The piano vs guitar debate is common in musical circles, and the reality is that both are versatile musical instruments capable of performing and creating diverse styles of music.
However, if you are considering learning an instrument for the first time, or looking to move to a new musical instrument, the choice between guitar or piano can be difficult.
In this article, we take a closer look at some of the advantages of both instruments, all to answer one of the most common questions beginners have: is it easier to learn guitar or piano?
Difficulty and Ease of Use
Both guitar and piano will take years to master, but you can become competent enough to enjoy playing both instruments relatively quickly. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that the piano offers more instant gratification. This is because piano benefits from superior ease of use at the beginner level.
What do we mean by this? Well, for one, a piano will play a clear note every time you press a key, so even breaking things down to the most basic level, this is an extremely easy way to be able to make the right sounds. Moreover, you do not need to tune your piano each time you play it. Plus, the keys on a piano are arranged in a simple, repetitive pattern, making it much easier to familiarise yourself with which key corresponds to which note.
By contrast, with a guitar, making a note requires you to pluck and fret the string simultaneously. Fretting is also a skill that takes time to learn, as you need to know where to apply pressure and how much pressure to apply to generate the cleanest possible sound. There is also a need to tune your guitar regularly.
With that being said, the guitar is still a perfectly accessible instrument and although it is comparatively harder to get started with, the difficulty balances out more as you progress with the two instruments. Once you are comfortable playing basic chords on a guitar, you can start playing along with songs. Whereas with the piano, you will need to learn how to get your left hand and right hand playing different sets of keys.
Guitar and Piano Affordability
While the ease of actually playing the instruments is a major factor to consider, any good analysis of the guitar vs piano debate must also consider affordability. After all, an instrument may be easier to play in theory, but if that instrument has a significant price barrier, that can prevent you from learning to play it all together.
The quick answer to the question of affordability is that guitars are generally more affordable than pianos. You can purchase a perfectly good beginner’s guitar within the $100 to $200 price range, while $500+ will be able to get you a much higher quality guitar, that will be suitable for more advanced playing.
By contrast, piano players often need to settle for an electric keyboard or a digital piano if they have a lower budget to work with. These options may also have 61 keys, covering five octaves, as opposed to the 88 keys of a full-size piano, which will cover seven octaves. While this may not be a major issue, it does mean compromising slightly.
A full-size acoustic piano could easily cost upwards of $1,000 and for more advanced players, it may be necessary to spend significantly more. The most expensive pianos will far exceed the price of the most expensive guitars, so aside from the technical ease of use, a guitar is likely to be easier to actually buy and practice with.
Versatility and Portability
Playing either the guitar or piano will provide you with plenty of versatility in terms of the songs and styles of music you will be able to play.
As a guitarist, you may take inspiration from the pop and funk sounds of Prince, the hard rock style of Slash or Jimi Hendrix, or opt for softer acoustic pop, or Spanish guitar. Alternatively, you might play a lead-rhythm guitar style, like Johnny Marr from The Smiths, or focus on the blues guitar style of someone like Eric Clapton.
With the piano, on the other hand, your options range from classical piano (think Beethoven, Motzart etc.) and jazz piano (like Art Tatum and Herbie Hancock), through to pop-rock (Elton John, Stevie Wonder, etc.) and R&B (Alicia Keys). Of course, there are plenty of other styles and genres to explore too.
While both instruments are versatile, it is much easier to pick a winner in terms of portability. Guitars can be easily moved from one location to another. With a simple guitar carry case, they can be carried around during the day, even if you are at work, school, or university, making it extremely easy to attend lessons with your own instrument.
Pianos, by contrast, are far less portable. If you attend lessons at another location, there is a good chance you are going to need to play on someone else’s piano. Although smaller electric keyboards are more portable and can be carried around, even this is far less convenient than carrying a guitar around with you.
The question of piano vs guitar for beginners is a complex one because you will need to take a number of different factors into account. If money is no real obstacle to you, a piano is going to be easier to get to grips with for a complete novice and the techniques and musical theory tend to follow a simpler pattern.
However, guitars have some significant advantages of their own. They are more portable and can be played anywhere, while the bonus of pure affordability is not to be overlooked. If you are on a more limited budget, it is simply much easier to afford a decent guitar than an equivalent piano, and this needs to be factored in.
Ultimately, when choosing between piano vs guitar, personal preference is a major factor too. You are much more likely to stick with an instrument if you find it appealing to learn, and if you are able to play the music you like with it!