Top 10 Hardest Instruments To Play & Learn

What is the hardest instrument to learn when you’re starting on your music career or hobby?

This is a question often asked by most aspiring musicians who want to learn how to play an instrument.

As a budding musician, the last thing you want is to pick an instrument and finding it too difficult to play.

Top 10 Hardest Musical Instruments to Play

In this post, we look at some of the hardest music instruments to play and what makes them a huge challenge for both beginner and experienced musicians.

So, without much ado, here are the top 10 hardest instruments to learn:

French Horn

The French horn has a reputation for being the most difficult instrument to learn in the brass family. When played by a skilled player, the French horn produces exceptional blaring tones just like a trumpet and the soft and gentle sounds that you can only get from a clarinet or flute. It’s an excellent choice when you want to get versatile tones from a single brass instrument.

However, it takes years of practice and patience to learn how to play the French horn. You’ll need to develop a lot of control of your lips when learning to play the French horn. A slight misplacement of your lip will drastically affect the note you produce. Breath control is also important.

Another thing that makes the French horn a hard instrument to learn is the fact that it has the second-longest pipe length among all the brass instruments. The French horn is only second to the tuba when it comes to pipe length. Some French horns have tubes as long as 30 inches.

The long length of its pipe means that you need to blow plenty of air through the instrument to produce sounds. Keep in mind that the French horn also requires a continuous flow of air in its tubes for it to work.

The French horn has a different form of fingering technique on its valve keys too. Mastering the technique can be quite tricky even for professional brass instrument players because different combinations of the valve keys create different tones. It takes time, practice, patience, and powerful lungs to master the complex mechanics of the French horn.


Violin

As a beginner or average musician, you may be mistaken to think that the violin is as easy to play as the guitar. After all, both string instruments have the same shape although the guitar is larger than the violin. However, the truth is that learning to play the violin is hard.

Violinists spend years learning, playing, and perfecting their skills. This is because the violin is a really complicated musical instrument at close analysis.

For a start, the violin produces non-linear vibrations. Its strings don’t have a parabolic shape like those of a guitar. 

The violin produces V-shaped vibrations known as the Helmholtz motion, which requires a completely different style to produce, unlike the guitar.

Another thing that makes the violin a difficult instrument to learn is the amount of bow force required to create the right Helmholtz effect. If you press the bow too hard, you’ll end up with raucous or chaotic noise, and pressing too light produces a plain surface sound.

The position you hold the violin also matters. You need to hold the instrument correctly by positioning its body over your shoulder and clipping it with your chin. This posture isn’t easy because it requires perfect control, focus, and coordination of both arms.

All these things take time and practice. If you’re not patient enough to take regular classes for months or years, the violin may not be for you.


Oboe

The oboe definitely deserves a mention in our list of the hardest instrument to learn. It looks like a larger version of the flute and is often mistakenly called a clarinet but don’t think it’s as easy to play as your typical flute. In fact, the oboe is ranked among the most difficult to play woodwind instruments.

If you’ve ever seen an oboist play the instrument, you’ll be fascinated by the ease with which he can play a high note but try it and you’ll see how difficult it is to produce a pianissimo. Mastering the oboe involves intricate timing to ensure that each note comes out at the right moment.

The oboe has a steep learning curve which includes achieving excellent control of your breathing and learning correct fingering techniques. You also need to master the correct embouchure, fingering techniques, and develop excellent control of your breathing.

The oboe is an amazing instrument but quite challenging for beginners. Fortunately, once you master the basic intricacies and get over the hard part, playing the oboe becomes easier.


Drums

Everyone knows the drum. It’s the oldest musical instrument known to man. Drums have been used for a wide range of purposes throughout human history including entertainment, spiritual invocations, and even in defense as a way of warning people of impending danger.

However, despite the global prevalence of this instrument, playing drums professionally isn’t a walk in the park. There’s more to playing a modern drum set beyond beating its surface.

Playing drums is first and foremost a physically demanding task. You need strong arms and legs not to mention perfect coordination while handling different pieces of the drum set at once. There are many variations of drum sets but most of them feature a floor tom, medium tom, high tom, and a snare drum.

Then there’s the large bass drum that controls the tempo of the music being played. Cymbals normally include everyone’s crash cymbal and the ride cymbal. Modern drum sets also come with high hats which are basically another set of cymbals.

Considering all the components of a modern drum set, you’ll need a good dose of energy and well-developed arm and leg muscle strength to hit all the necessary pieces at the right moment non-stop. This is a skill that takes time and practice to master.


Organ

There are basically two common types of music organs. There’s the church or pipe organ and electric organs.

No matter which type of organ you want to learn to play, it’s important to first master the piano or any other keyboard-based music instrument. However, don’t be mistaken to think that once you learn to play the piano you can comfortably handle the organ.

The organ is one of the most difficult to play instruments to play even for experienced piano players. For instance, when playing the organ, you need to hold down the note all the time to maintain its note.

Unlike grand pianos, organs don’t come with sustain pedals which means that when you lift your finger off the key, the instrument stops playing. The organ also comes with low note pedals which provide extra work. You also need plenty of pedal dancing and perfect coordination when playing the organ.

For an average person, it may take years to learn everything about playing an organ. Fortunately, if you’re already experienced with the piano, you may not take a long time to conquer the organ too. All in all, the organ is a fun and enjoyable instrument that every piano player would want to learn to play.


Accordion

One thing that makes people want to play the accordion is the sheer fun involved in pulling and twisting the instrument while you belt out those good old melodies. The chromatic button accordion is a fun musical instrument that calls to mind European street musicians and festivities such as Octoberfest. However, it also happens to be one of the most challenging music instruments to play.

If you have ever watched someone play the accordion, you were possibly confused by the way the player pushed and pulled while pressing all those buttons. Playing the accordion can easily be compared with playing bagpipes and piano at the same time. That’s not an easy feat, to say the least.

The accordion comes with a number of keys and buttons that you need to master to ensure that you’re playing the right chords and notes. Button configuration is not an easy task. The chromatic button accordion is also a big and heavy instrument.

Finding a good teacher to guide you may also be difficult because the accordion isn’t a popular musical instrument.


Bagpipes

Bagpipes are popularly associated with the Scottish traditions but have gradually found their way into contemporary music.

They have an unusual design or structure and produce a somewhat peculiar tone that most people find quite appealing. However, bagpipes have a complicated playing technique. For instance, you have to ensure that you’re constantly feeding air into the instrument’s reservoir and squeeze the air in to produce sound.

Playing this woodwind instrument also calls for precise arm movements, cuddle the instrument like a teddy bear, and master its tricky fingering technique.

Tuning the bagpipes is also quite tricky. Fortunately, with years of training and practice, especially on blowing air into the instrument and proper finger coordination, you’ll become an expert bagpipes player.


Piano

As a beginner, you may think that you have mastered the piano as soon as you start playing a few notes with one hand. Well, you could do that in under an hour but try playing with both hands and you’ll begin to understand the complexities involved in learning to play the piano.

Mastering the piano means a lot. You should be able to play with both hands simultaneously at different tempos and in two clefs, however it'll be little more easier to play on a digital piano as they've plenty of learning features. You should be able to play the treble clef with the right hand and bass clef with the left hand.

It's like playing the violin with the right hand and a cello with the left hand. Keep in mind that you’ll still be sight-reading music written in two clefs and pressing the piano pedals at the same time. The piano is one of the most popular instruments but difficult to learn too.

Like Vladimir Horowitz said, “The piano is one of the easiest instruments to play in the beginning and the hardest instrument to play and master in the end.”


Harp

The harp is another member of the string instruments family that requires specialist knowledge to master. It’s quite complex given that it comes with a good number of strings to pluck, each with its own chord.

You will need to learn which string to pluck and memorize different melodies before you can successfully play the harp like a pro without making mistakes.

Things get more complicated when you’re learning to play a modern concert harp which comes with seven pedals. The purpose of the pedals is to change the pitch so you have to be careful lest you press the wrong one.

To make things even harder, there are very few resources both online and offline to teach you how to play the harp compared to other musical instruments. There are also not many harp teachers and music institutions offering the course.

However, if you can find a good teacher, then definitely try your hand at the harp and you’ll love its angelic and heavenly sounds despite its long and often tiresome learning journey.  


Guitar

The guitar is by far the most popular music instrument today. There are many types of guitars including the pedal steel guitar that looked like a combination of piano and guitar. The pedal steel guitar is basically a console type of guitar with pedals and knee levers.

Most people consider the guitar comparatively easier to learn than other instruments. Well, it’s true that you can learn to strum out a simple melody in your first lesson but some aspects of the guitar can be a major challenge.

The guitar presents different hurdles for different people. While some people struggle with playing chords others have a difficult time switching to individual notes.

When starting out on your first guitar lessons, it won’t be easy to know where you need to place your fingers to play specific notes and chords. You also need a good amount of finger strength and speed to play certain riffs properly.

The good news is that there’s an abundant amount of guitar information and lessons both online and in offline classes. Guitar lessons are also comparatively cheaper than other instruments.


Should You Play a Harder Instrument?

Music is food for the soul, as someone once said. But learning to play musical instruments can be a challenge.

The good thing is that once you have mastered the skill, you can only get better. If your goal is to find an instrument that you can learn to play and master quickly, you’ll definitely want to start with the easiest to learn instrument and progress to more difficult options in time.

You can also start with the hardest instrument to learn first if you want to challenge yourself and it can be a rewarding experience.


Conclusion

What are the hardest instruments to play?

There’s actually no simple answer to that question because each musical instrument family comes with its unique characteristics.

We recommend that you choose one that you feel most comfortable with and more importantly follow your passion.

The more passionate you feel about an instrument, the more encouraged or inspired you’ll be to master the skill. At the very least, make sure to start learning how to play an instrument today.

About the Author Linda Ritter

Linda Ritter is a passionate pianist and a songwriter for more than 7 years. With a Masters in Music, she has explored the world of music and has collaborated with several musicians and brands like Roland, Tune Core, and plenty of blogs.

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