Insure4Music Blog - The Microphone

The 20 Best Instruments for Beginners to Learn

There are many reasons an instrument could be suited to a beginner. The most obvious is that they’re easy to learn and play.

However, it’s worth thinking about longevity too – and there are several key questions you need to consider:

  • Do you want to play solo or as part of a group?
  • Which instrument will give you the best understanding of music
  • Which instrument will bring out your musical passion?
  • Which instruments will help lay the groundwork for learning others in future?

Whatever you’d like to get out of playing an instrument, there’s one in this article for you. Here are the best instruments for beginners.

Ukelele

The ukulele comes in a range of shapes and sizes. But ukuleles all have one thing in common – they’re like miniature acoustic guitars, with four strings instead of six and a cute, higher pitched tone. Furthermore, the ukulele shares the same techniques, principles and G-C-E-A string structure as guitar, so if you want to graduate to one in future, you’ll have a head start.

The ukulele is ideal for beginners because it’s easy to pick up and quickly learn your favourite songs. It’s also relatively small, meaning you can take it anywhere you go. Not to mention, it’s inexpensive, so quite a low-risk instrument if the whole musician thing doesn’t pan out.

Did you know?

The ukulele is a Hawaiian adaptation of the small Portuguese string instrument, the machete, after it was introduced to the country in the 1800s.

Bongos

The bongos are a simple instrument – they’re a pair of small, open-bottomed hand drums – but they’re very effective. In fact, they form the cornerstone of percussion sections in many Latin American, African, Caribbean and Spanish music styles.

You play them by holding them between your knees and striking the skin of the drum with your hand or tapping the side to produce different timbres. Each bongo is tuned slightly differently to produce tonal variety.

The beauty of the bongos is that they don’t require a lot of practice to get an infectious rhythm going. Not to mention, they’re incredibly fun to play.

Though it might be easy to get started with bongos, mastering this instrument can be a lifelong pursuit. Over time, you could add other percussion instruments like congas, claves, bells, chimes and blocks to your repertoire, to develop a full percussionist’s setup.

Did you know?

Musicians who play bongo drums are referred to as bongoseros.

Harmonica

The harmonica is a hand-held mouth organ, through which you inhale and exhale to create a sound.

The biggest advantage of the harmonica – which makes it perfectly suited to beginners – is that it’s impossible to play out of key. You don’t tune a harmonica like a guitar and the instrument itself doesn’t contain notes outside of the key it’s in. The harmonica comes tuned to a specific key already.

This means you can concentrate on your playing technique and experiment with improvisation from early on. If you miss a note you meant to hit, it won’t sound out of place, so you can style it out.

The harmonica is ubiquitous in blues, jazz, folk and rock music. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to an acoustic guitar, if you fancy being this generation’s Neil Young or Bob Dylan.

Did you know?

The first recording Rod Stewart was ever paid for was playing harmonica on Little Milly’s hit ‘My Boy Lollipop’.

Bass Guitar

The bass guitar is about the size of an electric guitar, except with thicker strings and a deep rumbling tone. You similarly need an amplifier to hear the notes, which creates so many opportunities in terms of sound and effects.

Like the ukulele, the bass guitar typically comes with only four strings, making it a straightforward instrument for beginners to get to grips with. Besides that, bass guitar is indispensable in modern music. Let the lead singers and lead guitarists battle it out for the limelight; there will always be a place in a band for a bass guitarist.

There’s room to grow with the bass as well. Somewhere down the line, you might want to experiment with fretless or 6-stringed bass guitars (as demonstrated in the video above).

Did you know?

Larry Graham, the bass guitarist of Sly and the Family Stone and Graham Funk Railroad, is credited with inventing a playing technique called slap bass. Interestingly, he’s also uncle of the rapper Drake.

Drums

Whilst they’re not the easiest instrument to learn initially, drums are one of the best instruments for beginners – particularly children – because they’re so much fun to play. Drums are one of the most kinetically stimulating instruments in existence, as you basically get to make a huge racket and hit things with a set of sticks.

If you’re thinking of introducing an instrument to your child or younger relative, drums are a great choice. They are believed to play a key role in a child’s mental development when it comes to impulse control and decision making. Plus, a child is likely to pick up the required coordination and rhythm quicker than an adult because their minds are more susceptible to learning at a younger age. That said, if you are a bit older, what you might lack in mental malleability, you’ll make up for in perseverance and focus.

You can start small with a mini set-up of a kick drum, high hat and snare, find your groove and grow from there. Much like with the bass, if you’re keen to have somebody to play with, drummers are always in demand.

Did you know?

The Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Drum Kit is held by Mark Temperato, at 340 pieces.

Piano / Keys

The piano is among the most expressive and versatile musical instruments ever created. From the classic grand piano to synthesisers, there have been many variations of this instrument through the ages.

Although playing with two hands might look intimidating, the piano at least lays it all out in front of you. Each key is a note and every note is right there on the piano. All you have to do is press them. Obviously, there’s much more to it than that, but the basic concept couldn’t be easier to wrap your head around. This, paired with the piano’s vital place in music, makes it the perfect instrument for beginners.

An additional benefit of learning the piano is that it forms the basis of one of the most popular tools used in electronic music production today – the MIDI keyboard. As historical an instrument as the piano is – over 300 years old – it’s never been more future-proof than today.

Did you know?

The piano has the widest tonal range of any musical instrument. The lowest note on the piano is lower than the lowest note on a double-bassoon, while the highest note on the piano is higher than the highest note on a piccolo. There’s an entire orchestra at your fingertips.

Xylophone / Glockenspiel

The xylophone and glockenspiel have come to resemble each other in modern times. The big difference between them is that the xylophone is made from wood, while the glockenspiel is made from metal. Aside from this, they share the same interface.

This interface is pervasive across many percussive idiophones (musical instruments that create sound from vibrations caused by being struck) and follows the tonal pattern of piano keys.

Both the xylophone and glockenspiel are great for beginners as they’re essentially scaled down versions of their more complex cousins, the marimba and vibraphone. You simply take a mallet in each hand and hit a bar on the instrument to make a noise.

A xylophone or glockenspiel will also familiarise you with melody, rhythm and timing – all fundamentals in music – without overwhelming you. Once you’ve mastered these fundamentals, you can work on becoming the next Roy Ayers.

Did you know?

Nobody really knows the origin of the xylophone. It’s thought to have come from Southeast Asia or Oceania and its earliest published reference was in 1511, when it was labelled a “wooden clatter”.

Kalimba

The kalimba – also known as the mbira in its native Zimbabwe and the finger harp in other parts of the world – is a hand-held instrument that belongs to the lamellaphone family. To make a sound, you pluck thin strips of metal called tines. This produces a high-pitched ding that sounds a little like a music box, only with more depth to it.

Aside from its beautiful sound, the kalimba is lightweight and low-cost, making it an attractive instrument for beginners. When acoustic, the wooden casing contains a hole to resonate the sound, much like an acoustic guitar, so it’s small and completely self-contained.

If you choose to learn the kalimba, the technique required to play it might seem second nature. That’s because the kalimba is held quite like a mobile phone, and you use your thumbs to pluck the tines. If you can master a mobile phone-sized QWERTY keyboard, you can master a kalimba.

Did you know?

In Africa, many cultural groups have their own type of kalimba with their own name. The mbira is played by the Shona people of Zimbabwe and used in a ceremony called a bira. During this ceremony, the Shona people use the mbira to play the favourite songs of their ancestors in order to communicate with their spirits and stay on good terms.

Clarinet

The clarinet is a member of the woodwind family which, interestingly, doesn’t indicate the material the instrument is made of, rather how it’s played. Clarinets are made from all kinds of materials, but one thing remains consistent – you play them with a reed.

Traditionally, a reed is a thin strip of wood that vibrates as you blow to create the woodwind sound. But these days, many are made from synthetic materials.

Beginners typically find the blowing technique hardest to overcome, which is why a B-flat soprano clarinet is the best choice. Not only is it the easiest and most versatile clarinet to play, it requires less tuning than other clarinets. It’s also made of durable materials, for those not used to the more delicate and expensive extended family of clarinets.

Traditionally, you’ll hear the clarinet in classical and Dixieland jazz music. However, recently it’s also emerged in electronica and downtempo from artists like Bonobo and The Cinematic Orchestra.

Did you know?

Numerous celebrities have played the clarinet over the years, including Jimmy Kimmel, Julia Roberts and Steven Spielberg.

Trombone

The trombone is often regarded as the easiest brass instrument to learn. This is partly because the tone isn’t controlled by valves (as with the trumpet, tuba and baritone horns), but by a slide.

When trombone players push part of the instrument back and forth while they play, this is the slide. When the slide is further out, the trombone creates a lower sound, and when it’s further in the sound is higher.

Given that there are no frets or keys dedicated to notes – only positions on the slide – you can get a feel for the distances between each note you want to play. While this sounds difficult, muscle memory will kick in with practice. Besides, this isn’t much of a compromise given how complicated, for instance, the French horn can be to learn.

If you can’t shake your love of that deep, pumping brass sound, the trombone is your best bet if you’re new to playing musical instruments.

Did you know?

When Beethoven wrote the trombone part for his Fifth Symphony, it was the first ever to be written for a symphony.

Guitar

The guitar might not be first to come to mind when somebody mentions instruments for beginners. But, fear not – nobody will expect you to shred out an Yngwie Malmsteen solo within the first few attempts. You’ll advance through various difficulty levels, but with the guitar each progression is as rewarding as the next.

You can play – or write – something simple yet effective using only a handful of chords. Not to mention, you can teach yourself practically every guitar technique through the internet. Due to the guitar’s universal popularity, there are endless resources available to you.

Guitar tabs, for example, are simplified versions of musical notation which are developed specifically for guitar. They’re easy to follow and allow you to play your favourite songs with little requisite theoretical knowledge. Another example is the fact the minor pentatonic scale has the same box shape as the major pentatonic scale; you just start on a different fret. This means if you can play one, you can play the other. The guitar offers lots of tricks like this.

Given the mythology and popularity of the guitar, you probably have a few friends who at least dabble with it already. This network of mutually enthusiastic, aspirational guitarists will do more to keep you playing than the instrument’s difficulty level. You can figure things out together and help each other grow along the way.

Did you know?

Jimi Hendrix was left-handed but played a right-handed guitar stringed like a left-handed guitar because he liked the tone controls and whammy bar above the strings. That’s why his guitar looked upside down when he played it.

Recorder

When most people think of the recorder, they think of an entry level woodwind instrument typically found in school music classes. While this isn’t a totally fair characterisation, it’s true the recorder is useful for teaching children and those with limited experience of playing a musical instrument.

Often, those who start out playing the recorder go on to learn more complicated instruments. So, in the long term, this might be a great instrument to kickstart your musical journey.

Unlike some other woodwind instruments, the recorder doesn’t have a complex mouthpiece. The mechanics of a recorder are easy to wrap your head around too, as it’s such a small instrument. You’ll also be learning core techniques that you can apply to other instruments like the flute of clarinet once you build your confidence.

The recorder also has a long history of its own. It was particularly popular in the Baroque period, which conjures images of medieval inns, castles and knights. The sound persists today in many forms of folk music.

Did you know?

When Henry VIII wasn’t busy beheading his wives, he was actually an accomplished composer and collector of musical instruments. Before his death in 1547, he had amassed a total of 76 recorders.

Steel Tongue Drum

This is a rounded piece of metal with grooves cut into it to distinguish certain tones. These cut-out sections are called tongues, which you play by striking them with your hands and thumb (much like a bongo), or with mallets.

The steel tongue drum is relatively new and is built on the same principles as the hang, a flying-saucer shaped instrument. The sound is muted and relaxing and has a deeper, almost wind-chime or steelpan tone.

One of the reasons the steel tongue drum is so suited to beginners is that it’s tuned to a pentatonic scale. This means every note is in the same key and each note harmonises with every other. Put simply, this makes everything you play on it sound good as there are no wrong notes.

All that’s left to master is rhythm, technique and melody. Thankfully, each note is numbered, which makes following notation for a melody easy to grasp.

Did you know?

Prior to their commercial manufacturing, steel tongue drums were made from the bottoms of propane tanks. Players would cut the grooves in themselves and tune them by varying the length of the cut or adding weights to the tongues.

Minibrute 2

This entry is quite different to others on our list. Every other instrument named here creates its own single sound – its timbre – with only basic deviations at most.

The Minibrute 2, however, is a synthesiser. This means a new musical dimension is added – you control the tone the instrument produces. It’s an entirely separate musical discipline. Most synthesisers are built on the same interface as a piano, and while familiarity with the piano will come in useful for playing the sounds you create, no amount of piano playing experience will teach you how to synthesise sound. The real music is inside all the knobs and dials.

Also, between step sequencers and arpeggiators, you could argue that the keyboard interface is optional. It depends on how you want to play – and synthesisers like the Minibrute 2 give you that choice.

This is the ideal starter synth because it’s inexpensive compared to other synthesisers. It’s also compact and will teach you the fundamentals of synthesisers – from oscillators and filters, to envelopes and even modular synthesis.

The beauty of the Minibrute 2 is that, even if you advance to a legendary synth like the Prophet-5, it never becomes obsolete. You’ll only return to it with new ideas for how to use it.

Did you know?

The first true synthesiser was the RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer. It was made in 1955 and was big enough to fill an entire room.

Theremin

While we’re on the topic, one of the more peculiar members of the synthesiser family is the theremin. Played by waving your hand in the space between vertical and horizontal antennae, the theremin is about as unconventional a musical instrument as you can get. The horizontal axis controls pitch, and the vertical axis volume. Essentially, it’s an instrument you play by not touching it.

Owing to its playing technique, the theremin was actually one of the hardest instruments to learn to play for a long time, making it a cult instrument. These days, however, many theremin models allow you to tune the antennae to a particular key. This means, much like the kalimba or steel tongue drum, the instrument won’t let you hit bum notes. This innovation makes them suitable for all skill levels and means you can increase the difficulty as you progress.

The typical sound of a theremin is a clean sine wave, or sustained beep, which you vary in pitch and volume. That said, modern models allow you to sample a sound and control it via the theremin interface. We’d recommend the Moog Theremini.

Oddly enough, the way you interact with the sound of a theremin is similar to how you play the trombone. For example, you slide through the frequency spectrum to reach the desired note. This same comparison can be made to playing the violin, or any fretless string instrument.

Did you know?

The theremin was popularised by Jerry Goldsmith when he used it for the original Star Trek theme song. This is quite fitting, given that the instruments looks like something from the show.

Harp

The harp is quite a large string instrument that traditionally stands upright from the ground, with the harpist playing sat down. Harps come in various sizes and some even sit on your lap.

For beginners, we’d recommend a floor harp if you have the space and money. Balancing or holding a lap harp and trying to play is tricky when you’re not even familiar with the instrument.

Unlike the violin or guitar, you don’t have to press somewhere on the string to achieve the note you want. Each string is tuned to a single note and you pluck them to play them. This makes the harp accessible to new learners.

The harp is really encouraging for beginners, as it sounds beautiful even when you’re just dabbling and improvising. It doesn’t take long to learn a piece you like either.

In a sense, the harp is comparable to a piano in terms of logic, as a single string equates to a single tone the way a single key does. The similarity to piano doesn’t end there, though – the harp also adopts the same double stave sheet music as piano. Double stave sheet music is where you get separate notation – staves – for each hand.

Did you know?

The harp has been Ireland’s national symbol since the 1400s. Guinness, the famous Irish stout beer, also features a harp in its logo.

Cello

With four strings, the cello is played like a violin or viola – you glide a bow across the strings to produce its tone. However, a cello is taller than a violin or viola. It stands upright and is typically played at a register with much deeper, rich tones.

The cello playing technique isn’t difficult to understand but takes practice to perfect. It’s an instrument that requires perseverance but, once you make some headway, you’ll understand its versatility and potential.

It’s worth noting that, as it’s is often played as part of a string quartet, symphony, or orchestra, the cello encourages understanding of harmony – both in the music and between other musicians.

Did you know?

The cello has such a wide tonal range it can fulfil the role of every string instrument in an orchestra.

Violin

It’s safe to say that the violin is the most iconic and popular string instrument. It has a long classical history and remains a staple in film soundtracks and modern music. When used in folk music, the violin is typically called a fiddle. The only difference is the style of music being played.

The violin is a particularly good choice for children as it’s small and lightweight. Plus, their smaller fingers might find it easier to find notes on the fretboard. Starting early will stand them in good stead if they decide to pursue it more as they get older.

It might be tempting to get an electric violin to save your neighbours or family the earache, but they’re not entirely appropriate for a beginner. It’s best to learn on the traditional instrument before branching out.

If you’re drawn to the violin, it’s important to get one of good quality. Even a virtuoso is only as good as the violin’s ability to maintain its tuning. For help with this, read this helpful article from Caswell’s Strings.

Did you know?

Niccolò Paganini is widely considered the first ever ‘rockstar’ violinist. Dubbed “The Devil’s Violinist”, he was suspected to have sold his soul to the devil for his exceptional violin ability. He was known all over Europe for his playing technique, womanising and partying.

Double Bass

The funkier cousin of the cello, the double bass looks almost identical. There are a few major differences between them though.

Firstly, the double bass is tuned E-A-D-G, like a bass guitar. Secondly, the double bass is typically played by plucking the strings with your fingers as opposed to gliding a bow across them (though this is still typical in orchestras). Thirdly, the double bass has a lower register than the cello, typically between a sixth to an octave below a cello. It’s also a bit bigger.

The double bass is an ideal instrument for beginners for many of the same reasons the bass guitar is. It forms the backbone of many ensembles and bands, particularly jazz in the case of the double bass. Not to mention, the transition from double bass to bass guitar is pretty smooth if you want to branch out.

Double basses come in multiple sizes, so you don’t need to feel overwhelmed by the instrument. Speaking of which, there are only four strings so it’s at least a little more merciful than the guitar.

The difficulty of the instrument is in finding the correct notes. The neck is fretless, meaning there are no markers for notes. But, as with most instruments, if you practise enough, you won’t even have to think about where the notes are. It’ll become second nature.

Did you know?

Throughout the 1950s, the double bass was the most frequently used instrument in live performance, even after the bass guitar was introduced.

Flute

If you’ve dabbled with a recorder in primary school, you might be tempted to pick up the flute and learn to play in earnest.

The flute is perfect for beginners as it’s easily transportable, reasonably priced and its playing technique is quite straightforward.

That said, it’s one thing getting a tune out of a flute; it’s another getting a good one. Mastery of the instrument lies in your control and technique. The blowing technique takes some practice in the beginner stages, and you’ll probably find yourself out of breath, but your lungs will gradually strengthen if you stick with it.

Though traditionally a classical instrument, the flute has well-established application in jazz and progressive rock too. You’ll always find opportunity to play with others as you improve.

Did you know?

Practically every culture around the world – Ancient Egyptians, Japanese, Indians, Chinese, Greeks – all developed their own versions of the flute with their own timbres and tuning. Once you’re proficient with one flute, you’ll find it easier to experiment with them all.

We’re pretty confident you’ll find the instrument you’re looking for on this list, and if none of them work out, well, at least there’s still the triangle.

Once you’ve picked out the instrument you like, remember to insure it. A musical instrument is an investment in yourself and over time will grow very close to your heart. The thought of it being lost, stolen or damaged would be devastating.

That’s why, at Insure4Music we offer specialist music insurance to protect your prized instrument . Find out more about our music insurance and get an instant online quote with us today.

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons