I’ve been learning electric guitar for a few years, and have tried most styles of guitar. People first getting into guitar often wonder how difficult electric guitar is and whether it’s more difficult than other styles. Based on my research and experience here’s what I found.
Overall, electric guitar is not hard. A survey in 2021 showed that only 20% of people who have played each type of guitar thought that electric guitar is the hardest. Also, for all musical instruments, only 10% of people thought that guitar was the hardest to learn and play.
Below, I will show the results of the survey so you can see what instruments they considered the hardest and easiest, as well as, where electric guitar and other styles of guitar fit in. On top of that I’ll explain the key reasons why electric guitar is not hard to learn or play.
How Hard Electric Guitar is Compared to Other Instruments
Here’s two tables that show first how hard electric guitar is compared to other types of guitars. As well as, a table that shows what the survey showed are the hardest and easiest instruments.
|Type of Guitar||Percentage of people who voted it is the EASIEST type of guitar to play and learn|
|Acoustic – steel string||4.41%|
|Acoustic – nylon string also called classical/spanish/flamenco guitar||14.71%|
As you can see the vast majority of people over 80% thought that electric guitar is the easiest style of guitar to play and learn. I also wanted to compare how hard guitar is to other instruments.
Here’s a table that shows what people thought is the hardest instrument to play:
|Instrument||Percentage of people who voted it is the HARDEST type of instrument to play and learn|
|Piano or Keyboard||20.67%|
|Strings – guitar only||10%|
|Strings all others – such as, violin, cello||32%|
|Wind instruments – for example flute, saxophone||24.67%|
Instruments can be lumped into broad categories. Here’s what they are with examples of what instruments they include:
- Percussion – bongo drum, drum kit used in a rock band, Scottish tenor drum
- Keys – piano, keyboard, the organ
- Strings – guitar, cello, and violin
- Wind – trumpet, saxophone
Guitar is categorized as a stringed instrument. But, most people notice a big difference between learning guitar and learning the violin. For that reason, as part of my survey I separated stringed instruments into two categories – guitars, and everything else.
From the responses received guitar was selected the least as the hardest instrument to play and learn. Drums were also rated significantly lower than other instruments.
Fully one third of those that responded thought that stringed instruments, except for guitar, and bass guitar were the hardest. And stringed instruments (not including guitar) for the most votes as the hardest musical instrument to play.
Stringed instruments such as the violin, and cello were voted the hardest to play and learn, followed closely by wind instruments such as the flute and saxophone.
Guitar which includes electric, classical, and acoustic guitar had significantly less votes and were rated as the easiest instrument to play and learn.
A way to analyze how hard instruments are compared to each other is how much multitasking you need to do when you play it. For example, when playing the drums you need to move your feet and hands independently. The feet play the bass drum, and control and play the hi-hat.
This is very difficult, as any one who has tried to clap their hands to the beat and sing at the same time. However, it’s not impossible. The way I think about it, is the more things you need to focus on to play an instrument the harder it is.
Whereas, with guitar you only play with your two hands, and your feet aren’t required at all.
Here’s a table that shows what’s involved in playing each instrument and how it makes it more or less difficult:
|Instrument||Actions that need to be performed simultaneously|
|Guitar||Need to play with both hands. But, one hand primarily does most of the playing.|
|Drums||All 4 limbs play. Both feet and both hands need to move independently which requires much more coordination|
|Piano/keyboard||Need to play with both hands. Compared to guitar it’s harder because both hands play notes|
|Wind instruments like the flute, and saxophone||About as difficult as guitar. Mouth is used to make the sound and the fingers assist. But, it requires you to regulate your breathing to consistently have enough air.|
|Violin, cello, stand up bass||Many people find these instruments the most difficult. Because you need to have very precise fingering unlike guitars that have frets.|
What’s easy about learning electric guitar compared to other elements
There are aspects about playing electric guitar that make it easier than other instruments they are:
1. Only one note playing hand
With electric guitar, but also true of guitar in general one hand is held in place, while the other hand strums, or picks the notes. Setting aside when the left hand does what are called hammer-ons and pull-offs, this is simpler and you need less coordination to play.
With piano and drums though, you need to play notes with both hands or both hands and your feet. To use football/soccer as an example, it’s easier to juggle one soccer ball and keep it in the air, rather than trying to juggle two soccer balls at the same time. Because you need to mentally focus on both balls at the same time.
This is a similar feeling to trying to play guitar compared to trying to play piano or drums.
2. You can easily play a song in a different key
All music falls on a spectrum known as the key. For example, there are major and minor keys. It’s musical instrument has a range. This is how high and how low the notes are that it can play.
For example, a recorder (the small flute-like instrument) can only play about 12 different notes and has a small range. Whereas, a piano has a much wider range, and can go from very very low all the way to very high notes.
It gets a bit in the weeds to give an introduction to music theory here. But, with guitar it’s very easy to play a song in a different key compared to other instruments.
The design of a guitar is such that you can simply move your hand up one fret and play the same run of notes to change the key signature. Whereas, with other instruments you need to learn a completely different finger combination.
3. The guitar is not responsible for keeping time
This is the major difference between how difficult guitar is to the drums. As we’ve seen from the survey results above, guitar and drums are considered quite similar in their difficulty by most people. But, interestingly, the drums are primarily tasked with keeping time. Which adds a degree of difficulty to playing the drums over the guitar.
Good sounding music is rhythmic and regular. Like the ticking of a clock. You might have noticed at live concerts the drummer will tap the drums together and say 1, 2, 3, 4 before a song begins, so that the other band members know when to start playing. But, throughout the song they also lead the timing of the song.
If a band member gets off time they will reorient themselves by listening to the drummer. In private practice without a drummer guitarists will use a metronome to keep time. This is also true of other instruments such as the piano.
It’s difficult to keep time, and requires a lot of practice. It’s even more difficult when you need to keep time not only for yourself but for the rest of the instruments or band. In an orchestral setting this is done by the composer, who waves their hand to the rhythm, and also reminds sections of the orchestra when they should start playing.
For that reason guitar is easier than drums. As you may know, there is a style of guitar known as flamenco guitar. Funnily enough, in flamenco guitar the dancer actually leads the song and creates the rhythm. Rather than the drummer, although at times it seems like the guitarist is leading because they begin playing first.
I recently analyzed how difficult flamenco guitar is, and whether it’s hard to learn compared to other guitar styles in this article about whether flamenco guitar is hard. Definitely give it a read if you’re interested in flamenco guitar.
How I personally found learning electric guitar for the first time
I tossed up getting a steel string, or a classical guitar but people I knew who played guitar said that a steel string guitar is better for rock music, which I was really into at the time. So, I initially got a steel string guitar.
Since I was quite young, only 16 years old, I didn’t have that much money, so I decided to get a cheap guitar to start off with. After I played on it for a bit, I tried out a classical guitar, and an electric guitar.
I found that a classical guitar was easier to play and harder to play at the same time. For example, the strings were softer and easier on my hands.
But, the frets were wider apart and so I had to stretch my fingers more. When I went to play electric guitar I found it much easier to press the strings. And because it played through an amp, it was easier to create a really good tone.
But, an electric guitar has a smaller fretboard compared to a classical or spanish guitar, which can be more difficult for people with bigger hands.
Is It Hard To Learn Electric Guitar By Yourself?
As an experienced guitarist I’ve taken lessons and taught myself. So, I thought I’d answer whether it’s hard to learn electric guitar by yourself. Based on my experience and that of my guitarists I know, here’s what I found.
Electric guitar is not hard to learn by yourself. Following along with online video lessons is almost identical to having a tutor or friend show you how to play. Overall, a guitar teacher or friend can spot what you’re doing wrong which is helpful and can save you time.
It can be good to balance both playing on your own with books, video lessons, and with a tutor. As you may be aware, there are different learning modalities such as learning by seeing, hearing, and doing.
Each person generally has strength in one area. For example, I find it very easy to learn by watching someone do something. Whereas, others can pick up different things just by listening. In my opinion, learning through video lessons combined with tabs or written music is the easiest way to learn.
Hearing a song and playing it, only comes after you’ve been playing for a while and are familiar with the way a guitar sounds. And it’s very difficult for a beginner.
Is It OK To Start With an Electric Guitar?
I started by learning music by learning piano, but didn’t like it that much. Later on, a lot of my friends were into guitar so I started playing. Now that I’ve been playing for many years I thought I’d share whether it’s OK to start with an electric guitar.
Generally, it’s perfectly fine to start with an electric guitar. But, most guitar tutors and guitarists recommend starting with an acoustic steel string guitar first if you’re interested in learning electric guitar.
The reasons are that:
- It’s cheaper – as a beginner you might not be sure you’re going to stick with the guitar.
- It’s simpler to play as you need less equipment
- It’s easy to go from acoustic guitar to electric guitar, but not from electric to acoustic.
An electric guitar is more forgiving than an acoustic guitar. You can be less precise with your fingering and the effects such as distortion mask the imperfections in your playing. The pickups on an electric guitar are more sensitive so even a light touch can be made to sound very loud.
But, if you’re very experienced on electric guitar and try to go to an acoustic steel string guitar, it’s much more difficult to get a really nice sound. Whereas, if you can play a few songs well on an acoustic steel string guitar, playing the same song on an electric guitar is quite easy.