piano to be significantly more convincing with biting enough staccato notes.
    – Dekkadeci
    Aug 1 at 19:25
  • 1
    @Dekkadeci Still less to think about than many other instruments. I learned clarinet after a few years on piano; way simpler in the sense that you can focus on just one note at a time, but way harder in the sense that there is a ton of work involved in getting a good tone, playing in tune (in tune with yourself, aka intonation, and in tune with other instruments or backing tracks), and having clean articulation (using your tongue to stop the note and start it again, ever so slightly wrong and it sounds fuzzy or squeaks). All challenges that piano doesn't have, violin has even more of those. Aug 1 at 21:39
2

Trying to play music by reading: piano is probably the most complex, surmounted only by organ, and maybe, drums! There is an awful lot to take in, while trying to translate the dots into sounds, so let's bring it down to one line of music, and even one hand usage.

Violin and guitar both need both hands to produce notes, so maybe they're not contenders - although there are a lot of guitar strummers out there who do very well, just 'sort of' one handed as far as chord shapes are concerned.

Saxes, clarinets, et al only follow one music line, but need both hands, so let's look at trumpet. One music line to follow, only three fingers operating, so as long as you get used to the changing embouchure, it seems that could be the one.

As I've said before: learn to sight-read really well, and you'll not have to practise pieces much, if at all. Yes, there are many people who do this - for a living! A lot of them are deps, or accompanists for soloists. No time for practising, just play what's in front of them.

But - to get to that stage, they've already done the practice, lots of it. But maybe trumpet is the way to go - certainly not piano or violin. (Having said that, there's a lot of accompanists who do that on piano).

Whatever instrument you choose, it's your choice, and you need to work out a few things. Firstly, what's the aim? To play for personal enjoyment, for friends, with friends, to make your own music, to be able to simply join in when others are playing are some aspects. Secondly, do you really need to read those dots, or could you just play what you like, or work things out for yourself, by listening (play by ear)? (Again, piano isn't the best choice).

2

I started learning the (electric) bass guitar 3 years ago in my 40s. Never played an instrument before (except for a year of piano around the age of 7). I practice a few hours a week. I'm to the point that I can learn full pop/rock songs and play in a group (with my tab on a stand in front of me). I've experimented with some of Bach's cello suite and it sounds very good to my ear when I'm able to move through the notes smoothly. I'll never be as good as the pros, but I'm enjoying the fact that I can help a song sound really good without amazing skills. Good luck in your search!

2

I would suggest you try your hand at a monophonic synthesizer.

Here's one example, the Novation Bass Station II:

Bass Station II

I have not tried this instrument, but it's a popular one and gives an idea what you might expect.

You've already gotten started by beginning to learn the piano. The keyboard layout will be familiar.

A monophonic instrument will not allow you to play multiple notes simultaneously, so you won't have to worry about learning how to.

Since only one hand will be occupied in selecting notes, the other can be occupied with different expressive dimensions of the sound via the pitch bend wheel, modulation wheel, or other parameter adjustments. This might even move your tone color closer to the violin.

0

I suggest alto saxophone because the embouchure isn't as difficult as brass winds and the finger roller and buttons that regulate airflow and pitch do most of the work. You mentioned violin...very difficult to learn and master. It's fretless, so just learning to play C major scale can be frustrating. I was a guitar player for twenty years and am studying trumpet due to hand issues and the learning curve is steep just to play basic notes, dedication is important if not imperative

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.