Learning to play a musical instrument is always easier than you think it’s going to be! The only thing that stops you is getting started. There is a musical instrument out there for everyone and if you can’t beg or borrow one, there are some very affordable solutions out there to get you underway.
We’ll break this down into the traditional instrument families and try to identify some easy start points in each category.
We’ll assume you want to learn as a grown-up (18+). We’ll assume you don’t already play an instrument of any type, therefore, you don’t have any in-built preferences.
There are some instruments in this family that are really easy to play, but some are difficult.
You could say the triangle is one of the easiest to learn or a guiro or wood blocks or a tambourine. They all help give rhythm and structure to a piece of music. I know people might recommend bongos as a good starter instrument if you want to be part of a rhythm section one day.
But my recommendation here is a Cajon. If you want to get a good sound really quickly out of an instrument that will lead you naturally on to more complex instruments in the family, I would say start from here. You’ll also find that if you turn up to a music session with one of these tucked under your arm, you’ll be welcomed into the fold immediately. Everybody loves rhythm.
Close behind in terms of accessibility and a “bang per buck” approach are any of the African-style drums that are now widely available. Something like a djembe will help you master the rudiments of rhythm very quickly as well as introducing you to a whole genre of music you may not have experienced yet.
And don’t ignore the long-forgotten washboard – you can even find a washboard tie if you look hard enough.
In generic terms, a string instrument with frets will be easier to play than one with no frets. And the fewer the strings, the easier it is likely to be to pick up. So, we can rule out the best electric violins, fiddles, and cellos as well as sitars before we get too far into the discussion!
Ukeleles are straightforward instruments to start on. They are simple to play and sound really good early on. They sound fantastic when played in a big ensemble. You’ll also find many towns have their own uke orchestra where you will be made to feel welcome and special as soon as you walk through the door.
If you want to go even simpler, how about a best electric guitar under 1000 or a diddly-bow. For certain types of music (maybe some country blues) these sounds fit in really well.
This group of instruments contains some really simple instruments to understand. Penny (or tin) whistles are simple and straightforward. They lead nicely into the more grown-up versions like flutes, oboes, bassoons and low whistles, etc. There is also a whole family of recorders to work through with similar playing techniques.
Harmonicas fall into this category as well. They come in a range of types and styles. A simple blues harmonica is a good choice to start playing along with other tunes. But be warned, it’s an addictive instrument and you’ll soon end up with several harps in different keys! But they are inexpensive to buy.
This family delivers some wonderful sounds when played as a group. But they are not easy to begin with.
I’ll stretch a point by saying the kazoo is a starting point for this family – but there will probably be an outcry from kazooists who see it as a woodwind instrument.
Keyboards – Piano
One big advantage of a digital piano is that all the notes are laid out in front of you in a fashion that is a close match to the way music is presented on the page. For many people, this makes it a good fit when they are learning the basics of music theory.
If you opt for one of the electronic keyboards, you also have access to a wide range of musical voices and accompaniments that give you a full sound really quickly.
Never forget the oldest musical instrument in the world! The human voice has been used for entertainment ever since humans were invented! It is a tremendously flexible instrument that can deliver a phenomenal range of sounds with no economic outlay.
You may not think you can sing melodically or in tune but you will be able to make percussion sounds: turn yourself into a human beatbox.
Unaccompanied voices have made some of the most stunning music the world has ever heard across every culture, throughout time.
The best thing about learning to play any instrument is when you can play with and alongside other people. You don’t have to be really accomplished. Get out there and just start playing. Everybody helps out beginners. Just demonstrate you are willing to learn and try things and you will be welcomed into any collection of musicians.
Pick up your instrument (unless it’s a grand piano or a church organ), go out, and find somewhere to play. You won’t look back.