young child playing a ukulele

6 Easiest Instruments To Learn For All Ages

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

To those who don’t play a musical instrument, watching those who can play an electric guitar, keyboard, or any instrument can seem like magic. How do they get their fingers to move like that? What secret language do they understand to know what to do? There is often a deep yearning on the part of aspiring players to understand and crack the code that unlocks how instruments work.

Learning music theory and musical instruments is beneficial at any age and at whatever level you wish to incorporate it into your life. Active music-making engages your entire brain; it’s good for pain reduction, cognitive improvement, and emotional regulation.

Whether you are someone who wants to learn for yourself or someone looking to gain professional skills (like an electronic music producer wanting to add live instruments to their bag of tricks), here are some suggestions on the easiest instruments to learn.

How to choose the right instrument

Let’s make one thing clear, getting really proficient on any instrument takes time and practice, but getting the basics down and learning an instrument well enough to make simple music can be an attainable goal. Speaking of which…

Music goals

In deciding which instrument to pick and what is the easiest instrument to learn, you’ll want to have a clear idea of your musical goals. Are you learning for fun or for a professional purpose? It takes the same amount of time to become a virtuoso on any instrument (the proverbial 10,000 hours), but some instruments are easier to pick up and get a working knowledge of than others.

Physical abilities

As the old saying goes, “You don’t choose the instrument, the instrument chooses you.” You will want to consider not just the metaphysical aspects of what “feels right” when choosing an instrument, but the physical dimensions and limitations of your own body. It’s best to learn on an instrument that is the right size, scale, and shape to match your body’s characteristics.

Budget for a decent instrument

Conventional wisdom dictates that you shouldn’t spend a lot on an instrument until you know you’re going to play it long-term. However, depending on your budget, it’s definitely worth it to get a decent instrument that you are excited about playing. There is most likely an affordable entry-level option for any instrument you might choose. Classical instruments will be more expensive than rock instruments.

Be thrifty but don’t penny-pinch unless absolutely necessary; cheap instruments can be more difficult to physically play. Consider a nice instrument an investment in yourself.

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What are the easiest instruments to learn?

In no particular order, here are six instruments to consider before starting your musical journey that you can get started on right away.

1. Harmonica

The basic diatonic harmonica, the most common type, has the advantage for beginners that any note you blow into it will be in the right key and sound good. Blues players often play harmonicas in the cross-harp style, meaning they inhale rather than exhale as the starting note. This involves using a harmonica that’s a perfect fourth above the key of the song (for a blues song in E, use an A harmonica). Still, even cross harp doesn’t take much practice to get going. Harmonicas aren’t as cheap as they used to be — a pro-quality Hohner Blues Harp is $60 — but there are less expensive models. The biggest advantage to the harmonica: you can fit it in your pocket and take it anywhere!

2. Guitar

The most ubiquitous instrument of the last 60 years, there’s a good reason that so many people own guitars: learning basic chords is fairly easy and it doesn’t take much work to start to sound good. In choosing what is the easiest instrument to learn, you’ll want to consider the accessibility and variety that the guitar has to offer. Plus guitars are cool! They come in a multitude of shapes, sizes, and styles, so finding one that excites you is also easy.

3. Ukulele

Compact and inexpensive, the guitar’s little cousin — the ukulele — has risen in popularity in recent years, partially because of its ease of use and portability. The smaller size, fewer strings, and closer frets make it easier for those with smaller hands. Basic ukulele chords can be learned very quickly, so it’s a great option for those who want to get started and progress rapidly. And you’ll be inadvertently cool — the ukulele has been the hipster instrument of choice for the last decade or so.

4. Piano/keyboards

When considering what is the easiest instrument to learn, the piano might seem like the antithesis of easy. However, one major advantage from a learning perspective is that the keys are all right in front of you; you can visually identify notes, intervals, chords, and their positions by just looking at the keyboard.

Vinyl Guide bannerLearning piano is an ideal way to learn to read sheet music and learn hand-eye coordination as you incorporate both hands into your music-making. There are plenty of easy piano books out there to help you get started. If 88 keys seem intimidating, you can always start with an electronic keyboard which is often smaller and will have a variety of sounds to choose from as well to keep things interesting.

5. Drums/percussion

The easy part about drums is that you can get started and make a reasonable (or unreasonable) noise right away; you just have to hit them! Less knowledge of musical theory is required as a beginner; reading drum sheet music can come later on. Developing rhythm and style takes much practice, of course, and a standard rock trap kit requires a great deal of coordination to keep a steady beat. Thankfully, there are a variety of percussion instruments and hand drums that can be simpler for beginners. Bongos, congas, tambourines, maracas, castanets… the list goes on as inexpensive and portable percussion instruments are plentiful.

6. Recorder

No list of easy-to-play instruments would be complete without the recorder, the favorite elementary school starter instrument of most music teachers. The recorder is an excellent primer to learn the fingering required for many wind instruments like clarinet, saxophone, oboe, and bassoon. It’s very easy to get up and playing with the recorder; there’s no embouchure (shaping of the lips and mouth) required as with other wind instruments — you can pretty much just blow into it. While it might not be as appealing to adults as the other instruments above, it is a great place to start for someone looking to eventually learn to play woodwinds.

Tips for practicing your instrument

Starting out is one thing. Getting good takes practice…

Consistent practice schedule

When beginning to learn any instrument, the most important part of practice is consistency. You will progress faster if you practice a little bit every day than if you practice in large amounts of time once or twice a week. The daily routine and repetition will build muscle memory and, most importantly, get you in the habit of practicing.

Set goals before each practice

Focused and measured practice will reap more long-term rewards than unfocused practice, but it’s better to practice unfocused than not practice at all. In setting your daily practice goals, it’s good to remember why you started practicing in the first place. You may have started off with the goal of “what is the easiest instrument to learn” and now your goal is “how do I play my favorite song” or “how can I sound more like my favorite player?”

Breaking down these larger goals into more specific ones will accelerate your progress (so will taking music lessons). Instead of learning a whole song in one session, learn just the first verse. Work on individual sections until you know them backwards and forwards.

Making mistakes is normal

“Do not fear mistakes,” said Miles Davis, “there are none.” While this is definitely true for advanced players and perhaps more true for Miles’ style of music, any beginner will tell you that they know the difference between a mistake and correct execution. Most people do fear mistakes and this keeps them from learning. G.K. Chesterton said, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

You have to be willing to be bad to become good in order to learn a musical instrument. Mistakes are how we learn; in that sense, Miles is right even for beginners: you have to make so-called mistakes to learn your instrument.

With this attitude, the answer to the question “What is the easiest instrument to learn?” becomes, “The one in your hand.”

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Chris Huff

About Chris Huff

Chris Huff has been a professional singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer for over 25 years. He has worked as a sideman with Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul, and Mary), Echo and the Bunnymen, Chuck Hammer (David Bowie, Lou Reed), and Tom Kitt (Broadway composer of Next To Normal). Chris also wrote liner notes for David Bowie’s Live And Well CD, and his full-length album, 'bout Time is available on iTunes.

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