Choosing Your First Instrument

By Mike Ludwig

Aspiring musicians often follow their gut when choosing their first instrument. They think first about aesthetics and gravitate towards instruments they think will produce the kind of sound and visual style they dream to embody as a musician. Our aesthetic tastes change over time, however, and it’s important to consider that certain instruments can help us become more versatile (and therefore more employable) musicians. Here’s a rundown on the practical pros and cons on several popular instruments.

Electric Bass

Bass basics are relatively easy to learn, making the electric bass an attractive instrument to start with. Certain bass genres, such as rock and blues, can be learned in a couple of months of dedicated practice. There aren’t many solo bassists, however, and the instrument demands that you have other people to play with. If you do, great – learning to harmonize with other musicians will help you learn the rhythm, chord and scale patterns necessary for picking up other instruments in the future.


Let’s face it: everybody wants to play guitar. Guitar is sexy and the center of attention. Famous guitar players outnumber players of almost every other type of instrument, and the same goes for amateurs that never make it. Learning guitar demands studying all facets of music – scales, chords, rhythm, harmony and melody – and expert guitar players can easily pick up other instruments. Guitar is a universal instrument and adaptable to almost every type of modern music. There are many guitar players out there, so there’s a lot of competition, but hey, you can always go solo.


Drums are a commitment. Drum kits are expensive, loud and take up a lot of space, so make sure your neighbors and flat mates are cool with your new hobby. Drums are also a lot of fun to play, and percussionists are always in high demand in most music scenes. You will certainly learn to be a master of rhythm, but you won’t learn much about musical scales and chord patterns, making it harder to learn different instruments later on. Drummers often hold the beat steady for life. You will need a car or van to transport your kit to gigs, and remember that setting up and packing up a drum kit takes 10 to 15 minutes. "Mic-ing" your drums with microphones and setting levels can take even longer.


You can learn the keys on a traditional piano or a keyboard, which is portable and great for dance music and modern pop. Like guitar, piano and keyboard are universal instruments that will teach you all the important aspects of music. Dedicated piano and keyboard players often become versatile, talented musicians and find it easy to learn other instruments. Piano is also adaptable to many different styles of music, but bands featuring pianos or keyboard players are not as common as they once were.


Grabbing the microphone can be a fun route to becoming a musician. If you are confident, creative and love to perform, then vocals might be right for you. Many modern vocalists aren’t expert singers, they’re expert performers. Think about the rock, punk, blues and indie bands you’ve heard: those vocalists are certainly not opera singers. Vocals aren’t a great way to learn music theory, but hell; you’ll probably have a great time. 

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