Which instrument should I learn?

Posted: November 21, 2012 in Learning, Mental Reboot, Music, Reboot Process
Tags: , , , , , ,

The second of the ‘big’ things on my curriculum for this year is to learn a musical instrument.  As I noted in my initial curriculum post, I’d like to not only learn an instrument but also dig into some music theory and include sight reading and playing by ear as part of my overall musical training.

This is in many ways the opposite situation from the language learning that I’ve started.  Whilst I’ve tried and failed at language acquisition on a number of occasions, I actually have a decent amount of musical background, just unexercised for twenty plus years.

Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Piano lessons from 3rd grade – 9th grade
  • Clarinet lessons from 5th grad to 12th grade
  • Concert band, Marching Band, Jazz Band, pit orchestra up through high school (and just a touch into college)
  • My college work study project was writing music theory software for the Macintosh

So, I’m not starting from square one – but that still left me scratching my head as to a where to reboot my music practice.  My initial instinct was to pick up the clarinet again as it was the instrument that I the highest level of proficiency back in the day.  But that just wasn’t clicking for me.

So then I thought maybe I would try guitar, since that was an instrument that I’ve always wanted to play and never really tried.  Or even start with the ukulele. Less strings has to be easier right? Also I’ve been listening to Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele Songs and enjoying them a bit too much.

But sight reading, ear training and music theory are large parts of my objective here.   So, I think,  maybe the violin. That’s one of the fundamental instruments that people start with, and it has a strong ear training component. Of course the piano is a better instrument for sight reading, since if you can sight read harmonies on both clefs, sight reading for a melodic instrument like the clarinet becomes almost trivial.  And there’s nothing better than the piano for digging into music theory.

When it comes right down to it I have to  admit that my parents were right when they told me that if I want to play the guitar I should start with the piano.  So Mom and Dad – this one’s for you – I’m a gunna larn to play me the pee-an-er.

  1. Just for fun, why not try the bodhrán?
    all the lessons you will ever need:


    Here’s what it’s like done right…


  2. John Morton says:

    In an ideal world we’d pick the instrument we really wanted to play but there are so many physical factors to consider. A brass player needs a reasonable set of teeth, for example. Reality, as always, throws a wrench in the works. Django Reinhardt had a mutilated left hand and who would have thought Art Tatum’s podgy little fingers could produce such dazzling artistry. In the professional world the competition is intense these days so people really need everything going for them and they’ll find themselves swimming upstream if they fight nature. Anyway, whichever instrument you choose, good luck!

  3. David B. Gray says:

    that was mom’s advice!
    tickle those ivories

    • ohdwg says:

      That’s funny, I always attributed that one to you (although at eight, your parental decrees tended to feel pretty unified – which I’ve been told is a good thing).

  4. Steve Carroll says:

    the thing I find frustrating about the violin as an instrument is tuning. I’m pretty sensitive to pitch and it’s hard to get violin pegs into exactly the right position and Jum’s violin doesn’t have fine tuners on anything except the E string. Also, the fretless nature of the instrument makes the difficulty curve to sounding reasonable a little higher than its fretted brothers. Ukulele works best for smaller hand 🙂 One of the reasons I think I tend to lean so heavily on piano is that it works very well solo. Instruments that can only play one note at a time tend to be more fun when played in an ensemble, so if you are mostly playing for yourself, piano has some clear advantages

    • ohdwg says:

      Interesting, I think one of the appealing things to me about an unfretted string instrument is that I imagine one would have to develop an ear for pitch to play them well. I totally agree on the solo thing though, definitely a major bonus for the situation I’m in right now although pushing myself to get good enough to jam with others (which I could probably do more quickly on the clarinet or sax) might be the counter argument…

      • Steve Carroll says:

        for solo instruments, I find the hal leonard play along series of cds and sheet music really fun. they have violin stuff as well as piano. for sax, they have the jazz play alongs

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