I’ve played the piano for years, and dabbled with the guitar briefly. So when I first started crafting this article, my gut response was that guitar is easier. To make sure my biases weren’t getting in the way, I asked my siblings, who have played both instruments for years, which they thought was more challenging.
So what’s easier to learn, guitar or piano? Guitar is easier for adults to learn because it is less challenging to learn songs at the beginner level. Piano, however, is easier for younger students (age 5-10) to learn because they won’t have to grip guitar fret boards, and coordinate right hand strumming patterns.
At the advanced stages both allow for almost unlimited growth and challenge.
In this article, we will do a deep dive comparison of the difficulty levels of piano and guitar. Hopefully this will help you choose the appropriate instrument for you.
Side by Side Comparison
Factor 1: Easier for Learning Songs
In this context what I mean by “learning a song” is playing the chords of a song on your instrument so you can sing along.
By this definition, I’d argue it’s easier to learn songs on a guitar. Usually guitar students learn chords and strumming patterns quickly – maybe the first lesson or two. Many of the most familiar pop songs use a small selection of chords, so a beginner guitarist has the satisfying ability to learn many familiar songs quickly.
Furthermore, once you create a chord shape on guitar, you can’t play a wrong note because only the notes of the chord will sound. This gives you flexibility to strum or pluck any pattern. On the piano all notes are available to you at all times, so you have to do a deeper dive into theory to make smart choices.
A pianist could also learn chords quickly, however, usually teachers start them with theory fundamentals, such as learning the note names and playing scales, before learning chords. Once they start to learn chords it is difficult to make chord progressions sound smooth because they should use chord inversions or else it will sound clunky.
If pianists don’t learn chord inversions they may have to look at their fingers more than a guitarist because of large gaps between consecutive chords. Additionally, it is harder to play and sing songs on the piano because the piano is a larger and louder instrument.
This category swayed me to say that learning guitar is easier than piano. I see less barriers to creating music that “sounds good” on guitar – music that you enjoy playing for yourself or others.
Factor 2: Simpler Layout
The keys of the piano have a simpler layout than the fret system of the guitar. On piano, there are 7 white notes and 5 black notes per octave. The five black notes always follow the same pattern – a cluster of two notes followed by a cluster of three notes. As you move to the right the notes have a higher pitch, and as you move to the left the notes get lower.
This makes learning your scales and other theory concepts quite easy. Notice how the notes of the D major scale simply follow one another from left to right.
The layout of a guitar is more complicated. While there are only six strings (a piano has 200+), each string can produce many pitches.
As a result playing a scale on the guitar is a series of zig zags across the frets and strings, while playing a scale on the piano is a simple linear movement.
That said, because the guitar isn’t laid out in a clear, linear fashion like the piano, many beginner guitarists won’t have a clear idea of the individual notes they are playing but will instead learn chords as shapes. Below is an example of a D major chord shape.
So if you want to learn chords to your favorite song, the layout of the guitar will suffice. But if you are interested in classical music, or jazz improv, piano is easier to get started on.
Factor 3: Easier Beginner Technique
I define the early-beginner stage as the first month or two of consistent 15+ min daily practice. At the early beginner stage the piano has easier technique. Both hands use similar positions. And when you play a note it will sound cleanly no matter how you strike the key.
The guitar has more challenging technique at this stage.
- If you don’t press the strings close enough to the fret, they’ll buzz.
- Until you develop calluses, your fingers will hurt after several minutes of playing.
- There is extra coordination in plucking or strumming with the right hand while placing fingers with your left.
Mid-Beginner Technique and Beyond
It is too challenging to say which instrument has more difficult technique past the early beginner stage (so I’d welcome feedback in the comments). At the most advanced stages on any instrument, your predecessors have beaten a path towards the upper limits of human ability. So any instrument you choose will be equally difficulty at this level. (Actually maybe the organ is the hardest because those nasty foot pedals require full body coordination?)
Instead of claiming that one has more challenging technique, I’ll list the difficulties of each, starting with guitar:
- More subtleties in controlling sound. On the guitar you directly control the sound by strumming or plucking. This means there is a wider variety of sounds that can come out of a guitar. Sounds that range from a harsh metallic strum with a pick, to a soft arpeggio pattern picked by fingers, to a gentle touch of vibrato on a melody line. On a piano you indirectly control the sound; you play keys which set off a sophisticated mechanical system that ends with a hammer striking a string.
- Less help from gravity. On piano the weight of your arm helps you press down a key. On a guitar there is less help from gravity and more need to squeeze with your fingers.
- Bar Chords. In a bar chord the index finger presses down all strings, and the remaining fingers form a chord shape. Proper finger placement, and grip strength can take a while to develop.
The challenges of a piano:
- Navigating a large space. The piano is about 5 feet wide, the fret board is only a foot or two. Composers like to use the whole expanse of the piano, sometimes forcing musicians to make challenging leaps in split seconds.
- Both hands play notes independently. Your right and left hand can play any key on the piano, which means that both hands can engage extremely challenging finger work. On guitar the left and right hand are co-dependent in sound production; the left hand fingers and the right hand strums to produce sound. So only the left hand has challenging fingerings.
Factor 4: Easier for Children
My brother, who teaches beginner guitar and piano students, said he would prefer teaching young children (ages 5-10) piano. In the initial stages of learning guitar a child may dislike the soarness that results from pressing down strings, and coordination challenges as both hands do different tasks. On the piano, there is no finger pain and often students begin by playing melodies with only one hand.
If you are still interested in teaching your child guitar, try starting them on the ukulele; it is like a baby guitar with four closely placed and easy to press strings.
Factor 5: Easier to Self-Teach
So is it easier to self-teach piano or guitar? Guitar is easier to self-teach than piano. By just learning a couple of chord shapes and a simple strumming pattern guitarists can quickly play songs they recognize.With piano the process is longer involving more theory, so it is helpful to have a guide.
Factor 6: Easier to Share Music with Others
It is easier to share music on a guitar because it is portable. You can take it to outside gatherings, or events in small spaces. Additionally, you can play guitar as conversation happens in a group setting.
Sharing music on the piano is more challenging; it is so large that it becomes the center of attention. You can’t wheel it into the center of a group and tinker around as conversation happens like your suave guitar playing friends.
Factor 7: Easier to Maintain
A guitar is easier and cheaper to maintain. Pianos hold thousands of pounds of tension in their strings. Guitars only hold several hundred.
As a result, technicians charge $100-$200 to tune your piano, while guitar players can tune their guitar in a matter of minutes.
Guitar vs. Piano – Easier Overall
Overall, because of the guitar’s portability, self-teach-ability, and ease of playing familiar songs quickly, I’d argue the guitar is easier to learn – at least in the beginner stages.
That said, if you are not interested in singing songs with others, are more interested in classical music, or are interested in teaching a child, the piano may be the better option.
That said, if you are interested in learning piano, check out my new course – Favorite Song 101. I teach my students the skills they need to play a song of choice, and arrange that song to match their skill level.
You can get a sneak peak into the course by downloading this worksheet on the 3 steps to learning your favorite song on the piano!
Make Starting An Instrument Easy and Enjoyable
On Find Your Melody I like to end my posts with one creative insight into enjoying music.
In the early stages of learning any instrument consistency is crucial. Without it you won’t get past some of the early challenges.
I’ve recently experimented with a practice motivation tool. I found two jars and placed chocolates in one of the jars and left the other empty. Once a day I allowed myself to eat a chocolate and put the rapper in the other jar.
This did two things:
- It made it easy to start practicing. Often it’s not that I don’t want to practice it’s that I don’t want to start practicing. But now when I have a half hour of free time and I don’t know what to do I think, “chocolate, I want chocolate!” and happily started practicing.
- It helped me track my progress. When I saw all those rappers in the second jar, I was pleased with how many days I practiced and wanted to continue the streak.
What are some ways that you make the early stages of learning a new skill enjoyable?
Should I Learn Piano or Guitar First?
In general, piano gives a better base understanding of music and music theory concepts. After learning piano it will be easier to pick up guitar than vice versa. That said, if you are interested in learning both instruments and prefer pop music or casual playing, try learning the guitar first.
Should I learn Guitar and Piano at the Same Time?
If you have 45 minutes or less to practice a day, then you shouldn’t learn guitar and piano at the same time. It will be challenging to make enough progress on both instruments if your time is split. If you have more than 45 minutes you may actually benefit from learning music in two different ways at once.
What is More Attractive Piano vs Guitar?
Stereo-typically guitarists are the attractive ones. A study found that in Briton, 9 out of 10 people found guitarists attractive. That said, there are probably better ways to woo a mate.
What Type of Guitar is Easier to Learn?
The easiest guitar for a beginner to learn is an acoustic steal string guitar. Steal string guitars are the most common and have an even tone. Electric guitars require hook ups, and are less comfortable to hold.