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When it comes to musical instruments the guitar, bass, and drums are the instruments we mainly focus on here. Whether bass guitars are hard to learn, or drums sound better with age, we got you covered!
And the truth is, acoustic, electric, and bass guitars and even drums are quite mainstream instruments, but does that mean they are easy to learn and play?
What about other instruments?
Despite my love for guitars, I always wanted to learn how to play the violin, but I have to admit that as a young kid, I was too scared to try. From talking with other fellow musicians I also realized that they were intimidated by various musical instruments.
Irrational or not, that made me wonder, what are the hardest instruments to learn to play?
All instruments require years of dedicated practice to learn and master, but instruments like the violin are considered one of the hardest, and it can take over a decade to reach a professional level. Other difficult instruments include the french horn, oboe, organ, piano, bassoon, piccolo, bagpipes, theremin, sitar, rebab, and Chinese pipa among others.
No musical instrument can be mastered overnight, but there are certain instruments that require good instructors and years of dedication.
That’s why not only are we going to take a closer look at the 18 hardest instruments on our list and the ultimate winner, but we will also discuss what makes an instrument hard to learn!
What Are The Most Difficult Instruments To Play?
Before we dive any deeper I do want to mention that this list will focus mainly on musical instruments from the western world, but there are a few incredible and difficult instruments that are used in non-western music.
For the most part, the list also doesn’t represent the scale of difficulty of each instrument, since there are too many variables between them.
So, without further ado, let’s see what instruments require a dedicated pupil!
The violin is probably one of the most recognized instruments, if not in the whole world then definitely in the West, and it’s also considered one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult instrument to learn to play.
The fact that the violin doesn’t have frets is the main reason why this instrument is difficult for beginners.
Frets are there to guide your fingers, and without their guidance, it’s difficult to know how to position your hand and where to place your fingers. Especially since the violing requires numerous finger positions.
So, you can see why a new player can find the violin extremely confusing, but that’s not the only difficulty.
You also must learn how to properly position the violin by balancing this instrument under your chin in a way that allows your bow hand to move freely, all the while moving the fingers on the fret with the help of your muscle memory.
The violin is a mentally and physically tasking instrument because it requires good coordination and you also have to be very precise if you want to produce the right sound, at the right volume, pitch, and tone.
Professional violinists might make their every movement seem effortless but that’s because they had decades of practice. Let’s not forget that most professionals began learning how to play the violin when they were children.
That being said, just because the violin is hard to learn to play it’s not impossible, no matter what age you are. Your dedication, passion, and the time you’re planning on investing play a far greater role.
2. The French Horn
The French horn belongs to the brass instrument family and while it might be less popular than the violin, it definitely can compete for the title of the most difficult instrument.
Let’s start with the two most obvious reasons which are the size and weight. Holding the French horn is not an easy task, not only because the average French horn weighs 4,8 to 6,1 lb (2,2 to 2,8 kg), but because you can only hold the instrument by grasping one side with your hand slightly curved while your other fist is kept inside the bell.
Let’s not forget that while you’re holding the French horn you should also be flexible enough to reach and play the buttons.
To play the French horn you also need to place and move your mouth with precision if you want to get the right pitch and work on your breathing technique if you want to produce any sound.
Once you’re able to produce any sort of sound, then you’ll have to work on producing the right sound, which again can be another great challenge.
So, the French horn is definitely hard at the early stages of learning, but it can still be challenging to master as you keep on practicing and learning.
There is something magical about the sound of an oboe, while mostly being part of an orchestra, it almost feels like it doesn’t need the other instruments, the oboe can be a protagonist all on its own.
This quality can only come at a price, and as you can imagine, the price is the learning difficulty.
The fact that you have to be able to control your mouth, including your lips and tongue as well as your breath is quite intimidating, but that’s not all.
You also have to control your finger placement, which is one of the most complex parts of playing the oboe. As well as, your hand position, since by going lower the oboe will produce a higher pitch and by raising your hand it will produce a lower pitch.
While being a somewhat counterintuitive instrument, the oboe requires precise coordination, and all these factors make it a hard instrument to learn as a beginner and an experienced musician.
The oboe and bassoon are challenging instruments, and they also share some similarities since they are both in the woodwind family, and both use a double reed.
Some are of the opinion that the bassoon is a little easier to play in comparison, but that’s not entirely true. Because it can be a much more difficult instrument for someone with smaller hands.
It’s also a quite heavy instrument, and it can weigh anywhere from 3.5 to 7.5 lbs (1.5 to 3.4 kg), but the musician usually uses a seat strap if sitting down, or a harness if standing.
Size and weight aside, the bassoon also requires all 10 fingers, and let’s not forget that you need to learn to control your lips and tongue, as well as your breathing
That being said, with patience and a true commitment to practice you can learn how to play the bassoon, but be prepared for a challenge!
Just like the guitar is a mainstream instrument, the piano is also an instrument that most kids try to learn first. Similarly, the piano, despite its popularity is a difficult instrument to learn to play.
I do need to add that once you get over the initial fear of playing with both of your hands and feet, and you get a sense of coordination, the basics are pretty easy to master.
In fact, many kids start with piano lessons for the same reason. Plus the piano is a great tool to introduce students to music theory, and learning to read piano music is a great skill because even if you move on to a different musical instrument this knowledge will help you along your musical journey.
But if you want to become a professional, the piano will keep getting more and more difficult as you go, mostly because the piano requires commitment and many hours of studying and practice.
While the piano might seem like it’s not physically tasking, it can be hard on your wrist and fingers, especially if you’re not playing with the correct technique, which can even lead to injuries.
That being said the piano might be a difficult instrument to become a pro at, but it’s a very rewarding experience, and it’s a great hobby for someone who doesn’t want to go too deep!
6. The Pipe Organ
Naturally despite its popularity, the piano is on our list, so it only makes sense that the pipe organ is also mentioned, after all, one could say that the pipe organ is a piano on steroids!
While the pipe organ looks somewhat like a piano, and it does follow the same structure of keys, it’s far more complex.
The pipe organ produces sound by “driving pressurized air (called wind) through the organ pipes selected from a keyboard.”
So, coordination is key and I don’t just mean both hands and feet, but your eyes and ears. Aside from the multiple keyboards and the pedalboard, you also have “stop knobs” on your left and right that enable or disable different sounds and pitches.
Among other functions, you are also capable of controlling the volume with the expression pedal.
While the pipe organ comes in different sizes with different functions, it’s still a difficult instrument, more so, they are not easy to get by unless your music school or church has one.
If you want to learn a non-western instrument, then you’ve probably heard of the sitar. This is not just an incredible instrument with a beautiful history but sitar is also difficult to learn to play and master.
The first thing you need to consider if you want to learn the sitar is finding a good guru (teacher) because you will be faced with many unique challenges.
Playing aside, you will have to get used to the very particular posture which is called the half lotus. The sitar itself will be placed on the sole of your left foot and your right forearm will apply pressure on the sitar’s body to keep it in place.
Sitars come with 18 or 21 strings, but you only need to pluck 6 or 7 strings, which means you’ll have to learn to pluck the right strings, this alone can be confusing at the start.
Another thing to note is that western note music consists of less notation compared to Indian music, and you will have to learn the basics of Indian classical music, especially since a lot of it is based on improvisation.
It takes commitment to learn this instrument, even if you’re an experienced musician, learning the sitar can take you years. You might be able to understand this instrument and its fundamentals, but to be able to perform well is a completely different story.
While the sitar has 21 strings, the rubab, rabab, or rebab, has just two or three, but it’s a difficult instrument to learn nonetheless.
To play this national musical instrument of Afghanistan you usually want to sit crosslegged in an upright position. The rebab is placed on the right thigh, as you can see in the video above the groove is positioned right on the thigh.
Your strumming hand also needs to be positioned in a very specific way that can be difficult on the wrist, but it’s necessary if you want to perform the right downstrokes and upstrokes.
You also have to learn to tune the rubab according to the raga or raag of the song, which is “a melodic framework for improvisation in Indian classical music.”
In other words, the rubab is an instrument from a completely different world, especially for someone who is not familiar with non-western instruments, so be prepared for a real challenge and some beautiful music!
9. Chinese Pipa
If you feel intimidated by the Chinese pipa, I totally get it, because it’s a difficult instrument to learn and master, but why is that?
Well first of all this is not a small instrument, and while it does rest on your lap, the position of the instrument can feel awkward, since it doesn’t exactly sit on the side, instead it almost faces forwards, and this position can be especially difficult for the fretting hand.
The initial learning curve is definitely steep, and while the number of strings might not scare you, since there are just four, then the 12 to 26 frets probably will.
It’s also one of the most complicated traditional Chinese instruments because there are so many unique techniques to learn.
Finally, you will need to find a teacher to study the Chinese pipa, because it’s basically impossible to do it on your own, especially if you’re not familiar with Chinese musical notation, and the instrument itself has its own notations.
The nyckelharpa is another unique instrument but not everybody knows about its existence. I’m sure, however, that by listening to it you will be transported to a time when the Vikings roamed the seas.
This Swedish musical string instrument or chordophone has 16 strings, three of them are played, while the rest are resonance strings.
This instrument also has 37 wooden keys that you play with your fretting hand, and each key can stop a string to make a particular note.
You also need to use a bow to play the strings, so there are a lot of things going on at the same time, which is a challenge in itself.
Because the nyckelharpa is not as popular, you might also struggle to find an instructor, and when it comes to complex instruments like this one, having a teacher can help you overcome the difficulties that come with it.
Bagpipes can produce the most breathtaking music if they’re played right, but as a beginner, you are less likely to feel like some ancient Scottish warrior, and more like someone who is holding a screeching animal!
I think one look is enough to convince anyone that bagpipes are hard instruments to learn and play.
That’s because you have to constantly blow air into the bag, and you have to be able to control the air by squeezing and filling the bag, while simultaneously playing the correct notes.
Hand positioning is also very important since you need to add the right amount of pressure by keeping the bag under your arm, and you also need to place your fingers on the bagpipes.
So, not only do you need to have good lungs, a superb breath control but also great coordination overall.
Bagpipes are definitely a hard start for beginners, but because this is such a demanding instrument, it can still be quite exhausting to play for professional bagpipe players.
While I don’t know how to play the accordion, I have a lot of fond memories attached to this instrument because my late grandfather used to play it all the time and he was completely self-taught.
But don’t let my own sentiment fool you, because this is a really frustrating instrument to learn especially for a beginner.
The accordion is played by compressing or expanding the bellows, while simultaneously pressing either the buttons or keys, depending on what kind of accordion you have.
This causes the pallets to open, and the air that flows across the reeds, the strips of brass or steel, causes them to vibrate. This vibration is what basically produces the sound we hear inside the body.
As with a lot of instruments on our list, the hard part is to perform different actions simultaneously in a way that creates the right notes and tones.
Anatomically speaking, the right hand is responsible for creating the melodies by playing the keyboard or the buttons, while the left hand has to press buttons, the first two rows are for bass notes and the rest are there for creating harmony.
So, there is a lot to keep in mind as a new accordion player, and the weight adds another layer of difficulty!
13. Double Bass
It looks and sounds impressive and cool, but learning to play the double bass is no joke because the physicality of the instrument is a challenge in itself.
You will have to build strength and stamina just to get through the initial stages of practicing because just the size of the double bass, which stands at around six feet tall (1.8 m,) requires plenty of energy.
Even if you have a great teacher and a well-set-up instrument you still have to be prepared that the learning curve as a beginner is going to be challenging.
But the size is not the only thing that might be intimidating, since you also need to work on your technique on an instrument that doesn’t have frets.
So, basics aside, even after three or four years of consistent practicing, you are likely to find yourself still working on various aspects, like achieving proper vibrato, and intonation.
It’s easy to confuse the cello with the double bass, after all the cello being 5 feet tall (1.5m,) is just a foot shorter.
So, physically it’s still going to be a demanding instrument, and if you want to actually have good results you will need a good cello instructor and lots of practice time.
Even if you are familiar with how to play another stringed instrument like a guitar, the cello requires specific postures, but the tuning and the techniques also differ.
Plus there are no fixed keys to determine the pitch, so you’ll have to learn to rely on your muscle memory. Let’s not forget that you also have to learn how to properly hold and control the bow.
Learning the basics of a cello will be challenging, but as you keep learning and practicing new challenges will arise, and that’s why this instrument requires a passionate and determined person.
I know the list is full of relatively large instruments, so this might make you think that smaller instruments are easier to learn, and while that might be true for some, the piccolo is not one of them.
The most challenging aspect, whether you are a beginner or not, is playing notes in tune.
You need to really work on your lung capacity and breathing technique, because unlike the oboe, or bassoon, the piccolo, requires a smaller volume of air, but the stream must be much faster in order to support each note.
This instrument requires a lot of technical precision, otherwise many notes can end up sounding too sharp or too flat. Since it’s usually the loudest instrument in the orchestra, any slightest embouchure adjustment can make the instrument sound terrible.
While blowing the air in faster streams is already a difficult thing to learn to do, you also have to worry about moving your fingers across tiny keys at the same time.
Let’s not forget that you can’t actually see the keys clearly, since the piccolo is held horizontally.
While anyone can learn to play the piccolo through regular practice, you might find this instrument more challenging if you have large hands and fingers.
Theremin is probably the weirdest instrument on our list, and to be honest, at first glance it might not even look like a musical instrument.
Despite its relative obscurity, the theremin has been used in movie and tv-show soundtracks, usually in the Sci-Fi genre. But it has also been used as a solo melodic vehicle in concert music.
A theremin works by “generating electromagnetic fields around two antennae. A straight, vertical antenna controls pitch; A horizontal, looped antenna controls volume.”
It takes an incredible amount of practice to simply produce any form of music out of a theremin, let alone the right volume control, vibrato, and pitch.
An instrument like that requires a musician that has an incredible sense of their body and hearing.
Of course, it’s not impossible to learn how to play the theremin, and I think the hardest thing to overcome at first is the fact that you play without touching it.
Drums were probably every parent’s nightmare, at least in my case, but I must admit that I had a few rough moments with learning how to play the drums myself.
Despite their popularity, drums are not easy to learn, especially as you start to move on from the basics, or from playing a well-known song/beat for fun.
First of all this instrument is physically taxing, every practice will feel like a workout session.
Stamina aside, you also have to work on your coordination, since you have to use both hands, and feet to perform different things at the same time.
The drummer is responsible for keeping time and tempo, which is a very unique challenge, and it does take practice to become “natural” at keeping a steady beat at the required tempo.
Of course, people that pick up rhythms quickly and have natural coordination can actually find drums a much easier instrument to take on, but even these people will need to dedicate hours, days, months, and years of their lives if they want to become masters of drumming!
While we might feel more comfortable with the idea of stringed instruments, such as the guitar, this instrument is still not an easy one to master.
What makes the guitar easier compared to other instruments is that we see it as a mainstream musical instrument and admittedly it’s less difficult to learn the basics.
But if you want to become a professional guitarist then you still need to spend hours of practice and years to achieve that level of professionalism.
To touch back on the subject of popularity, the fact that guitars are so mainstream and considered pretty cool means that for many people, including me, the guitar was my first choice when I decided I want to get into music.
Moving on from playing a few tunes, it can be a great challenge to play full chords. Not only do you have to work on your finger strength, but also your dexterity, and proper coordination.
There are also a lot of different styles when it comes to guitars, depending on whether you play a classic, acoustic or electric guitar.
Aside from strumming or even fingerstyle techniques that can be quite straightforward, with electric guitars you have shredding, slides, string bending, and more.
So, while the guitar can be quite accessible, it’s easy to assume that it’s also easy to learn how to play.
What Is The World’s Hardest Instrument To Play?
As you might have guessed by now, pinpointing one musical instrument as the hardest one to learn and play in the World is not as easy.
The most common answer to this question, however, is that the Violin is regarded by most as the most difficult musical instrument, or at least a stringed instrument, to learn.
One supporting reason for this opinion is that violins don’t have frets and in order to press the strings down in the right position at all times requires practice.
That being said, the results might differ if we look at different instrument categories. For example, the Oboe is said to be the most difficult aerophone or woodwind-type instrument to play.
When we’re talking about the world we also need to consider non-western musical instruments that are just as intricate and complicated.
So, perhaps the best way to describe the violin is not as the most difficult musical instrument to learn and play in the whole world, but the western world instead.
What Makes A Musical Instrument Hard To Learn?
While it can be tricky, there are a few factors that can explain why certain musical instruments are hard to learn, so let’s give them a look!
Amateur VS Pro
I think it’s important to mention that not everyone who wants to learn to play a musical instrument wants to become a professional player. There are plenty of people taking up piano lessons, clarinet, and even violin lessons as a hobby.
In this case, the instruments on our list are still going to be a challenge, and it can take you a long time to produce a sound that you’re happy with.
Things are more likely to be easier if you picked up a harmonica, or keyboard instead of a piano, or a ukulele instead of a guitar.
On the other hand, if you want to be a professional, then most instruments are going to be challenging.
I also want to point out that with certain instruments it’s easy to learn the basics but it’s hard to master them, and of course, some instruments are difficult right from the start.
Some instruments are quite easy to master, like a ukulele for instance, and while it still requires practice time, it’s far less demanding. Learning the basics can take anywhere between 1 to 5 months, depending on how much time you have.
A ukulele is also easy to learn because you don’t need an instructor, you can use online tutorials, even from free sources like Youtube.
The same cannot be said about violins, sitars, oboes, and most of the instruments on our list.
Not only are you going to need a skilled instructor, but if you want to master one of these instruments you will also need a lot of time for practice, and it can take you more than a decade or fifteen years to become a professional.
Even with more “mainstream” instruments like the guitar, you will still need to dedicate 15 minutes a day, five times a week in order to learn how to play it.
The more complicated the instrument, like the Accordion, for example, the more practice you will need in order to understand how this instrument works, and its basic functions.
Playing a musical instrument is incredibly fun, but as with most things in life, there are “less fun” aspects to playing an instrument, and that’s musical notation.
Musical notation, or music notes, to put in the simplest words, lets players know which note to play and how long to play it for.
Of course, you can try to learn and play by ear, but that can be incredibly difficult, especially with complex musical instruments, or musical genres.
So, if you’re planning on learning the hardest instrument then choosing to learn to play by ear means that you are making things even harder for yourself.
The Physical Aspect
While our physical capabilities shouldn’t hold us back they can make things a little bit more difficult with certain instruments.
For example, if you ever had a shoulder injury, then playing the violin may be more difficult for you, and in severe cases maybe even impossible.
For people that experience back pain, neck pain, or wrist pain certain instruments like the double bass, might feel more challenging since they require a certain posture, or a certain head and hand placement.
I don’t want to sound discouraging, because I think everyone should be able to enjoy creating music.
So, instead of giving up, simply talk to a music teacher and explain what physical problems you might be experiencing. Perhaps they can help you with your posture, or they can give you advice on how often you should practice.
A professional instructor can also suggest a different instrument, that won’t necessarily be easier to learn (if you like a challenge) but is more suitable for your situation.
Last but not least, is fear. Thinking of these instruments as difficult can be counterproductive, and it can discourage you from even trying to learn them.
Every new skill requires time and practice, and if you like an instrument don’t let the fact that it might be somewhat more difficult than other instruments stop you from playing it.
Certain instruments also have a steep learning curve and require more effort during the first stages. For example, it can take some time until you can produce a sound when learning how to play the oboe, but once you’re past that stage things get better.
SO, if you are too intimidated by the oboe then you are more likely to give up right before things start to get easier.
At the end of the day, we can admit that all musical instruments can be difficult to learn, but we also can’t deny that some of them require extreme dedication for years and years.
With some instruments, like the guitar, playing a few tunes while sitting with friends around a bonfire doesn’t take much practice, but the same can’t be said about a violin.
However, what can make the journey of learning even the most difficult instrument less scary is curiosity and your love for it. If I didn’t feel passionate about playing the guitar then I don’t think I would have found the motivation to keep learning,
So, if you feel passionate about any of the instruments on this list, then please explore that feeling and remember to be patient with yourself and the instrument that speaks to your heart!