I’ve played guitar since 2003 and have dabbled with piano for just as long.
Though I don’t have as much experience with piano, I know enough to tell you about some of the contributing factors that may help you decide which instrument to pursue.
So should you learn piano or guitar?
Piano might be a better fit for you if several of the following are true:
Guitar might be a better fit for you if several of the following are true:
You’re OK with your instrument not being as portable as the guitar.
You love the portability of the guitar and want to be able to travel with it.
You want to be able to play the plethora of classical music and older sheet music available to the pianist.
You’re more interested in learning and playing modern than classical music.
You realize that sheet music is the most popular means of reading music and you want to learn this skill.
You realize that guitar tabs (a simpler music notation than sheet music) is the most popular way to learn new songs and are glad that you don’t really need to learn how to read sheet music.
You want to be able to produce a nice sound from your instrument from day one.
You understand that it may be difficult to produce a good sound from your instrument when just beginning to learn.
You don’t want to overcome the hurdle of developing callouses and hand strength that stringed fretted instrumentalists must overcome.
You recognize that playing the guitar will be uncomfortable and slightly painful as you develop callouses and hand strength and you’re OK with that.
Your musical heroes are pianists and you envision yourself learning their songs on piano.
Your musical heroes are guitarists and you envision yourself learning their songs on the guitar.
Your favorite music genres prominently feature the piano.
Your favorite music genres prominently feature the guitar.
I’ll discuss these points in further detail below so you can get a better sense for which instrument you should pursue.
The Portability of Guitar Vs. Piano
I imagine for most people the portability of an instrument isn’t very important.
If you’re only traveling for a couple of weeks a year or less, you probably won’t have a problem leaving your instrument behind.
But there’s more to instrument portability than vacations.
When you play the guitar, you can whip it out on camp outs, weekend getaways, and more.
In fact, people may even ask you to play your guitar if you’re in one of these situations.
This isn’t as much the case when you play the piano, even though the keyboard is arguably as portable as the guitar.
So if you’re looking forward to playing fireside tunes or bringing your instrument along on weekend getaways, the guitar is probably a better instrument for you.
Plus, even if you are fine with toting around a keyboard, most pianists agree that nothing beats the sound quality of a grand piano.
Modern Vs. Classical with the Guitar and the Piano
Although guitar-like instruments can be found in history over 4000 years ago, the six string acoustic guitar as we know it today originates from the 19th century.
The piano, on the other hand, predates the guitar and has richer musical history as an instrument included in many classical pieces.
Thus, if you’re more interested in playing classical pieces and music that spans a longer time period, piano is probably a better instrument for you to pursue.
Sheet Music Vs. Tabs
The most popular method of reading music with the piano is with standard sheet music.
However, on the guitar the most popular method of reading music is with tablature (or tabs).
Tabs are simpler to read and understand than sheet music.
If reading sheet music is intimidating to you or it’s something you really don’t want to do, guitar might be a better instrument for you to pursue.
Beginner Sounds from The Piano and Guitar
One great aspect of learning the piano is that there isn’t any physical hurdle to making a pretty sound come from the instrument.
When a professional pianist strikes a single note on the instrument, it sounds the same as if a total beginner were to strike that same key.
This isn’t the case for say, the violin, which can take several months for a beginner to be able to produce a pretty sound from it.
The guitar is more like the piano than the violin in this way.
However, there is some hurdle to making a good sound from the guitar in that it requires some hand strength and callouses to be able to produce good sound from the instrument.
If you aren’t interested in developing hand strength or callouses and want to be able to produce a good sound from your instrument on day one, then piano is probably the instrument for you.
Your Musical Heroes, The Songs You Want to Play, And How They Affect Which Instrument You Should Pursue
When I was nine years old I went to see a luthier building a violin as part of a school field trip.
From that moment on, I thought I wanted to play the violin.
The problem was:
I thought the violin was a really pretty instrument (both musically and visually) but that didn’t mean it was the best instrument for me to learn.
If you asked me what my favorite musical artists at the time were or which songs I liked best, they would invariably feature the guitar, not the violin.
Because I didn’t think through this choice carefully, I played the violin unenthusiastically for three years before I discovered the guitar.
It’s easy to get excited about playing an instrument that isn’t the best choice of instrument for you.
The best instrument choice for you will be the instrument you want to stick with for the long-haul because with it you can play your favorite songs from your musical heroes.
If many of your favorite songs feature the piano and your favorite artists are pianists, piano is probably the better choice for you.
Likewise if many of your favorite songs feature the guitar and your favorite artists are guitarists, guitar is probably the better choice for you.