15 Musical Instruments Ranked By Difficulty From Easiest To Hardest

From the French Horn to the Accordion and the Violin, difficulty in playing instruments varies
From the French Horn to the Accordion and the Violin, difficulty in playing instruments varies( Source : instagram )

From the hardest musical instrument French Horn to the easiest recorder, the difficulty level to learning decreases gradually.

Music has been a part of the human experience since time immemorial. Humanity has built many different instruments to make music be they made from wood, strings, or even electronic. 

These instruments make sweet sounds by themselves, and when brought together can create musical passages that can evoke intense feelings. They often provide an emotional release or even work as a background to other works of art like the theatre to movies and television shows.

Due to their presence in daily life, many have attempted to learn various instruments only to discover that some are harder to learn than others.

Here is a list of 15 musical instruments ranked from easiest to hardest to learn.

15. Recorder

A recorder is one of the easiest instruments to learn how to play
A recorder is one of the easiest instruments to learn how to play( Source : instagram )

The recorder is characterized as a woodwind musical instrument. The instrument belongs to the same character as flutes.

It is used by blowing into one end with various finger holes that help provide musical variation. The instrument also ranges in size depending on vocal ranges like the soprano, tenor, and bass. 

Recorders can be seen as the western equivalent of flutes as they are the most prominent instrument in the flute family to be used in western classical music tradition. They have been recorded in use from the Middle Ages in Europe to the modern day.

Many Western classical composers from Monteverdi, Vivaldi, and Bach to Berio have written music for the recorder. However, the instrument has gained more fame in recent years due to its usage as a tool for children to learn music in schools.

One of the reasons why it is easy to learn is due to how financially simple learning a recorder is. They are cheap to buy, and when acquired, one only needs a couple of introductory lessons and then daily practice for someone, be they a child or an adult to learn it.

This ease in learning has made the recorder a widely known American symbol, with movies, cartoons, and television shows displaying children learning to play or playing the recorder. 

14. Tambourine

A typical tambourine with a drumhead and various metallic jingles on the side
A typical tambourine with a drumhead and various metallic jingles on the side( Source : instagram )

The tambourine is characterized as a percussion-based instrument. More specifically, it is a hand percussion instrument.

The tambourine can be understood as a drumhead on a frame made of wood or plastic with metal jingles around it. There are also variations of the instrument that don't have a drum head on the top and are simply empty plastic frames with various metal jingles around them. 

Even older than the recorder, tambourines have been recorded in use since ancient times and there have been pictures of people using tambourines or ancient variations of them on jars and pots from ancient Greece and even earlier.

Due to their use since antiquity, the instrument has become an indelible part of various cultures' folk music ranging from Greek, Turkish, Italian, and even more. They are also used in modern mainstream folk music and are also part of other modern genres like country, rock, and pop.

What makes this instrument easy to use is its simplicity. One simply needs to pick up a tambourine and shake it to a certain rhythm to be able to use them in a befitting way. However, that is only the beginning, and as with all instruments, there are techniques to bring more out of it as one advances in their learning. 

13. Bongo

A group of bongos stacked atop each other
A group of bongos stacked atop each other( Source : instagram )

Like tambourines, bongos are also characterized as percussion instruments. These percussive instruments have their origin in Cuba.

The instrument is a pair of open-bottomed hand drums that come in different sizes. One is usually larger than the other, with the larger one being called an hembra, meaning female, and the smaller one being called macho, meaning male.

It is played by being held between the legs, though stands can also be used, and is similar to a conga which are larger hand drums that come as singular pieces. The bongos are an integral part of Latin music and are an everpresent instrument in Latin music genres like salsa and son cubano. 

The bongos were first documented in use in the Oriente Province of Eastern Cuba and slowly gained more and more prominence as the decades went by. Eventually, the instrument would gain massive fame through rock music as Latin acts like Santana began gaining fame and acclaim in the United States and beyond.

What makes the bongos easy to learn is that one simply needs to pick them up and learn a basic rhythm to play them. It also has a lot of versatility as the rhythm generated by the instrument is endless.

12. Harmonica

A group of different types of harmonicas laid out together to showcase their style
A group of different types of harmonicas laid out together to showcase their style( Source : instagram )

The harmonica is a mouth organ characterized as a free-reed wind instrument. It is played by blowing into its many holes.

Like the recorder, there are many different versions of the harmonica based on scales like chromatic, tremolo, and more. There are one or more openings in the instrument where one blows into to create music.

However, unlike the recorder, a harmonica can be tuned to individual pitches, and when tuned, the reed inside a hole changes in length and weight, creating a different pitch. Due to its simplicity in use but complexity in design, the instrument has become a part of many musical genres like American folk music, jazz, country, and rock.

However, the instrument is intrinsically tied to blues music and is also called the blues harp for that self-same reason. Understandably, the instrument is easy to learn as the blues were initially played by people from poorer communities in contrast to the classical music favored by the upper class.

From the 1960s onward, many rock and folk musicians like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen popularized the instrument by playing it along with their guitars by using a harmonica holder. The holder would place the instrument near the mouth so the singer can blow on it while not singing the song.

11. Ukulele

The Ukulele is a stringed instrument that can be understood as a small guitar
The Ukulele is a stringed instrument that can be understood as a small guitar( Source : instagram )

The ukulele is a string instrument that comes from the lute family of instruments. It can be understood simplistically as a small guitar. 

However, unlike the guitar, a ukulele has four strings and also comes in various sizes ranging from soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The instrument was initially developed by the Portuguese in 1880 but became its current counterpart after they introduced it to Hawaii.

It has now become a symbol of Hawaii much in the same way a recorder is often seen as an American symbol. The Hawaiians are known to view it as a part of their music and culture.

As an instrument itself, one of the main reasons why a ukulele is easy to learn is due to the simplicity of its chords. Due to it only possessing four strings, the chords are vastly simpler than guitar chords.

There is also the fact that the instrument can easily have chords for songs played on the guitar transposed into it. As such, learning a ukulele can be a great way to eventually learn how to play the guitar.

Nowadays, the ukelele is popular due to how peaceful it sounds compared to other instruments. It also looks very cute due to its sound and is a great instrument for children as well as beginners.

10. Guitar

Different types of acoustic guitars in many shadesof brown
Different types of acoustic guitars in many shadesof brown( Source : instagram )

The guitar is perhaps the most popular string instrument on this list and in general. It is a fretted instrument with generally six strings.

It has a lot of variety, and due to its popularity, comes in different shapes, sizes, and uses. Differences in type range from build such as acoustic and electric to usage in music like rhythm and lead, to strings like in the bass guitar.

For much of the latter half of the 20th century to this day, the guitar has reigned supreme as the most popular instrument to learn and play. It is not as easy to learn as the previous instruments on this list, but it can be learned through steady, dedicated practice.

The instrument is played by plucking or strumming on the strings by the open hole with one hand and simultaneously pressing certain chords on the strings on the neck with the other. Developed in the thirteenth century, the guitar has gone through various deviations to arrive at how it is now known.

Most commonly, people learn how to play the guitar through its acoustic model as there one only needs to learn the chords and how to strum or pick the strings. Eventually, some graduate to the electric model which has more variety due to various add-ons and plugins. 

9. Drum Kit

A standard drum kit with the snare, bass and tom toms with the hi hats and cymbals in the back
A standard drum kit with the snare, bass and tom toms with the hi hats and cymbals in the back( Source : instagram )

The drum kit is a collection of percussive instruments played by one person. It is currently the most popular percussive instrument.

In a standard drum kit, the percussive instruments contained are a snare drum, a bass drum, tom-toms, cymbals, and hi-hat cymbals. These instruments are then banged in certain variations to create a rhythm

In modern music, the drums are used in collaboration with the bass guitar to create the rhythm section of a song. However, the advent of rock and jazz music has made the drums to be a more prominent instrument that gets its own solos or flourishes.

Due to the sheer amount of instruments that make up the kit, the drums are a daunting instrument to try and learn. However, the learning process is not as hard as it seems and if one simply gets the rhythm, the drums can be a surprisingly easy and fun instrument to learn.

In recent years, the drums have become a larger part of modern pop music due to their omnipresence in most popular modern genres.

8. Harp

A standing harp next to a music sheet holder
A standing harp next to a music sheet holder ( Source : instagram )

The harp is a well-known string instrument with various strings running down an angle. They are one of the oldest string instruments.

Harps have been in existence in various capacities through antiquity all over the world. Usage of the instruments can be traced back to Asia, Africa, and especially Europe as they were a popular part of Ancient Greece and Rome.

In olden times, the harp was meant to be carried and could be used by one hand. However, the modern version of the harp is laid on a stand with the player plucking the instruments with both hands.

One of the main reasons why people consider this instrument hard is due to the large number of strings on it, but once that confusion is passed, the harp is fairly easy to learn. What makes it high on this list is the delicacy needed to learn it.

Since the instrument has a high volume of strings, each one has to be plucked individually, and one needs great care not to pluck another. This requires daily practice, and thus an increased level of difficulty compared to those instruments before it. 

7. Piano

A standard piano with its hood open to show the strings inside
A standard piano with its hood open to show the strings inside( Source : instagram )

The piano is a keyboard instrument with strings struck by wooden hammers concurrent with the keys. The performer strikes keys to play it.

The instrument has been an important part of the Western Classical music tradition since it was created in Italy around the year 1700. It comes from a long line of stringed keyboard instruments like the harpsichord.

Many people find the piano daunting due to the sheer number of keys on the instrument and its long history. As a symbol of classical music, the piano is often seen as an austere instrument.

However, despite its reputation, the instrument is as popular as it is feared, and many countries aside from the west have made it their mission to teach children how to play the instrument. Many Eastern countries like China, Japan, and Korea hold children playing the piano as a point of pride and do much to support its learning and usage. 

6. Accordion

A standard accordion stretched out to display its squeezebox
A standard accordion stretched out to display its squeezebox( Source : instagram )

The accordion is a box-shaped instrument with keys and a squeezebox. It is played by contracting or expanding the squeeze while playing the keys.

It is a popular instrument owing to its unique design and is especially popular in American and European folk music. Its design and unique sound have also made it a prevalent image in popular culture both seriously and in jest.

Created in Germany in 1822, the accordion has gone through various design changes to get to the design it utilizes now. The changes in its design have been a collective effort from players and accordion makers all over the European continent.

What makes the accordion a difficult instrument to learn owes to its size and the complexity of playing the keys while squeezing the box in order to get the appropriate sound. However, unlike instruments that will appear later on the list, learning how to play the accordion can be done through daily practice and learning how to hold it in a way that's easy for you.

5. Bassoon

The popular bassoonis Catherine Van Handel holding a bassoon
The popular bassoonis Catherine Van Handel holding a bassoon( Source : instagram )

The Bassoon is an instrument in the woodwind family and is unique for having double reeds. This means that it plays in tenor and bass ranges.

Developed in the early 18th century, the instrument is part of the Western Classical music tradition. It is played by blowing into a pipe that then produces different sounds based on the usage of certain keys.

The instrument is a large one and often stands at half an average man's height. It is the largest woodwind and wind instrument in general.

People usually play the bassoon sitting down on a seat, but can be used standing up by wearing a harness to hold the instrument. One of the reasons it is so hard to play is its sheer size. 

Another reason many are discouraged from playing the instrument is because of the complex keyword required to play it. It is not an accessible instrument and can take years to play well. 

However, when played well, the instrument has a lot of variety and is often called the clown of the orchestra due to its capacity to play funny and serious parts.

4. Oboe

A disassembled Oboe still in its case
A disassembled Oboe still in its case( Source : instagram )

Like the bassoon, the oboe is also a double-reed woodwind instrument. It is also a part of the Western Classical music tradition.

However, the oboe differs from the Bassoon due to its size as the oboe is much smaller than its larger counterpart. It is played like a recorder with the player blowing in the air on one end and using various keys to differentiate the rhythm.

But the oboe and the recorder are also in different ballparks as can be gleaned from their placement on this list. While the recorder and most wind instruments require to focus on the keys with the mouth only doing the blowing, the oboe requires careful articulation of the tongue.

The fingering required for the oboe is also difficult and requires constant teaching from an instructor.  In fact, one of the reasons why the oboe is so high up on this list is due to the fact that, unlike many instruments on this list, learning the oboe requires constant attention from an instructor and is very hard and nigh impossible to learn alone. 

3. Pipe Organ

A standard pipe organ with various air valves and many keyboards
A standard pipe organ with various air valves and many keyboards( Source : instagram )

The pipe organ is a unique instrument that produces sound from wind pressure within pipes. It is also played through various keyboards.

This unique amalgamation makes the instrument one of the most difficult to learn as there are many factors to consider when playing it. As a hybrid of woodwind instruments and a piano, it brings with it the difficulty required from both, and if the placements of many woodwind instruments and pianos on this list are telling anything, the pipe organ's nature itself makes it difficult.

One needs a high sense of coordination to play the instrument. Not only are there multiple rows of keyboards to press, but the player also needs to work their feet on pedals at the bottom to manipulate and hit all the bass notes. 

As the pipe organ is usually only used in churches and other public settings, it is not an instrument that many attempt to learn.

2. Violin

A women dressed in steampunk attire playing a violin in Buenos Aires, Argentina
A women dressed in steampunk attire playing a violin in Buenos Aires, Argentina( Source : instagram )

The violin is a wooden stringed instrument in the violin family. It is often thought of as the most difficult stringed instrument to play.

It is played using a bow on the strings of its body while the player utilizes the strings on its neck to dictate pitch and rhythm. The violin is one of the most prominent instruments in the Western Classical music tradition as well as an important one in American and European folk music.

One of the reasons why it is so difficult to learn is the fact that the player needs to learn how to play the bow alongside getting the pitch right in a fretless fingerboard. As for the latter, in contrast to the guitar where one can understand where to put one's fingers by the fret, such is impossible in the violin.

There are simply no guides on finger placement on the violin and people can only learn through ardent practice under an accomplished instructor.

1. French Horn

Two French Horns, one in a case and one outside of it
Two French Horns, one in a case and one outside of it( Source : instagram )

The french horn is a brass instrument that features tubing wrapped into a coil. It is often thought to be the most difficult instrument to play.

The main reason why the instrument is harder to play than most other instruments even in the brass family is due to its higher pitch. This higher pitch makes it sensitive to even the smallest of changes in air volume and mouth positions.

To put it simply, it is a lot easier to know when you're playing the french horn wrong than it is to know when you're playing the french horn right. Despite its difficulty, it is a popular orchestral and band instrument, and Mozart's father Leopold was a famous admirer of the french horn. 

Its unique shape also adds to its difficulty as despite its small size, the warped coil provides different keys that make it a physically demanding instrument. What's interesting is that though there are only four keys, combined with its penchant for requiring careful mouth positions to blow the air, it is very, very easy to be bad at the french horn. 

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