Should I Learn Piano or Guitar First? Survey Reveals Which is Better

I’ve learned both piano and guitar, and when I first got into learning music I was encouraged to learn piano first. So, I asked a bunch of music teachers and other people who have played both guitar and piano and thought I’d summarize whether you should learn piano or guitar first.

Overall, you should learn piano first. A survey of 38 musicians found that none of them recommended learning guitar first. The main reasons reported are that piano is easier to play and to learn music theory. But, 23.7% of them recommended to learn both guitar and piano. 

There are some additional reasons why learning piano is better, and some things to consider when deciding which is best for you. 

So, below I will explain the reasons why you should learn piano first instead of guitar. And what factors can influence the decision you ultimately make.

Reasons Why It’s Better To Start With Piano

The main reasons that you should learn piano first are that:

  1. Piano is easier for learning music theory
  2. Guitar involves learning tabs – which don’t teach you to read music
  3. Piano is easier to play in the beginning
  4. You don’t need calluses to play piano
  5. Piano will make it easier to learn piano but not the other way round

Many surveys have been conducted to determine whether musicians recommend learning piano or guitar first. I compiled all of the responses and put it into the table below:

ResponsePercentage of people that voted
Learn piano first57.89%
Learn guitar first0%
Learn both23.68%
Depends on what your goals are18.42%

As you can see, none of them said to learn guitar first. But, around 40% of people said to either learn both, or that you should learn guitar based if it makes sense for your goals.

I didn’t include a common response that I tend to agree with which is that you should learn what you see yourself playing. I found in middle school that I wanted to learn guitar. But, my father said I should learn to play the piano first and forced me to take lessons.

However, I didn’t have any motivation to play piano and so never went to the lessons and never learnt it. 

This seems to be what a lot of other people have found also. And many people commented that you should choose the instrument that you want to play.

That way you won’t have to motivate yourself to play, and it won’t feel like a drag to learn something new, or go to a lesson. In fact, the opposite is true and you’ll be excited to play.

I remember how excited I was when I got my first guitar and I could finally learn all the songs I’d been wanting to learn and play.

I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and start playing my guitar. A famous guitarists, and well know guitarist Slash from the band Guns n Roses has said:

“I had no aspirations to be a musician, but I picked up a guitar for two seconds and haven’t put it down since.”

Saul ‘Slash’ Hudson – Electric guitarist for the famous band Guns N’ Roses

Slash is famous for playing electric guitar. And there are many different styles of guitar, they are steel string, nylon string, and electric. Many people wonder which they should start with first and whether one is harder than the other. 

I personally started with acoustic steel string just because it was cheap to start with, but then transitioned into classical/nylon string and flamenco guitar. 

I also did a poll of guitarists to find out what style of guitar is the hardest and which is the easiest and summarized the result in this article about whether electric guitar is hard.

Definitely give it a read as it explains what the hardest type of guitar is to play, and the easiest which will help you decide as a beginner. With that being said, here’s the main reasons that learning piano first is better than learning guitar first.

Your goals should also guide whether you choose guitar or piano

Some people are only interested in learning guitar so that they can play in a band. Most bands have a guitarist, a bass guitarist, a vocalist, and a drummer. So, choosing one of these is generally what people who want to play in a band go for.

Piano or keyboard are played in bands, but they are much less popular. Keyboard more so than piano. Mostly, because a piano is virtually impossible to transport. Also, if you have the desire to be a concert or jazz pianist then, you should go with what you feel inspired to be or see yourself playing.

Which is easier to learn first guitar or piano?

So, I’ve covered some major reasons why you may choose to start with guitar over piano. But, which is easier to learn first – guitar or piano? Here’s what I’ve found.

Piano is easier to learn than guitar. A survey of 150 people found that 20% of respondents said that piano is the easiest instrument to learn, but only 10% said that guitar the easiest. Piano is easier to learn because the keys are easier to play, and the layout of the notes is easier to learn.

Here’s a more detailed explanation of the reasons why it’s easier to learn piano first, as well as why you would choose one over the other.

1. Piano is easier for learning music theory which is how music works

There are a limited set of music notes. They fall on a spectrum from very high to very low. And have what are called half steps in between. A half step is simply halfway in between one note and the next.

Each instrument has a different layout for where each note is positioned. The layout of a piano makes it particularly easy to learn music theory as it follows a simple pattern. Which is about the same as counting from 1 to 10.

For example, you can start on one end and go A, B, C, D, E and so on until the pattern ends and starts again at A.

However, with guitar the layout and tuning of the strings makes it so that where the notes are positioned isn’t simple to understand. This overall makes it more confusing.

Once, you learn music theory to a pretty good level learning how all the strings relate can be easily learned. 

A good analogy is that learning music theory on piano is like starting to learn mathematics by starting by learning how to add and subtract.

Whereas, learning guitar theory on guitar is like learning mathematics for the first time by starting with trigonometry.

2. Guitar involves learning tabs – which don’t teach you to read music

As you may know, there are what are called guitar tabs. This is similar to playing the game Guitar Hero, where the notes are simple numbers. Such as 1 is the first fret, and 2 is the second fret. This is a simplified way of learning music theory, and you can learn all guitar songs in tab form.

However, guitar music can also be written in music notation form. Music notation has the advantage of having very precise timing info. This makes it much easier to play a song exactly because you have the exact timing when the notes should be played.

From the image above you can see on the bottom right there is music notation, and below that are the tabs. You can see that the tabs are much simpler to read as it’s numbers and strings only. whereas, music notation is harder to read and takes longer to learn.

With tabs, however, you don’t have any timing information so you need to pick up the timing by ear. I personally don’t mind that and many guitarists love playing tabs. 

But, it does improve your playing to learn music notation. And makes it far easier to play in a band and with other people because by learning music notation you will understand time signatures which are important in composing music and playing for a performance. Such as, in a band or orchestra.

The good thing about music notation is it transcends the instrument. For example, music notation is the same on a guitar and a piano. And composing songs on guitar or piano is equally as fun.

Paul McCartney was a member of The Beatles, one of the most iconic pop bands of the 1960’s. He has said:

“One of my biggest thrills for me still is sitting down with a guitar or a piano and just out of nowhere trying to make a song happen.”

Paul McCartney – member of the famous band The Beatles

This shows that Paul McCartney didn’t seem to have a preference for playing either guitar or piano and could play both. 

3. Piano is easier to play in the beginning as the keys are easy to press

Playing the individual notes on a piano is easier in the beginning than on a guitar. The reason is the keys are simply keys like on a computer keyboard so you can simply press them without any specialist skill. 

With a guitar by comparison you need to both press the fret down with your left hand, and also pluck the string using your fingers/thumb or a pick. 

To press the frets well requires precise finger positioning and there is less margin for error. If your fingers are slightly off or you don’t pluck the string right the note won’t play, or it will create a buzz.

Whereas, on the piano you can press the keys with your nose, or knuckle of your finger and it will still sound perfect. 

Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the most loved and famous classical composers is quoted as saying.

“There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.”

Johann Sebastian Bach – Famous Classical Composer

Therefore, in the beginning piano is easier to play. But, once you develop the strength and dexterity in your hands playing guitar is interestingly easier.

The reason is that you only play notes with one hand on the guitar for the most part. Whereas, with piano each hand moves independently and both hands play notes which requires more coordination and is harder.

Some people find one instrument more fun than the other, and I recently wondered whether guitar is more fun than piano.

A survey was recently conducted that looked at what people thought was more fun guitar or piano.

I put the details of the survey as well as some additional info in this article about which is more fun guitar or piano. Give it a read to find out.

4. You don’t need calluses to play piano – calluses take time to develop

Playing guitar in the beginning stages requires you to play a little bit at a time to develop strength in your fingers, and also calluses on your left hand (for right handed folks). 

Developing calluses takes some time, generally a week or two before you can play comfortably without getting a slight pain in your fingertips. Whereas, on piano you don’t need to develop calluses, which makes it much easier to play.

5. Piano will make it easier to learn guitar but not the other way round

Learning piano is so easy to learn music theory compared to guitar, that you will learn music theory much easier and can then use that when learning guitar. And you almost can’t help but learn music theory by playing piano.

However, with guitar you can learn new songs, with tabs and once you know a few chords you play a large number of songs. Which doesn’t require you to learn any music theory at all. 

Because of that you only learn the physical aspects of playing and then if you go to learn piano it’s like learning a whole new thing.

But, the skills you learn in playing piano make it so you can easily understand guitar and where the notes are located and makes it much easier to learn.

What’s the Easiest Instrument To Learn?

I found piano or guitar were obvious candidates for musical instruments to learn. But, I also wondered what instrument is the easiest to learn overall. I did a survey to find out what people thought is the easiest to learn and here’s what I found.

Overall, guitar is the easiest instrument to learn. Followed closely by the drums. A survey of 150 people found that 90% of people thought that guitar was the easiest instrument to learn, and 88% of people said drums. Whereas, 80% of people or less thought that other instruments are the easiest.

Here’s a table that shows the results of the survey:

InstrumentPercentage of people who voted it is the HARDEST type of instrument to play and learn
Drums12.67%
Piano or Keyboard20.67%
Strings – guitar only10%
Strings all others – such as, violin, cello32%
Wind instruments – for example flute, saxophone24.67%

From the responses it’s clear that stringed instruments like violin, and cello are the hardest. Followed by wind instruments. Followed by piano/keyboard. But, guitar is the clear winner, and drums are a close second.

Can Piano Be Self Taught?

Since piano is better to learn first. A common question you can have first getting into learning piano is whether it can be self taught. So, I thought I’d provide a quick answer.

As a general rule, piano can be self taught. But, it is far easier to learn piano if you have someone explain how the piano works, and the basics of music theory. This can be done through online videos, books, or a tutor. Trial and error takes far longer to learn.

A good way to think about it is if you’re given a complex piece of equipment that you’ve never used before. And you have the option of reading the owner’s manual, or randomly trying different things to operate it and get it working.

With that example, it’s easy to see that having someone explain how it works is much easier than trying random things until you figure out how it works. 

There are many examples of self taught pianists who learn simply by playing and listening to music. So, it can definitely be done but it’s not the easiest way to do it. The same is also true of guitar.

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