old black piano with sheet music

Is piano the hardest instrument to play?

Not by a long shot! I have argued (and proven somewhat successfully I think with the army of folks I’ve gotten playing over the years) quite the opposite. Consider …

How long does a take a kid learning to play a brass instrument, or a say a violin, or even better, a double-reed instrument like an oboe to make a nice tone? Years. On piano? Seconds. You put your finger on a key and press it down and it plays. I’ve been playing piano for years, and if I walk up to a piano and press down a note, and then you walk up and play that exact same note never having played piano in your life – it will sound exactly the same. The piano is doing all the “work” of the sound generation.

Now say you ask a beginning trumpet player to not only play the first note they learned and could get squeeked out of their horn, to then play the same note 2 or 3 octaves higher. It will take them multiple years to gain the physical ability. On a piano? No problem, just reach up a foot or two and play the higher note. Piece of cake. It doesn’t hurt, or take a stronger finger, or require better breath control, or any other physical limitation.

Now consider the issue of the incredible quest beginning string players deal with of playing well in tune. Piano players? Nothing. You can’t do a thing to make a piano play “more” in or out of tune. It is what it is until a tuner tunes it. …

You ever tried to learn to play guitar? It really HURTS at the beginning! Until you get your fingers all calloused up it is downright painful. There is nothing like that at all on a piano. Nothing painful, nothing requiring a lot of finger strength.

I could go on and on, but the reality is this: If you have fingers, you have what it takes to play piano.

It doesn’t take long, skinny fingers. It doesn’t take incredible breath control, it doesn’t take a “lips of steel” embouchure, some musical “gift” or anything else … With the possible exception of (beginning) drumming, I feel strongly that piano is the EASIEST instrument to play.

NOW THOUGH … I note you specifically asked in your question “Is piano the hardest instrument to play?” Maybe what we should also consider is this: “Is piano music the hardest to read?

And there’s the rub …

What most people fail to really understand about becoming a piano player is that there is HUGE difference between learning to play the piano, and learning to become a good piano notation reader. One does NOT depend on the other like so many falsely connect. (Not to sound crass, but if reading piano notation is an absolute requirement how have blind players like Stevie or Ray or George Shearing played in the past, right?)

You see, whereas piano players have the wonderful gift of playing one of the physically easiest instruments there is, traditional classical players are also cursed by the requirement of needing to read arguably the most complex and difficult notation of any instrumentalist.

Instead of the single line of notation in one clef that almost all instrumentalists and singers are required to play (you can’t play multiple notes at once on a trumpet, right?), classical piano players really take it on the the chin needing to read multiple notes at a time, in two staffs–at once! Yikes! THAT is what keeps most people from getting to a level of proficiency on a piano. It’s not the “hands-on-piano” stuff, it’s the incredibly difficult traditional notation that is the stopper.


•Traditional classical piano players get the the easiest instrument to play, but are faced with incredibly difficult to learn notation.

•Everyone else (with a few exceptions I know …) gets incredibly difficult instruments to play from a physical standpoint, but notation so simple that kids in a high school band or orchestra get to a level of reading proficiency in a month or two.

Interesting way to look at it huh?

Wouldn’t it be great if people just wanting to sit down and learn to play piano for fun (no interest in becoming a serious concert pianist) in non-classical genres like standards, pop, gospel, blues, rock, folk, whatever… (basically anything other than traditional classical repertoire,) could add the ease of reading the single line style of notation every other instrumentalist gets to read, to the ease of playing the piano?

Good news–you can. That’s the basis for how I have been teaching adults world-wide to knock learning to play piano off their bucket lists for the last 25 years.

There is no magic wand, because I don’t need one. It just turns out that the musically correct way (and the way pros do it in the real world by the way) to read and interpret non-classical tunes on a piano is by using something fantastically easier than traditional piano notation, called a Lead Sheet.

There are just very few private teachers that teach these styles (I think because the vast majority came from a classical background, and thus teach the only style of playing they know, which is reading verbatim from traditional notation.) If you want to learn to play classical piano well – those teachers are absolutely positively the right way to go. However, if you are more motivated in playing “away from the sheet” in genres other than classical music, then a classical approach will probably not serve you too well.

So in summary: Piano is the (if not one of the) easiest instrument to play from a physical mechanical standpoint. The incredibly difficult part is learning to become a great notation reader of classical repertoire. If you are not wanting to play classical repertoire, but instead want to play more modern genres simply for self-enrichment and having fun, you should be learning how to use and interpret Lead Sheets instead of standard notation. It’s the musically correct style of notation for non-classical genres. The kicker? It’s fantastically easier to learn.

The great news is tying those two things together is what gives adult student like mine the ability to gain a level of proficiency to start being able to have FUN and actually play things that sound good in a fraction (weeks and months) of the time it takes most traditional classical students (years).

I’ve been teaching in this milieu on television, in live workshops and classes, and online now for 25ish years with (literally) tens of thousands of students. My students and I know it works. Come on in, the water’s warm 🙂

(Shameless plug alert. Ha!) You can check out more, and even try a totally free Intro Course to see if we might be a good fit here: Piano in a Flash <http://www.pianoinaflash.com/>

Hope that helps!


1 Comment
  • sophie
    Posted at 15:41h, 19 March

    Great points!