Which is the hardest instrument to learn/master? I know that these instruments have been mentioned a lot in the 'hardest to learn' field. Maybe they can assist in your decision; oboe, cor anglais,...

Which is the hardest instrument to learn/master?

I know that these instruments have been mentioned a lot in the 'hardest to learn' field. Maybe they can assist in your decision; oboe, cor anglais, bassoon, pedal harp, French horn, tuba, piano, violin.

22 Answers

stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

As others have mentioned, this is a personal opinion-type of question. Any instrument can be difficult if you aren't interested or motivated to practice and learn the unique characteristics of whatever it may be.

When I reached the point in my piano lessons where both hands were playing at the same time but were playing different notes and rhythms, I wrote in my lesson book in my boldest second grade printing, "THIS IS HARD!" (I still have the book!) Since then, I have progressed on from that point (thankfully), but I can still vouch for the challenge of playing a piece well.

I am amazed when I watch my church organist playing two of the three keyboards on our church organ and using her feet to play the bass pedals at the same time! Again, I understand that it's a matter of practice and experience, but that takes a lot of coordination!

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wannam | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

In my experience, I would say the violin is the hardest to learn out of the instruments listed here.  Many of the woodwinds like the flute or the french horn require practice to improve but are relatively simple to learn some basics.  It's certainly easier to control embouchure than the bow of the violin, at least in the beginning.  Piano requires a person to read notes for both the left and right hand simultaneously.  In the beginning, this is difficult.  Eventually, almost instruments will require a person to read more than one line of notes because they will likely play with another instrument or orchestra at some point in time.  I would still suggest that the technique and skill required to play the violin takes much longer to achieve than any of the other instruments.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Judging from personal experience, I would say that they are all hard to learn and harder to master if you don't have a special talent for music and a love for a particular musical instrument. People who really have a love for a musical instrument will not have to force themselves to practice for an hour a day. They will always be holding and fondling or tinkering and toying and noodling around with their instrument of choice. But I found that I didn't have that much interest in the various instruments I tried, and I am glad I gave them up. At my best I would have been mediocre, and there are plenty of really good musicians who are having a struggle to survive. I never tried to play the violin, but I would guess that it must be the hardest to master.

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Michael Ugulini | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

There are different views on this question. In my musical experience playing the trumpet and piano, talk in the musical circles I was in, and through research I conducted, alluded to the fact that the violin was a hard instrument to master. Others believe the oboe, the piano, and the viola are hard instruments to learn/master.

That being said, some people take quite easily to an instrument deemed difficult. Others have trouble with instruments deemed easier to learn. Every individual is different and approaches the learning of an instrument in different ways. It all depends on the capabilities of the person - physical dexterity, intellectual ability, their creative bent, analytical skills, and musical goals. 

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marbar57 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

I play the piano and it's not that hard to learn.  I think the hardest instrument to learn (it's not listed in this discussion) would be the bagpipes.  It really looks complicated!  I wouldn't even know where to start or how to hold it.  Another hard-looking instrument is the trombone.  I hear that a person has to be very particular about how far the slide goes to make a particular sound, and are there buttons to play a note? If so, playing buttons while pulling the slide would be almost like patting the head and rubbing the stomach at the same time. 

literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Given that I have never played any musical instrument well (some I have never even touched), I would think the harp would be the hardest instrument. The harp, while beautiful, simply looks difficult. As readerofbooks points out, the size of the harp is large. Outside of that, the music of the harp tends to be written for solos--many of the other instruments mentioned are parts of groups of instruments in orchestras (one would not stand out as much if playing a brass or wood instrument).

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

This is largely a matter of opinion, but I would say that the harp is the hardest instrument for a few reasons. First, just the sheer physical size of the harp is prohibitive, not to mention the cost. Second, it is rather hard to find a harp teacher as well. Finally, the harp from what I hear is not an easy instrument to play as there is a steep learning curve - again part of the difficulty is the size. 

rrteacher's profile pic

rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I can only speak from my experience when I say that the piano is very difficult to play at anything approaching a competent level. I found it very difficult, anyway. On the other hand, I tend to think that if you struggle on one instrument, you will likely struggle on others, as well. In other words, it was probably down to my incompetence rather than anything inherently difficult about the piano.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I'll go with French horn.  But this is not from personal experience.  I say this because my brother majored in French horn performance in college.  He also played flute, trombone, and a number of other instruments and says that horn was the hardest to master.  He talks about how hard it is to get the correct embouchure...

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ryanpvw | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

The violin is the hardest by FAR. There are three factors to playing music.  There's tone production, dynamics, and of course landing on the proper note. Horned instruments have wreaths. The wreaths are what determines the tone, not the players abilities. This means the only thing musicians who play horned instruments have to worry about is dynamics and landing on the right note. Do to the fact all you have to do to land on the right note is press the right key, you don't have to worry to much about landing on the right note. This means for horned instruments, the only major thing you have to worry about is dynamics. This eliminates all the horned instruments off your list. For the piano, you don't have to worry about tone. The only things you need to worry about on piano Is dynamics and landing on the right note. Due to this, the piano is the third hardest. Because all the strings are so close together on the harp, I would consider landing on the proper note the hardest aspect to playing harp. The violin is the only instrument really that relies on the musician to generate the tone along with dynamics and it's the second hardest to land on the proper note on. Generating tone is by far the most difficult thing to playing the violin. Unlike the harp or piano, you not only need to generate a tone but you need to maintain it for the entire song. To bow on the violin, you need to monitor and rely on your upper arm movement, lower arm movement, wrist movement, the finger movement in your bow hold, along with how much pressure you apply, how much rosin you put on your bow, how much you tighten your bow, the speed of your bowing, how you hold your bow, where you hold your bow, how strait your bow is going, how tilted your bow is, bowing center, and subdividing your bow mentally and giving a section of the bow its own note. That is only for the tone aspect of the violin. For vibrato, you have to rely on lower arm movement, wrist movement, and finger movement. When doing vibrato, you have to do it in a forward motion which means you also have to worry about hitting the pegs on your instrument and nocking them out of tune. There are no threts to guide where you place your fingers on the violin. You have to guess exactly where to place your fingers. All that I mentioned about playing the violin you have to monitor and do simultaneously all at once as you play. I haven't even covered the tip of the ice berg on what you have to monitor on the violin. If you are looking for easy, I would recommend the base. I have played base, cello, piano, Medellin, guitar, viola, violin, drums, harmonica, and numerous other instruments. The violin is by far hardest. 

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justinseto | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

I've played oboe for 5 years and piano for 15 years. I think you need to compare difficulty on a curve. Oboe has a very steep learning curve to even play at an intermediate level. I knew people who played for years (in a school band) and couldn't even blow notes properly. 

In comparison it's fairly easy to get to an intermediate level of proficiency on the piano. However, the peak difficulty of top end pieces are much harder. In piano, you need to play the melody and the harmony. It's not simply playing more notes with two hands, it's playing a different stream of music that can have a different rhythm. Also, some composers (Liszt, Rachmaninoff) purposely compose extremely difficult pieces just to show off their virtuosity. It can take a year to master a difficult piece.

From what I understand, the difficulty in mastering violin is from the musicality and emotion of the sound you produce. I don't think the violin is easy, I don't think it is difficult because the repetoire is easier.

In terms of band instruments, french horn seems the hardest.

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user1698444 | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

I think think the violin because I heard that people who play violin first have to listen and name all of the notes that are being played. The fingering looks hard. And you have to know which note is down-bow and which one is up-bow

Everyone has to listen and name all of the notes that are being played, buddy, so that's not a valid reason.

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user1698444 | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

FRENCH HORN BY FAR!!! I have played violin (which is super easy), piano (easy), trumpet (hard), and French horn (HARDEST!)!!! Whoever said violin was the easiest is pretty weird...

I am a very small person, so many think I'm crazy that I play mariachi with my trumpet, but people are more weirded out that I play French Horn. I KNOW BY EXPERIENCE, AND I'M REALLY GOOD AT IT TOO!!!

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luiji | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted on

I don't think anyone would know, because it takes so much to master an instrument, that anyone who has mastered every instrument is nonexistant.

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