The future of music

10 Hardest Instruments to Play & Learn

April 12, 2022
A man playing the hardest instrument to play, the French horn.

Among the numerous awesome skills that you can learn today is music, and more so how to play an instrument.

The expressive nature of music as a tool makes it relevant across all genres. To spice up the vocals, the right instrument must be used and in the right manner.

Throughout the time I’ve been involved in music, I’ve observed, researched, and tried various musical instruments, and I can confidently tell you that although you can learn some in a matter of weeks, others demand a great deal of patience and practice.

I’ve prepared a list of the top 10 hardest instruments to play and learn based on my personal experience and that of some of my friends in the music world.

One thing to note is don’t let this list put you off learning any of these musical instruments.

Although they will require a bit more hard work and dedication, the rewards are often even greater than learning an easier instrument!

1. French Horn

Hardest brass instrument to play, the French horn.

Hardest Brass Instrument To Play

Just as the name suggests, the French horn is thought to have its origin in France which were a prominent manufacturer of hunting horns. It is, however, made of brass metal with flared bells, not actual horns.

But don’t let the beauty of this instrument deceive you into thinking it might be a simple one to play.

First, the French horn plays up in the highest partial of all the instruments. The high partial requirement makes it easy to miss a note if you either hit the wrong part or if you don’t place your lips with precision.

This is the sole reason I believe that it is the hardest instrument to play and learn overall.

Another reason that makes this instrument difficult to play is its size and weight. The design adopts a long tube that forms a wide circle. You have to hold the instrument by encircling your hands around it.

This hand position (plus the weight of the instrument) makes it torturous to play for a long period of time. Your fingers must also be able to touch the buttons freely, requiring great flexibility.

The long pipe also requires you to master your breathing technique in order to actually produce a satisfying sound.

These factors constitute the overall complexity of playing the French horn. It’s not uncommon for orchestras to have a backup lead horn player to relieve the first player when necessary.

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2. Violin

Hardest string instrument to play, the violin.

Hardest String Instrument To Play

Among string instruments, I can guarantee you that the violin is the most intricate. It requires a lot of concentration and precision to play and master.

First, the violin is the smallest high-pitched string instrument. Therefore it is a challenge to hold the ideal position while playing it.

The violin also lacks frets that normally guide the player’s fingers like on other string instruments. The absence of frets makes it necessary to place the fingers in a precise and perfect manner.

But, the violin’s true complexity lies in balancing the sound throughout.

Learning to play the violin may not demand much of a player’s mental and physical resources, but producing a well-rounded sound that has the right volume, pitch, and tone, without losing the beauty and uniqueness of the tone is not for the faint-hearted.

Even something simple like maintaining the bow length while playing takes a lot of practice.

The other daunting task when playing the violin is holding it in the correct position. You need to hold the instrument in such a way that your left hand can move freely up and down the fingerboard, while carefully balancing it under your chin.

This is not to mention that going higher up the violin’s neck requires numerous finger positions. Professional players aim at developing this skill to develop and maintain a magnificent vibrato.

If you’re interested in learning to play the violin, check out our list of the best online violin lessons!

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3. Bassoon

Hardest woodwind instrument to play, the Bassoon.

Hardest Woodwind Instrument To Play

The bassoon is not the most popular woodwind instrument but is certainly one of the hardest instruments to play.

The fact that the musical instrument is double reeded and resembles a saxophone made out of wood is often intimidating enough to ward off some would-be players.

Attached to 8 feet of a wooden tube that bends upwards at the bottom, the resultant shape has been a subject of mockery, some even calling it a bedpost.

The double reeds of a bassoon are different, and the same reed needs to change over time. Mastering to keep pace with the change is not an easy ordeal, at least not for amateurs. Double reeds also produce hard attacks. Playing softly (to make soft attacks) is a difficult task.

Fingering is another challenge, with the bassoon requiring the player’s all 10 fingers.

Also, to make a good bassoonist, there’s work to do at the ground level. You’ll ideally need to learn how to make reeds, how to intricately balance them as well as allow them enough time to rest.

Patience, commitment, and self-discipline are inseparable if one is to truly master the bassoon, but what a great-sounding instrument it is.

4. Organ

Hardest instrument to learn, the organ.

Hardest Instrument To Learn

By the look of it, one might think an organ is an electric piano. Far from that, the organ comes in multiple divisions, each with a dedicated keyboard.

The organ has a very wide range of sounds, producing both the softest and lightest to extremely powerful sounds. However, it doesn’t have a sustain pedal, making it one of the hardest instruments to play.

To play the organ, the player must hold the key for as long as he/she wants the note to play. Mastering this skill with the hands is no easy feat.

Learning and playing a new musical piece requires one to be able to play all the keyboards whilst sight-reading at the same time. This level of coordination and music reading takes time to develop and master.

5. Oboe

Hardest instrument to play in a marching band, the oboe.

Hardest Instrument To Play In A Marching Band

This is another complex woodwind instrument that has more to it than its simple look might tell. It’s known to produce extremely clear and sharp voices in the soprano range.

The main controllers are the lips, the mouth, the tongue, and your breathing, requiring skillful lipping or embouchure. To play it, you need to keep on switching the fingering to vary the notes and avoid monotony.

Manipulating the fingering is the most complex part of playing the oboe as well as being able to control your breathing at the same time.

In essence, the oboe is not very different from the flute, however, its double-reeded nature makes it a much harder instrument to learn.

6. Bagpipes

Hardest instrument to learn, the bagpipes.

Bagpipes are either loved or hated. However, one thing that people can both agree on is that it’s certainly not an easy instrument to learn!

From the absurd structure to the arduous playing techniques, bagpipes are no easy thing to master.

To play a sound with the bagpipes, you need to continuously blow air and squeeze it into the reservoir. To make any good sound or rhythm, your coordination needs to be on point.

In short, perfect breath control and good lung capacity are the preliminaries to playing the instrument. It is difficult, especially for the novice, but even for the professionals who find it tiring to play the instrument for long periods of time.

7. Harp

Man playing the harp.

From the biblical times of King David, the harp is a popular musical instrument to learn and play. It produces some of the sweetest fairytale-like tunes and sounds.

To the listener, the harp seems like a magical instrument, but ask the player and they’ll tell you how hard it is to truly master this instrument.

First, the number of strings on a harp is higher than any other stringed instrument you might fancy. Some harps have up to 47 strings.

Positioning your hands correctly is also a tough task. You need the precise hands of a skillful artist and the eyes of an eagle to make the music flow smoothly.

At some point, playing the harp will require you to use pedals, which necessitates a whole new level of coordination. Some modern harps have up to 7 pedals to manipulate the pitch! Different tones require the player to switch the string pedal in a synchronized manner.

To play the harp, you must develop good muscle memory and coordination, which takes a lot of time to perfect. This makes the harp one of the hardest instruments to play and something you shouldn’t pick if you want to learn an instrument quickly!

8. Accordion

Young boy playing the accordion.

This is an instrument that once mastered you can really enjoy, but one that can easily frustrate a beginner.

The accordion has two sides; one for bass and the other for treble. The treble side has either a button or keyboard configuration, while the bass side has a pure button configuration. Mastering the treble side is the most challenging.

Producing sound is also the hardest part of learning how to play the accordion. You need to constantly supply air by moving the bellows back and forth whilst simultaneously pressing the keys or buttons.

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9. Piano

Girl playing a Yamaha piano.

The piano requires you to play with both your feet and hands, making it quite difficult if you’re not the most coordinated person. To learn to do these simultaneously and to form a rhythm is a daunting task.

Once you have mastered the coordination, then comes the challenge of reading as you play. Unlike other instruments, you need to read two bar lines at the same time!

To master this, your senses must be precise, and your mind free from any distractions.

Pianos, especially the acoustic ones, are quite expensive. Investing in an instrument before learning to play it may not be a very good idea here.

I’ve had the pleasure to play both acoustic and digital pianos, and while the experiences are different (sound generally better on an acoustic piano), I’d recommend starting with a digital one, then advancing to the more expensive acoustic type if you enjoy it!

If you’re interested in learning to play the piano, check out our list of the best online piano lessons!

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10. Nyckelharpa

Girl playing the nyckelharpa.

This is a rather unpopular instrument, but certainly, one that is no joke to learn and master playing. First, just like a guitar, you hang the instrument around your neck using a strap.

The difficulty lies within the keys. The left hand has to control seven strings, and the fact that there is more than one string to play a tone, the player may be required to move the fingers from string to string.

Positioning the left hand, which plays the keys, is also a tough task for most beginners. When playing, maintaining the position is also hard.

You need to get the left hand comfortable over the keys so that your fingers are slightly curved to touch the keys by the tips. The thumb should bend under and slide along the neck freely.

Although learning the nyckelharpa is no easy task, if you do decide to take the plunge, the ethereal sounds it produces will turn heads wherever you play!

Final Thoughts On The Hardest Instruments To Play

The difficulty or ease with which an instrument can be played is rather a subjective matter.

For example, when I was 8 years old I began learning to play the drums, as a result, I find it tough to classify it as a hard instrument to learn.

However, for some, they may find it extremely hard-going. You also need to remember that everyone is different, and some people may be more suited to certain types of instruments than others.

For me, I tend to find more rhythm inclined instruments easier to learn.

Last but not least, don’t let my hardest instruments to play list put you off from learning any of them, just be aware that they will take a bit more time and dedication to grasp even the most basic aspects.

Fancy learning to play a slightly easier instrument? Check out our Top 10 Easiest Instruments To Learn article!

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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