What is the Hardest Instrument to Play? – Top 10 Picks

(Last Updated On: September 15, 2022)
What is the Hardest Instrument to Play

BecomeSingers is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.Learn More

Learning to play a musical instrument is one of the most rewarding challenges you can take on. And just because the instrument you’re interested in playing is hard to learn doesn’t mean it’s impossible to work on your skills and put in the hours to eventually master your instrument and play your favorite songs or even perform live in front of an audience!

There are hundreds of musical instruments originating from all parts of the world. Some are easy to learn, and some require years to master. But what do you think are some of the hardest instruments to play? Here we cover the top 10 musical instruments that need the most skill and time to learn.

Top 10 Hardest Instruments to Play

1. Violin

Violin

The violin is at the top of our list today because, contrary to the guitar and other string instruments, it lacks frets. In other words, there is no reference point for violinists to position their fingers on the right notes. Spending a lot of time practicing can help you build muscle memory, which will help your fingers remember precisely where to land when you hit the notes.

If you were excited about picking up the violin as your new instrument, we have to apologize for potentially bursting your bubble. But the violin is the hardest string instrument to play among its siblings. Many new beginners quit after a short period of time because it takes an incredible amount of focus to master this instrument.

While your left hand is occupied with hitting the correct notes, your right hand is responsible for controlling the bow. The speed and pressure with which the bow is drawn across the strings determine the sound. To get great music from the instrument instead of just awful, screeching noise, you must master the bow technique while coordinating it with your left hand.

Playing the violin is harder than it looks. But with enough dedicated time and practice, there’s no reason why you can’t master this beautiful instrument.

Features:

  • It consists of a scroll, pegs, peg box, nut, neck, fingerboard, top, ribs, strings, purfling, corner blocks, F-holes, bridge, soundpost, fine tuner(s), tailpiece, chin rest, saddle, and a pickup (only found on an electric violin.)
  • The violin typically has four strings, usually tuned in perfect fifths. From lowest to highest, the pitches are G3, D4, A4, and E5.
  • It is made of wood. The most common type is spruce. There’s also willow, maple, ebony, and rosewood.
  • Historically, violin strings were made from animal intestines, more specifically cows or sheep. Today, strings are made from high-tech nylon, or the more expensive kind, metal. (Also called steel core strings.)
  • Has a fretless fingerboard, typically made of ebony. It can also be made of rosewood or other types of hardwood.
  • Normally played with a bow with hank or horsehair.
  • It is the highest-pitched string instrument in the family (soprano).

Read More: Mendini By Cecilio Review

2. French Horn

French Horn

The French horn’s compact design may give the impression that it is an easy instrument to play. However, it is one of the trickiest wind instruments to learn. To even get the tiniest sound to come out, you need to master two things, your mouth position (or embouchure) and blowing a significant amount of air (or having great lung capacity). 

Once you master these two steps, you have to learn the valve key combinations and hit the right notes that also depend on your embouchure and airflow. 

Keep in mind that due to the instrument’s design, the sound travels backward, which causes a timing issue. So you also have to consider facing a slight delay issue.

The French horn is a complicated instrument to learn, but it’s the most expressive of all brass instruments with its rich and warm sound. But once a student masters their breathing technique, the rest is history.

Features:

  • The French horn is a brass instrument made of tubing wrapped into a coil with a flared bell.
  • It consists of a bell, bell pipe, spit valve, rotary valves, finger rest, valve levers, leadpipe, mouthpiece, tuning slides, and valve slides.`
  • It has the smallest mouthpiece in the entire brass section.
  • The Horn is made of brass.
  • Usually tuned in the keys of F or B♭.
  • Its tone is rich, velvety, warm, and delicate, but also bright and metallic.

3. Pipe organ

Pipe organ

To play the pipe organ, you must be at least familiar with a regular piano or keyboard and how it functions. But unlike keyboards, pipe organs are hard to find as you can usually find them in just churches and cathedrals.

So why is it hard to play?

Well first. Organ music has three staves to read instead of two. As if reading two staves scores wasn’t hard enough. Additionally, you have 2 to 5 keyboards to play instead of 1. So your concentration and coordination skills have to be extraordinary.

You also have to have superb posture and balance to be able to control the pedalboard with your feet and synchronize it with your hands, as you cannot miss notes and disrupt the flow of the piece you’re playing. And because there’s no sustain pedal, players are forced to develop a special legato technique to sustain notes.

The pipe organ might be a beautiful and majestic instrument, but learning to play it is no walk in the park.

Features:

  • The pipe organ consists of 4 parts: the console, the pipes, the action, and the wind generator.
  • The console consists of 2 to 5 keyboards, the stops, and the foot pedals.
  • Pipes can be found in two forms, flue pipes and reed pipes—both made from hollow cylinders. Organ sounds come out of these pipes when air is forced through them.
  • The action controls the flow of air to the pipes via numerous cranks, rollers, and levers.
  • The wind generator is normally a rotary blower that is powered by an electric motor to provide the air needed to create the sounds the pipe organ is known for.

4. Oboe

Oboe

Like the French horn, the oboe requires the player to control their breathing to provide a controlled airflow and perfect their embouchure. In addition to the challenging breathing methods, a player has to memorize the position and combinations of 45 keys.

But the most challenging aspect of playing the oboe is manipulating the fingering while simultaneously controlling your breathing. Once you master this aspect, expect to hear incredible music coming out of your instrument.

Features:

  • The oboe is a double-reed and conical bore woodwind musical instrument that is made up of four main parts. The reed, the upper section (or top joint), the lower section (or bottom joint), and the bell.
  • The oboe has a wooden body (African Blackwood, or granadilla) and metal keys.
  • The reed is the mouthpiece of the instrument.
  • The upper section is made up of a reed well on one side and a cork for the tenon connection on the other. It also includes the first and second octave keys, which are oboe-specific keys for the octave ranges. The rod system, home keyholes, and various finger keys are also included. A bridge key is also located at the back of the upper joint, connecting it to the rest of the instrument.
  • The lower section connects to the upper section and the bell. And has more keys and rods than the upper section. Like the upper section, it has multiple keys and rod systems connecting to it. This area of the body also features a number of tone holes. There are keys known as small finger keys (or pinkie keys) that sprout from the top edge of the lower joint. There are also bridge keys on the lower section that align with the upper section.
  • Most oboes have 23 tone holes that can be left open or closed.

5. Harp

Harp

Since approximately 3000 B.C., the harp has been admired for its majesty and beauty, making it one of the oldest instruments in the world.

And the fact that it has the most strings of any stringed instrument is why it is on our list today. Not only do some harps have up to 47 strings, but they’re also very close to each other. So being able to accurately hit a string or note without touching the neighboring strings requires gentle and precise hands, as well as good muscle memory and coordination to use the pedals while playing.

The harp delivers one of the most relaxing and beautiful sounds there is. So the benefits of learning to play one may be greater than you might think.

Features:

  • The harp is triangular in shape and made of wood.
  • The modern harp has up to 47 strings and 7 pedals that raise and lower the pitch of each string class. (The pedals have the same purpose as the black keys on a piano.)
  • Harp strings are made of metal gut or nylon and are colored to help the musician find the correct string.
  • The lowest strings are usually made from steel and the upper from nylon.
  • The range of the harp is from C1 to G7.

6. Piano

Piano

The piano is one of the most popular instruments to learn. Many people begin learning but give up after only a few lessons. But why do most people always end up quitting? And why does it happen so frequently?

We have found that hand coordination and independence are the main reasons for this.

Hand coordination becomes more challenging as your lessons progress. Simultaneously, your left hand will play the chords or bassline while your right-hand plays the song’s melody. Here is where people start finding the instrument challenging and eventually quit.

On top of keeping your hands in sync, you have to press on foot pedals if you want to change the sounds’ dynamics. Add that to reading music sheets while you play, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

But once you start developing as a player, the more fun you’ll have and the more you’ll start enjoying it.

Features:

  • A piano consists of seven functional features: keyboard, soundboard, strings, hammers, dampers, bridge, and pedals.
  • The keyboard is the piano’s main feature. There are 88 keys on a standard piano keyboard. Divided into white and black keys.
  • The soundboard of a piano is the wooden surface on which strings vibrate.
  • There are around 230 strings made of steel wire that resonate sound when vibrated.
  • When keys are pressed, wooden hammers covered with several layers of compressed wool strike the piano strings to produce the sound.
  • Dampers stop the note from ringing out when fingers are lifted from the keys.
  • The bridge is the link that transmits the vibrations from the strings to the soundboard.
  • Most pianos have three pedals, while some only have two. The left pedal softens the sound when playing. The middle pedal provides sustain for notes. The third pedal lifts the dampers off all the strings to create a “reverb” effect.

Also Read: Best Ways to Learn Piano As a Complete Beginner

7. Flute

Flute

Another difficult woodwind instrument to learn is the flute. Even though the oboe is considered the hardest to play in the woodwind family, the flute also has some particular challenges. One of them is that the flutist must keep his arms up and hold the flute to the side at all times so he can’t see the keys he needs to press, which makes it hard to have the correct fingering technique.

You also need great breath control and a proper embouchure to play the flute well.

Features:

  • A flute consists of three parts. The headjoint, body, and footjoint.
  • The headjoint is basically the mouthpiece that you use to blow air into to create sound. It’s made from silver, nickel, gold, platinum, or wood. The headjoint also contains the tuning cork.
  • The largest part of the flute is called the body. It connects to both the headjoint and footjoint and contains the majority of the keys. The tuning slide and tenons, which are used to tune the flute, are also located in the body.
  • The smallest part of the flute is called the footjoint, and has two or three keys.

8. Drums

Drums

The drums will be an extremely difficult instrument to play if you’re not a great multitasker since it requires both hands and feet to play. You need your feet to play the kick drum and hi-hat and your hands for the snare drum and other drums as well as the cymbals.

It also requires keeping a steady beat for a long time without getting tired, which is especially hard because the drummer is the one responsible for keeping the tempo of the song consistent.

You’ll become a brilliant drummer once you perfect your coordination and increase your stamina.

Features:

  • The most popular setup of a drum set is a 5 piece kit that consists of a bass drum, snare drum, and 3 toms. (High, mid, and low.) The hi-hats, cymbals, etc. (responsible for the high frequencies and crispiness) are also included in the 5 piece set.
  • The bass drum or the kick drum is the largest drum in the set that is played using a foot pedal.
  • The snare drum is the “center” of the drum set. And it’s what is normally used to play the backbeat of the song.
  • Toms are played to add percussion and rhythm to a song.

9. Bagpipes

Bagpipes

Another instrument that requires great lung capacity is the bagpipes. This instrument originated from ancient Egypt and somehow found its way to Scotland.

To hear beautiful (or annoying. The bagpipes tend to have two extreme audiences) music coming out of this instrument, and you need to continuously blow air into the reservoir while simultaneously controlling the drones. So coordination is also a must if you want to be a great player. You have to make sure you hit the right notes while continuously blowing air and feeling like you’re going to pass out for something decent to come out. Overall, we do find it to be a beautiful, unique instrument.

Features:

  • Bag: holds air that can be regulated by squeezing the bag while taking a breath.
  • The blowstick is the mouthpiece of a bagpipe that you use to blow air into the bag.
  • The melody pipe (or chanter): played with two hands, the chanter has finger holes that produce the melody.
  • Chanter reed that is placed and hidden between the bag and the melody pipe where air passes through to hear the sound.
  • Three drones that determine the pitch and tone. They have tiny holes where the air escapes at the tips and are made of bamboo or a similar type of wood.
    – The bass drone: the largest and longest drone that regulates the bagpipes’ lower humming sound.
    – Two tenor drones: smaller than the bass drone and in charge of producing the higher-pitched humming sound.
  • Tuning slides that slide up and down to change the instrument’s tuning.
  • Drone Cords are the decorative tassels attached to the bass drone.

10. Guitar

Guitar

You have probably already seen someone playing “Wonderwall” by Oasis on their acoustic guitar at least once. It doesn’t mean anyone can pick up the guitar and play earth-shaking guitar riffs and just slay it.

Like other instruments on our list, the guitar also requires complex tasks and hand coordination to be able to strum the strings with one hand and hold them down against each fret using the other.

You will also pick up new skills as you advance in your training, like fingerpicking, string bending, and even percussion techniques that take your guitar playing skills a step further.

Just study your notes and scales before tackling more complex techniques and even using pedals to create more dramatic guitar sounds.

The guitar will always be one of the most popular instruments in our world today, and that’s because it sounds great, it’s portable, affordable, and versatile. Just pick one up and start playing. You won’t regret it.

Features:

Since there are two different types of guitars (acoustic and electric), we will name and describe the pieces that are shared by both. Then quickly list the components that are exclusive to the acoustic guitar and the components that are exclusive to the electric guitar.

Common parts:
  • Headstock: the part that holds the strings at the “head” of the instrument.
  • Tuner: used to tune the guitar by adjusting string tension.
  • Fret: the frets are the metal strips placed along the fretboard, creating small boxes.
  • Fretboard (Fingerboard): flat, piece of wood where frets are placed and strings are held down to play a specific note using the opposite hand.
  • Nut: a small piece of hard material that securely holds the strings.
  • Neck: It’s the long piece of wood between the headstock and the body where you’ll find the fretboard and frets.
  • Position Marker (dot): These are the marked dots on a guitar fretboard that help guitarists find their way around the fretboard.
  • Body: holds all of the pieces of a guitar together.
  • Bridge: supports the strings and transmits the vibrations of those strings to the top of the guitar.
  • Saddle: A bone- or plastic-attached element that raises the strings to the proper height and transmits vibrations to the soundboard via the bridge.
  • String: stretched over the guitar, typically made from gut, nylon, or steel.
  • End Pin: Small ‘knob-like’ piece on a guitar that attaches the guitar strap to the guitar.
  • The standard tuning of a guitar is E-A-D-G-B-E (from the thickest to the thinnest string.)
Features exclusive to the acoustic guitar:
  • Soundhole
  • Bridge pin
  • Sounding board
Features exclusive to the electric guitar:
  • Pickup
  • Pickup Selector
  • Output Jack
  • Volume Knob
  • Tone Knob
  • Whammy Bar

Also Read: How To Choose The Most Suitable Guitar Playing Styles

Final thoughts

Just because an instrument is hard to play doesn’t mean you should be discouraged to start. The more challenging it is, the more benefits you will have. You will develop good hand coordination, muscle memory, and multitasking abilities to help you in your daily life. Every musical instrument on our list is challenging to play but extremely rewarding in the long run. The most important step you can take is to start.

Related Posts:

Leave a Comment