By Rob Cypher
You’ve said the words in your head – maybe you even said them out loud. “I want to learn an instrument.” Congratulations! You have taken the first step in one of the most rewarding, positive experiences you can undertake. And yes, just saying it does mean something! It is an acknowledgement of the value that music can bring to your life. But if you’re not careful, the number of decisions and opportunities can quickly overwhelm you, and you’ll push playing music away as quickly as a “new year’s resolution.”
At Yousician, our mission is to make learning an instrument fun, rewarding and accessible to everyone. Before you get started you have a few choices to make, including what instrument you want to learn. Musicality spans every country and culture across the world. Some instruments have been played for thousands of years. We’ll walk through some of the most popular, and why it could be a good fit for you.
The guitar is a perfect first instrument, because it’s so flexible. Guitars are relatively inexpensive, portable and don’t require much room to play or store in your home. It’s very likely that most of your favorite songs have a guitar part, so you’ll be able to play along with music that you know and love. A guitar is both a rhythm and a lead instrument, so it offers lots of opportunities to play music with other people, and fit into nearly any jam session. Being able to support both rhythm and lead also means guitar can accommodate a really wide range of skill levels, from absolute beginner up through professionals. There is always a guitar part to fit the skill level of your playing.
The guitar is also a great first instrument because it plays a central part in many popular musical genres. You can crunch out power chords to jam along with your favorite punk bands, learn scales to work on your improvisation or arpeggios to solo like a shredder. Guitar is arguably the most versatile modern instrument.
The learning curve can be steep. There is a period of learning for the absolute beginner where your hands need to adjust to fretting notes, and some new players struggle with this. The weight and size of the instrument can also be difficult for some people, especially kids to play comfortably. If you want to play a fretted instrument, but are overwhelmed by the guitar, try out one of the guitars stringed relatives.
The ‘uke,’ as so many fondly refer to it, is one of the best starter instruments. It’s small, light and compact size makes it easy to pick up, even for young children who might find a guitar or bass unwieldy. The light frame, lower string count (four) and lower string tension make it ideal for persons with disabilities who need something more accessible. The ukulele is the perfect travel instrument for the aspiring musician on the go, and the songs are easy to pick up on the smaller fretboard. Chords are easier to learn, and the sound gives off a warmth that hearkens back to its Hawaiian roots. At the same time, the ukulele’s unique sound definitely makes it a specialty instrument – you won’t find many ukuleles in a four person rock band (though we’ve seen this shifting in recent years). So if you’re looking for a shallow learning curve, a low price point for an instrument and a big community of players, the uke is definitely worth a look.
The Bass is technically a guitar, but with fewer, thicker strings to cover lower octaves in the musical mix. With four strings (compared to 6 on a guitar), and functioning as a rhythm instrument, the bass is the perfect instrument to get your feet wet and your confidence up. It’s also the quickest way into playing with other people, or joining a band, if you want to perform. With some basic skills and practice, you can play a bass line that fits in with what your friends might be playing on another instrument. And while a walking bass line can be simple and repetitive, creativity is still at your fingertips – just ask about Victor Wooten, Les Claypool or John Entwistle, legends who bent the rules of what it means to be a bass player. Still, the bass is definitely a “back of house” instrument, so if you’re looking for a wider range of playing styles, don’t hesitate to hit the keys.
The piano has been at the center of musical composition for hundreds of years. Piano players are part of a musical tradition that transcends time and place, and many of the canonical works of music were composed on piano. If dexterity is your game, and the idea of owning every piece of a song is your goal, take the leap into learning piano. Acting as both rhythm and melody simultaneously, the piano is a two in one instrument, and has a place in every style of music from classical, jazz and into modern pop. Playing piano doesn’t mean you have to spend $10,000 on a giant grand piano. It’s just as easy to get your start on a small, beginner keyboard to learn the keys. You should be aware that having a full size keyboard or piano does require a decent amount of space in your home.
If you want to get into music, but don’t really have a budget or a place to store equipment, no problem! The original instrument is right there in front of you – your own voice. It’s a really common misconception for singing that you either “have a good voice” or you don’t. Nothing could be further from the truth. The voice is an instrument like any other. When you think of voice like other instruments, you can see how practice, techniques, lessons and vocal training can mold even the roughest voice into a showstopper. Going the route of vocals might be the easiest to pick up, but is arguably the hardest to master. If you’re still a little stage shy, being a crooner might not be right for you – the spotlight always shines brightest on the singer!
Whatever instrument you pick, don’t fret – the benefits and possibilities of introducing music into your life are wide-ranging no matter what you play. While all of the instruments listed above – not to mention the wide array of percussion and wind instruments – seem wildly different at first, they are all speaking the same language, and often work in concert together because of that exact reason. Sound, rhythm and time signatures are ubiquitous and recognizable by musicians of all skill levels. Practice with any instrument will refine those skills, enabling you to pick up on tendencies and repetitions, making learning easier and your own music abilities even better. Music is a language too, and much like languages, the more you learn, the easier it is to learn other languages. If you’re torn between a few instruments, don’t worry. Dedicate time to one, and once you get the hang of it, don’t be afraid to branch out and try a second instrument. You’ve taken the first step towards a new life of music – now embrace it, and enjoy your time learning to play.