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The 10 easiest instruments to learn for beginners of any age

To be a professional musician takes time and effort, no matter what you play. Although, as a beginner, some instruments are easier than others.

I have picked out the easiest instruments to learn for both kids and adults. So, check out the list, make your choice, and start your musical journey today!

About me

James Nugent, author and contributor at Higher Hz

I’m a multi-instrumentalist who has studied piano for many years and picked up a few other things along the way. I wish I could say I play every instrument to the same standard, but I don’t, although they are all a lot of fun.

I know from experience that some instruments have a steeper initial learning curve, and while you might not become a pro overnight, some instruments will allow you to start making music (not just noise) sooner than others.

What makes an instrument easy to play?

I would define an instrument as easy to play if it allows you to start making music quickly. There are a couple of reasons that an instrument could be easy to play:

  • it doesn’t require too much technical knowledge or ability;
  • it isn’t too physically demanding.

The ukulele is an excellent example of an instrument that does not require too much technical knowledge or ability. If you learn to strum three simple chords you can play a million songs, and be a hit at every party.

Similarly, a ukulele does not pose too many physical demands either because it’s small and light. You don’t have to stretch far to reach every note.

On the other hand, playing something like an organ with two keyboards, drawbars, expression switches, and bass pedals is technically and physically demanding.

The instruments below provide the easiest learning curve for beginners and the quickest path to start making music. Just remember, if you want to become a virtuoso on any instrument, it takes time and dedication.

1. Ukulele

The ukulele is the ultimate instrument for kids and beginners of all ages. It’s small, cheap, and it’s seen as a pretty cool instrument to play!

a girl learning to play the ukulele

The first thing that makes it an easy instrument to play is its size and weight. It’s comfortable to hold for big or small hands and light enough to carry around.

Ukuleles have four strings, so you have two less to think about than a standard guitar. The strings are nylon and far softer than typical guitar strings, which means no sore fingertips!

With fewer strings and such a short neck, the ukulele encourages simplified playing. You can play an endless number of songs with just a few simple chords.

Thanks to the ukuleles’ unique sound, everything sounds new and fun. It has such a happy sound; it’s rich and warm, making everything seem sunnier. Because you can start playing songs quickly, it encourages creativity.

Another benefit of being so portable is that it makes the ukulele a very sociable instrument. Even as a child or beginner, playing with other musicians as often as you can is a good idea.

There are a few different types of ukulele, like soprano, concert, and tenor. Size varies slightly between the different types, but they are all small. The ukulele is one of the easiest instruments for children or adults to learn.

2. Recorder

Hundreds of years ago, the recorder was so popular that leading composers would write recorder concertos. It’s not quite so cool these days, but it still pops up in school music classes worldwide often enough.

the recorder is very easy to play

There are a few reasons that schools decide to teach kids to play the recorder at a young age. The first is that they are incredibly cheap; the second is that they are incredible for learning the basics of music.

The recorder covers two octaves, and notes are played by covering the correct finger holes and blowing into the mouthpiece. Once you learn how to hold the recorder, it doesn’t take long to memorize where the notes are. Before you know it, you’ll be playing melodies and having fun.

The recorder might not be the most pleasing sound to modern ears, but the benefits make it worth putting up with the sound.

The technique of blowing air into the recorder and using your tongue to stop notes isn’t too complicated. But it’s still an excellent introduction to the woodwind family that could lead to playing the oboe or clarinet.

The recorder is a great way to learn about melody and provides many lessons that translate well to different instruments. It might not be the coolest, but it’s the easiest wind instrument to learn, fantastic for kids.

3. Electronic keyboard

I decided to add the electronic keyboard separately from the piano because there are so many options. Electronic keyboards are fantastic practice instruments for players of any age, particularly children. More specifically, children who might struggle with the size and weight of real piano keys.

a boy playing the electronic keyboard

Electronic keyboards come in various sizes, like 25-keys or 61-keys, etc. They also offer mini-keys if full-size keys are a little too big for small hands. The keys are light and easy to play while still being velocity-sensitive.

Besides the physical differences, the keys are precisely like piano keys in terms of layout and pitch. That’s why electronic keyboards are often the best way to start learning the piano before moving on to the real thing or a digital piano.

Learning the piano isn’t just physically demanding; it’s mentally demanding, too. Electronic keyboards take away some of the mental fatigue through fun features like demo songs and play-along rhythms.

Many keyboards come with built-in tutorial content or like to educational apps. The connection to apps is ideal for younger kids and lets them learn in a gamified way, where they get points for performing well.

Some keyboards come with more physical tutorial features, like light-up keys, which are fun and helpful. Finally, they are portable, often battery-powered, and have headphone outputs so kids can practice anywhere without disturbing the grown-ups!

4. Piano

If you are serious about music and everything that entails, the piano is the best instrument to learn as a beginner. All the notes are right in front of you; it’s the best instrument to learn how to understand harmony and melody.

a girl learning to play the piano

As a disclaimer, I also class the piano as one of the most challenging instruments to learn at an expert level. It’s one of the most versatile in-depth instruments there is. However, as a beginner, it offers an easier grasp of the basics.

Once you have a basic understanding of the notes and a simple C major scale, you can do so much. The C major scale is played from one C note to the next, using only white keys: C-D-E-F-G-A-B.

After learning the C major scale, you can harmonize it, which means learning the diatonic chords to that scale (chords found within that scale).

Next, you can do the same for the A minor scale, A to A, all white keys. It’s the relative minor of C major and contains all the same notes. You have the same set of diatonic chords with those two scales but in a different order, making new harmonic progressions.

Applying that to other scales gets trickier because of changes in fingering and chord shapes. But starting with C major and A minor is a good way to combine harmony and melody quickly without any trick sharps or flats.

If you’re serious about learning all elements of music, including melody, harmony, and rhythm, the piano makes it easier.

5. Guitar

The guitar is the rockstar of instruments. It’s the coolest instrument to learn, the one you dream of playing in front of a packed stadium of fans. Luckily, learning is easier than you might think.

learning guitar with a tutor

Like the piano, the guitar gets more complicated as you progress, but you can play your favorite songs quickly with a few simple chords, much like the ukulele, although bigger and heavier. Be prepared to put up with some sore fingers for a while.

Guitars come in many forms, electric, acoustic, left or right-handed, and in different sizes, so there’s something to suit everyone. Right down to the type of music you want to play, there are guitars custom-built for it.

Adults can play full-size guitars, but if that’s a little big for a youngster, you could try a junior guitar or short-scale (neck) version.

In the beginning, the best thing about learning guitar is that you just need to learn a few simple shapes to play hundreds of songs. Once you have a few core chords, you can be the life of any party singalong.

The guitar lets you get more out of a single chord than any other instrument because adjusting the strumming pattern (rhythm) helps keep it interesting without a harmonic change.

Nothing feels better than hearing fast progress; the guitar offers that, even for newbies.

6. Drums

Being a professional drummer takes incredible talent, technical ability, and hard work. But, as a beginner, a drum kit is one of the most instantly gratifying instruments you can play.

young man learning drums

When you’re starting, all you want to do is get solid timing and a decent feel for the drums. So, forget about complex polyrhythms and unusual time signatures. All you need to think about is four beats in the bar, keep time with the hi-hat, and learn a few kick/snare patterns.

Once you can hold a simple groove, you can add simple fills and accents. Although you aren’t doing anything too challenging, you’ll be surprised how many songs in multiple genres you’ll get through.

Drummers take some unfair criticism with jokes that suggest they don’t understand music as thoroughly as other musicians. In reality, pro drummers will understand harmony, melody, and theory, as well as a pianist or horn player. The good news is that you don’t need to at the beginning!

Imagine starting your first band, and the singer can’t reach the high notes of a song, so you have to change the key. While the others learn to play in the new key, you can relax with a smug look because your part doesn’t change!

If you don’t want to upset the neighbors, go for electronic drums instead. You can get full mesh kits pretty cheap now, complete with headphones!

7. Bass guitar

The bass guitar is sometimes considered to be less glamorous than the electric guitar. But think about this: what gets people on the dancefloor, a guitar solo or a funky bassline?

learning to play electric bass guitar

The bass guitar has four strings, but they are thicker than regular guitar strings and more tiring to play for long periods. Like guitars, bass guitars also come in short-scale versions that are better for young players with smaller hands.

The bass is a good choice for a learner because you only deal with one note at a time. You can play chords on a bass guitar, but that’s much further down the line and unnecessary for most popular music.

One note at a time means less to think about and much easier sight-reading. Think about pianists who need to read treble and bass simultaneously.

The minor pentatonic scale is the foundation of many iconic basslines and is easier to play in any key on the bass than most other instruments because you can repeat the same fingering so often. That means you can play famous basslines and start to create your own.

If you are a punk fan, you’ll get through lots of songs with just three notes, making it one of the easiest band instruments to learn.

8. Xylophone

xylophone is easy to learn and play

The xylophone is another instrument that’s often taught in schools. Whether you want to go on to play a concert marimba or use it as a base for music theory, it’s a great start.

The xylophone is a percussion instrument made up of wooden bars that you strike with mallets. If that sounds a bit unusual, don’t worry; the bars are laid out just like piano keys. So, learning scales or melodies on the xylophone transfers straight to the piano.

Holding the mallets properly and becoming competent with them does take some work. But you learn faster when having fun, and hitting keys with mallets is always fun.

It’s a portable instrument, and even though it’s not the kind you might take to a party, it’s easy to move around the house. You have the option of the even smaller glockenspiel, too.

Xylophones are relatively cheap and easy to learn, which is ideal for children. The fun side of this instrument might appeal to kids more than adults.

Although, if you are an adult who thinks learning xylophone doesn’t lead anywhere serious, check out this footage of the late, great Milt “Bags” Jackson on vibraphone.

9. Harmonica

Any instrument that sounds amazing, costs next to nothing and fits in your pocket can’t be a bad thing. The harmonica is by far the smallest instrument on my list, and a few different types are available.

There are diatonic, chromatic, special tunings, and tremolo/octave harmonicas. The diatonic harmonica is the easiest to learn, so that’s the only one we need to consider for now.

young man playing harmonica during the trip

The diatonic harmonica has 10 holes that you inhale/exhale into to make a sound. Each hole represents a different pitch. Each hole can produce two notes, depending on whether you inhale or exhale.

Diatonic means that the holes only represent notes found in the key of the harmonica. For example, a diatonic harmonica in C major will only include notes from the C major scale.

Harmonicas are heard in many genres, from country to Stevie Wonder’s hit song, “Isn’t She Lovely.” They are one of the most popular instruments in blues music, often called the blues harp.

Despite needing some effort to get used to the technique, it’s pretty straightforward to nail basic patterns. Those basic patterns can take you around the block countless times in a 12-bar blues. Listen to Little Walter.

10. Bongos

Bongos are percussion instruments with an Afro-Cuban heritage. They are prominent in many Latin music styles but can be heard in everything from funk to dance or house music. Bongos include the hembra and macho; the hembra is the larger drum.

learning to play bongos

The best thing about bongos and other such percussion instruments is that you play them with your hands. Now, even if you think you have no musical experience at all, you probably tap along to music, right? If you have any natural rhythm, it will instantly transfer to playing bongos. They are so intuitive and fun to play, making bongos an easy instrument to learn on your own.

Obviously, there’s more to it than just slapping them with your hands. There are lots of striking techniques with the whole hand or different fingers. You can also produce different sounds by striking a different part of the drum head. However, in its most basic form, you can think of the hembra as your main drum and the macho for accents.

A basic eighth-note pattern can sound fantastic and transform any song. Learn to keep a steady tempo; you won’t sound like a beginner for long.

Typically, bongos are made of wood, most commonly oak. For beginners, more affordable sets are available made from cheaper wood or even fiberglass. As I said earlier, learning is easier when it’s fun, and bongos are so much fun.

Final thoughts

Some instruments on this list have physical qualities that make them more suitable for children and some for adults. Whatever age you are, it’s vital that you have fun while learning; music is all about self-expression.

Every instrument on my list can bring endless fun while leading to a deeper understanding of music. Whether you want to be a fully-fledged muso or a new hobby, playing any instrument is a beautiful thing.

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