Learning to play an instrument is a lot like studying a new language. It’s much easier to get started when you’re young, and learning an instrument can even help brain development for children. But, even if you start early, some instruments are easier to study than others. In this article, we’ll go over the 15 easiest instruments to learn, regardless of age or experience.
The triangle is the first of the oft-forgotten instruments that are going to make this list. It’s so forgotten that it isn’t going to make many of the other lists you’ll find for the easiest instruments to learn to play. Don’t be turned off by the humble reputation and appearance of the triangle, they’re included in some of the highest-profile orchestras in the world.
It is essentially a piece of metal shaped like a triangle that dangles from a handle. They produce a pinging sound that gets used in both folk and classical music. While there are plenty of jokes out there about how the instrument takes no skill, it’s important to remember that it is actually fairly demanding. You have to strike it in the same place and with the same amount of force each time to produce the same sound. Overall, it’s a fairly easy instrument to pick up, but you’ll still have to practice quite a lot to hit the right tones.
Ah, the recorder. While I don’t know if it’s still mandatory, it was a required part of my elementary school music class. I’ll forever have Hot Cross Buns burned into my brain; even 20 years later, I can still hear it in my head.
Recorders are some of the first instruments most kids pick up in school, and while parents might be shuddering at the thought of their kid grabbing one, with practice, they can sound pretty great. The reason we think they sound awful is that they’re mostly used for children learning the basics of music, even though they’re incredibly easy to learn.
In essence, it is a simple flute that doesn’t require a lot of lung capacity, complicated finger placement, or masterful breath control. Plastic and wood recorders aren’t typically expensive. The finger placement on these is the same for instruments like the saxophone, clarinet, and flute, which makes them great entry-level instruments for students wanting to graduate to those options later on.
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The tambourine might be one of the most overlooked instruments out there. Like the triangle, it gets handed to the least-skilled musician in a lot of jokes. It might not be fair given the importance of it in a lot of ensembles, but it does touch on how easy the instrument is to pick up.
Tambourines are round and have multiple cymbals embedded in the outer edge. They’re easy to hold, and they can produce a huge range of sounds for how simple the instrument actually is. They can be shaken or struck to create different tones, and they’re especially great as an accompanying instrument. In fact, it can accompany almost any other instrument. Anyone can learn it, and it’s a great way to learn the basics of percussion instruments. It’s even easier than some of the later percussion ones on this list.
Harmonicas might be the easiest wind instrument to learn, and they are also one of the most portable ones. Whether you go with the 10-hole or 16-hole harmonica, you’ll have no problems sliding it into your pocket and taking it with you on the go. And in case you think it is a gimmick instrument or toy, you should know they’re commonly used throughout genres like jazz, blues, country, folk, rock, and classical music.
These are basically the only wind instrument that produces sound when you inhale as well as when you exhale. Picking up harmonicas is fairly easy partly because of how close the holes are together. You’ll almost never be blowing through one hole to produce one note, instead, you’ll be blowing at least three, allowing you to produce melodies of three complimentary notes at a time.
Generally, you can get a hold of a harmonica fairly cheaply, and they’re very easy to learn. On top of that, it’s easy to fool people about how good you are because of how it plays a few notes at the same time. In general, it’s one of the easiest wind instruments and a good one to pick up if a recorder isn’t your style.
Bongos are some of the oldest instruments in the world. Though you might think of them as instruments meant to accompany a poet, they are frequently played in salsa music and Latin rock. They’re also a good place to start if you want to get into percussion instruments like drums because they’re very simple.
These are made of two open-bottom drums, with one large drum and one small one. The larger is called the Hembra and the smaller is the Macho. The former has a lower tone, while the latter is more high-pitched. Bongos are played with your hands, striking the drum with fingers or palms to create rhythms in different tones while the other hand is moved around to dampen the sounds.
These are so easy to learn because there are only two elements to focus on, in the two conjoined drums. And even then, you’ll mostly only be striking one drum at a time. No big setup, very few parts, fairly simple beats, and a high level of accessibility make this one of the easiest instruments to learn.
You might think of maracas as a toy or a super unimportant instrument in an ensemble. I mean, realistically the difference between a baby rattle and a maraca is fairly small. That doesn’t impact how important it is for Latin culture, especially when it comes to folk music to dance to.
Maracas are shaken to produce a rhythm, and you can alter the sound and tempo by changing the way they are shaken. Different types will produce different sounds, based on the material and what is used to fill them. Of course, it takes practice to masterfully follow along with songs using the maracas, but they’re incredibly easy to pick up and start learning.
Another one of the simplest instruments to learn is the tiny castanets. They’re small percussion instruments, but a lot of people who remember they even exist may not even think of them as instruments. Made of wood, they are basically clappers. The two parts of it connect at the base and attach to your thumb and finger, allowing the opening and closing of your hand to snap them together and create a clapping sound.
Castanets are most often used in Spanish flamenco music, but they’re also popular in other countries like Portugal and Switzerland. They’re mostly used for clapping along with the beat of a song, adding an extra layer to the music rather than featuring in it. All it takes to learn these is a bit of timing and some hand-eye coordination to get into them.
The mighty yet small ukulele has grown in popularity quite a lot in recent years. It’s an inexpensive and fun instrument that’s also one of the easiest string instruments to learn to play. They look basically like very small guitars. Unlike their larger cousin, they only have four strings instead of six. Having fewer strings makes it more accessible for beginners, especially since there are fewer strings to pluck and fewer frets to navigate your fingers to.
Don’t be fooled by the ukulele’s small size, it can still produce some loud and rich sounds. Like the guitar, which we’ll touch on later, the basics are pretty simple to pick up. Within a couple of weeks, you can learn a few chord progressions and start playing some of your favorite songs. A lot of people also find this easier to play than a guitar because the nylon strings used aren’t as hard on their fingers as the steel strings on some guitars.
The harp might be one of the most intimidating instruments to learn to play, so how does the lyre—basically a small harp—make it onto this list? Modern harps can have upwards of 47 strings and seven-foot pedals. A modern lyre has a total of 12 strings, and if you get one like the ones made in ancient times when it was invented, it can have as few as four strings.
The difference in the number of strings alone makes it much less intimidating and easier to learn than the harp. Starting with a four-string lyre is best for complete musical beginners. There aren’t a lot of strings to get confused by, and all you need to do to get the basics down is learn a simple progression of string plucking.
While it is easy to learn, it takes a lot of work to get really good at it. You can’t produce the same depth of melodies as a harp or even a guitar, but it is an amazing introduction to string instruments. If you can master the basics of this one, you’ll learn skills that can transfer over to harps, guitars, and other string instruments.
Banjos usually get thought of as instruments reserved for bluegrass and folk music, but they’ve consistently been used throughout nearly every genre. Even huge names like Led Zeppelin and the Eagles included the banjo in a few of their hit songs. But what makes this instrument easy to play in general?
Like the ukulele, banjos can have as few as four strings. As we discussed, fewer strings means easier to learn. Once the basics are down, you can move up to a five or six-string banjo. These also don’t require a lot of tuning, since they come with an open-G tuning. All that means is that if you strum it and it sounds like a G-note, you’re on the right track.
They also have slimmer necks and thinner strings than guitars. This makes them easier to hold, especially for people with smaller hands, and makes pressing the strings to the frets easier than on guitars. Once you learn some basic skills like the claw-hammer techniques and the basics of strumming the strings, you can expand your repertoire and play any kind of music a guitar can.
Xylophones are another one of those super easy percussion instruments and yet another one you’d probably buy your child as a toy. Despite being relegated to a baby toy in the minds of many people, this is one of the oldest musical instruments still kicking today. The earliest-known examples of it date back all the way to 2000 B.C. in China.
These are made of musical bars made of both metal and wood. Each of the bars is cut to a different length, which allows it to produce a sound in a different tone. The basics of learning the xylophone are pretty simple. You just need to know which bars to strike in what order and work on how you strike the keys. It takes a loose wrist and a specific grip on the mallet to produce the proper sounds.
Overall, it is something that’s super easy to pick up, requiring only practice with technique and a basic understanding of rhythm to begin sounding good.
When I say keyboard, I don’t mean any keyboard instrument like pianos and organs. Keyboards are kind of like digital pianos. They have a keyboard you play on, but when you press the keys, the machine produces a sound in the tone assigned to that key. One of the coolest parts about these is that you can change the sounds the keys play, making them sound like string, wind, and percussion instruments at will. On some, you can even record and playback sections of songs or have it play drum beats you can play along with.
These aren’t the easiest instruments in the world to learn, but they are the easiest among the keyboard instruments. They have fewer keys and are less demanding than the piano. If you’ve ever had a piano lesson, you should be able to pick it up very quickly. The basics only require some hand-eye coordination and practice. You’ll find a ton of courses online and in stores for easy songs to play on this, sometimes even being included in the box with the instrument.
Learning to play a keyboard is great for learning the basics of music like reading sheet music or turning notes into chords. You can also expect these to be relatively cheap when you start out, so they’re a good option for starting children on the road to learning to play instruments.
You’re probably familiar with the bugle from the reveille played on military installations in a lot of movies. What makes it simple is that it doesn’t have valves or complicated hand maneuvers you need to pull off forer notes. The control of the instrument is entirely done with your mouth.
These are one of the simplest brass instruments, just being a hollow tube that coils into an oval shape and opens up on one end. It’s simple to play, but you will have to practice a lot. Everything is controlled with your mouth, creating higher pitches by almost closing it and higher pitches by having it wider and open. You’ll also have to master tongue movements, the amount of air to blow, and lip movements.
Thankfully, even keeping all of those things in mind, the bugle has a lot less going on than most instruments, making it one of the easiest ones you can learn.
A trumpet might be more complicated than a bugle, but even so, they only play A, G, D, and C notes. With only four notes to learn to play, these are some of the easiest wind instruments you can pick up. Don’t let that fool you, this is an exceptional and moving instrument that’s been used for some of the most iconic songs in jazz music.
The biggest obstacle in learning to play the trumpet is the proper blowing technique. You have to blow at a steady rate while not puffing out your cheeks and keeping a solid seal on the mouthpiece. Your lips should be vibrating, and the speed of your lips will influence the pitch of the notes. Once you get the blowing down, you need to master the fingering techniques. Thankfully, there are only three valves to get used to while blowing it.
Overall, the basics of the trumpet just take practice, and once mastered, can produce amazing sounds and melodies.
The guitar is going to be a divisive inclusion on this list, but hear me out. Playing the guitar like Jimi Hendrix or masterfully playing classical guitar is incredibly difficult. But, that doesn’t mean the basics are hard.
Learning to strum the strings and getting a handle on chords is relatively easy. The guitar is an instrument that you’ll feel rewarded for playing very quickly since you can play some songs after only a few weeks. Make sure to start off with nylon strings since they’re much easier on your fingers than steel strings.
So yeah, while mastering Bach’s Suites For Guitar is absolutely one of the most challenging musical accomplishments, getting started playing this instrument is still very very easy.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.