It's absolutely possible for one to know how to play more than one instrument and even be good at or master some.

I currently know how to play guitar, keyboard and drum. Planning to start learning violin, saxophone etc. next. I am master of none yet, but decided to be very good at piano at the moment. So, I keep practicing my keyboard. I often find it difficult to practice the others. It's kind of when you like one, you will like others less.

Given that I'm not a full-time musician (I am a full-time programmer), what will be your strategy to learn as many instruments as possible in your lifetime? And probably to at least be very good at playing 3 or 4 instruments.

5 Answers 5


I'm also a full-time programmer but I got my degree in music. I'm finding the best way to make it work is to be disciplined and schedule a specific amount of time. This is a skill I learned in school, as I was a composition major so I had to have a concentration instrument (which for me was the double bass), pass piano proficiency, pass sight-singing/aural skills, and be in a laboratory band every semester. The labs gave me a chance to also pick up better singing in chorus, learn to play a few ethnic drum classes (South Indian and West African) and I lived in a musician dorm so I also played guitar/bass in local bands. I had played brass instruments in high school so I helped out with local brass quartets/jazz bands as well.

Ultimately you need to schedule time to practice the instruments you'd like to learn, and be warned that the more instruments you know, the harder it is to stay "fresh" on a large number of them. Yes, it's like riding a bike, but for certain instruments (particularly brass/woodwinds/vocals) you'll find that your chops suffer every day you're away from the instrument, because the fine muscle groups required for those instruments are very specific in strength and agility. After a month away from trombone, for example, I found it very hard to hit the low "pedal" tones in the lower positions. A friend of mine is a saxophonist who plays in three ensembles for at least 40+ hours a week. None of them required him to practice altissimo (overblowing) techniques, and after only a WEEK of not using them, he completely lost a good chunk of his high range.

As I've learned from experience, "mastering" an instrument (as TomWij says) technically takes 10,000 hours or more (for more on this read Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers"). Most musicians who focus in performance stick to a schedule of 3 hours every day for 10 years in order to get this mastery. I don't think it's realistic to "master" more than one instrument every 10 years if you have a full-time job. But if you start practicing a lot of them, I think you'll find some skills do in fact cross over, and what the experts consider "mastery" may not be what you in fact want. So how you do this depends on you, but there are some tricks...

As they say, to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. You have to be absolutely diligent. Keep in mind, however, that 30 minutes a day is completely reasonable for learning a new instrument. If you can devote this EVERY DAY without fail for at least a year, that instrument should be playable for your purposes. I do this sometimes, right before bed I'll realize I haven't played an instrument... so I'll crawl out of bed and set up something and play. It doesn't have to be long, but it teaches you the "craft" of musicianship.

Give yourself as many excuses as possible to play. Join a local band, a community group, a church, anywhere people will let you play with them. If you're in a city, find a corner where you can play. This will keep your skills sharp, and you can count this as time working on skills that cross over between instruments, like timing, intonation, and so on.

Speaking of which, try to surround yourself with musicians who you think are better than you. Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, but if you can find people who are patient, they will bring you up to their level. This will be frustrating and most likely embarrassing, but it will only help you in the long run.

Invest in private lessons. You don't have to go every week, or even more than once or twice, but having someone check your form will ensure you're not missing some major issues that could slow you down or even cause long-term injuries from devoted practice.

Don't give up. Ultimately, it's going to be hard to stay inspired to do this as the years drag on. But you have to remember that it's a lifetime process. A bad day, week, or even year of learning can be overcome and even reversed in a very short time.

Break a leg, and stick with it!

  • I'm planning to get a degree in music. Will you recommend me to do so? as I already has a degree in CS.
    – Sufendy
    May 6, 2011 at 1:56
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    Excellent answer, to which I'll only add one penny's worth: when working on playing a number of instruments, it's easier to get started on a new instrument if it is already similar to one you are proficient with. If you already play guitar, it's fairly easy to pick up on the bass; should you start playing the saxophone, you'll find it easier to pick up the clarinet, etc.
    – user321
    May 6, 2011 at 2:21
  • @Phelios: it depends on what you want to do with it. As far as opening doors, the only thing it really allowed me to do was get further education, with the potential of eventually teaching or working in an academic setting. If this is what you want, it's essential, especially in the US. If you just want the education, it could be valuable to you but I'll be honest, if you're a self-starter I think learning on your own/private lessons can be more productive, more if you already have a day job. Music Schools tend to have a hard "weeding out" process the first few levels that can slow you down.
    – NateDSaint
    May 6, 2011 at 13:00
  • @Faza great point. If you're trying to maximize the speed at which you learn instruments, try to learn families together. But if you're hoping to branch out to as many instrument families as possible, you might want to vary that up first, so when you circle back around you already have the fundamentals. For example, I learned piano first, then trombone and bass. From there I learned guitar, but doubled back to learn euphonium/baritone/tuba and trumpet. Then I picked up the upright bass, which led to 'cello, etc. It's ultimately up to you, but keep yourself interested in new experiences!
    – NateDSaint
    May 6, 2011 at 13:02
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    It must be some kind of pattern: I'm also a full-time programmer who wants to learn to play multiple instruments :-) Jan 9, 2015 at 17:12

I often find it difficult to practice the others. It's kind of when you like one, you will like others less.

Think about why you want to play them, one reason is because you want to learn them.
But even then, you might meet instruments that you really don't like playing.

Consider learning another instrument that you could like instead, as that will give you more motivation. Or you could just learn the basics of the instrument you don't like and be done with it, at least you have an idea what it's like to play that instrument.

Given that I'm not a full time musician (I am a full time programmer), what will be your strategy to learn as many instruments as possible in your lifetime? and probably to at least be very good in 3 or 4 instruments.

It sounds like that you are trying to do to much, note that spending time on learning additional instruments will keep you back from mastering an individual instrument. As you've seen before in the other question, they say it takes 10.000 hours to really master an instrument...

Stop struggling and make a decision, then start practicing! :)

  • I do think that I'm trying to do too much. It's kind of confusing for me right now. And I'm still exploring what I wan't to be.
    – Sufendy
    May 6, 2011 at 1:58

I'm a percussionist/drummer and I play several instruments, some better than others. I have a personal goal of learning one instrument from each of the orchestral families. The main thing that I've learned is that there are similarities in all instruments, and if you can find them, the process goes a bit smoother. It comes down to applying the stuff you know about your own instrument to the next instrument. In my case, dynamics, phrasing, rhythmic patterns. Phil Collins said that he plays piano like a drummer. When I finally get the hang of baritone horn, I'll play it like a drummer, but that will be the way my style of playing the instrument will evolve, giving it a unique sound. I play harmonica, and my sound is unique among my other harp playing friends. My harp playing friends that double and triple on other instruments apply some of the same musicality learned on harmonica to the guitar, bass whatever. Learn the physiology of the instrument you want to play. Get to know it's little idiosyncracies. How much wind do you need to excite a note on a tuba? What's the best way for you to hold a drumstick? If you give your potentially new instrument the respect it deserves, and you apply the musical experience that you have and that you used to master your original instrument, you'll find that it's not going to be that tough a road....

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    Dude! Paragraphs! I get to sentence three and my mind wanders. With smaller paragraphs, I may be able to form an opinion on what you're saying. :) BTW Welcome to the Site.! It's 3:30am. I probably should've let this alone. But it's far too late to turn back now.....HTH! :) Oct 27, 2012 at 8:36

There was a moment in time when I was working in a Musical Instruments Store and I was asked to sit in with a manager while a senior was talking about band instruments.

He made an interesting point when he was talking about how students of brass instruments had difficult reaching the difficult to play notes.

He demonstrated how he managed to achieve them. First he just play a difficult tune and then go flat. After that, he said he is going to think about those difficult passages in his mind to get the tune in. Then he blew the instrument. He ACTUALLY HIT THE RIGHT NOTES!

I have ever since used this principle to guide my 5000+ students over the 25 years. They surprise themselves when the get the results. The principle is simple: Just VISUALIZE and VOCALIZE. When I am satisfied that they got it right, I asked them to try.

A simple video about VISUALIZING can be viewed on Mr Holland's Opus: http://www.youtube.com/lxdgrt#p/u/22/RpluJPeiwVY

It was with this principle, I was able to play 10+ instruments in my life - getting to play many tunes with them in a matter of months instead of year.

Next, if you want to master them, then it would be good to see a master who has a properly drafted program to guide you. Those who do it 'ad hoc' can help you a bit but tends to get messed up in the end.

Hope that helps you.

  • Hey, do you have branch other than in Kepong? great school you have!! Just a suggestion, consider upgrading your website :) no offence but you really should consider!
    – Sufendy
    May 6, 2011 at 2:35

I'd suggest taking part in a local Grade-One-a-thon. The idea is that musicians experienced in one instrument family set themselves the goal of passing ABRSM Grade 1 in a new instrument family after only a few weeks practice. This might work for you if you respond well to fixed deadlines, i.e. the exam date.

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