Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

What instrument is hardest? My experience

So someone on another forum asked me how I would rank the instruments I play by difficulty, and those of you who are multi-instrumentalists will know this is difficult, but I did my best to break it down, here’s my essay.
Ok, little disclaimer here, I picked these instruments up in about six month intervals, so the ones I started later would be easier proportionally.

Ok, to the topic at hand, I’m gonna try to rank my five main instruments by difficulty, in a few different categories. The instruments are (in the order I picked them up) Guitar, Harmonica, Fiddle and Mandolin, and I’ll add Ukulele for fun.

Beginning phase:

  1. Mandolin

  2. Banjo

  3. Fiddle

  4. Harmonica

  5. Guitar

Bonus

1.5 Ukulele

So, that list was for just starting out each instrument, and it’s not objective because I had a different level of experience before picking each one up. The mandolin was easiest because I already had lots of experience, and the Ukulele cuz it’s similar to guitar. Guitar was hardest cuz I had no prior experience.

Getting good:

  1. Banjo

  2. Guitar

  3. Mandolin

  4. Fiddle

  5. Harmonica

Bonus

4.5 Ukulele

So, this is a very different list, it’s about when you’ve been playing a while, how easy is it to start improvising or playing more advanced material, and just being comfortable just randomly playing with the instrument. This list is influenced by both the amount of time I’ve played each instrument as well as the layout of the instrument. I find the banjo to be super intuitive and easy to play, and play with, but others may feel differently (but they’re not making this list, so they can’t complain :joy:) definitely the harmonica is the hardest to get good at because there is a lack of both learning materials, and good players to emulate, and same with ukulele, most people who play it only play a few chords and sing.

Physically:

  1. Guitar

  2. Banjo

  3. Mandolin

  4. Harmonica

  5. Fiddle

Bonus

3.5 Ukulele

  1. Bass

So, (I say that a lot), this is basically which one is physically the easiest. Honestly, it depends on whether I’m sitting and where, but the only reason banjo is lower than guitar is my shoulder gets tired holding my arm up in first position. I’ve always found ukuleles awkward to hold, and depending on your lungs and the shape of your harmonica, it can be unpleasant too. And it’s no secret that the fiddle is an awkward thing to hold, I haven’t had any trouble holding it in a long time, but my bowing arm gets very tired. I added bass for giggles, it’s bass guitar (not upright) and they’re super heavy.

Overall:

  1. Guitar

  2. Banjo

  3. Mandolin

  4. Harmonica

  5. Fiddle

Bonus

0.5 Ukulele

So, this is the last one, it’s an all things considered list. The Ukulele is the easiest, because the simplicity of the chords and the forgiving nature of the instrument make it very easy to make nice music. There’s a reason why so many people play them, and if you’re a serious musician, there is some advanced material to learn, a lot of innovation waiting to happen, and a very low Audience expectation when you take it out.

The guitar is next, everyone has one, and it’s very forgiving similar to ukulele. There’s a reason everyone plays one. And when you’re advancing, there’s so much material out there to learn and numerous artists to look up to.

Banjo, I found the open tuning super easy to use and think about, and there’s a lot of material to learn.

Mandolin, this one is pretty easy cuz there’s such a devoted following, information isn’t too hard to find, and there’s lots of material and great players. Also, since it’s rather obscure, it’s a great conversation starter.

Harmonica, this one is hard both to think about and to get good at, there’s several notes missing unless you can do advanced overblowing techniques. There’s very few real musicians playing these, and material is hard to find. On the upside, expectations are low when you get one out, and people will be surprised if you play well.

Fiddle wins most difficult, this wasn’t a blowout victory, it was a close contest, but fiddle is more difficult because there’s no frets, the bow is a **** and it’s loud, so not forgiving. But there is a great community of players you can find, lots of instructional materials, and no limits to the possibilities of the instrument.

I hope you enjoyed this list, it’s by no means scripture, it’s just my experience.

And for the record, when I say harmonica I mean ten hole diatonic, not chromatic

Now all of these were very close decisions hard to make, but it’s what I felt at the time.

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I am surprised the fiddle is not a ton harder. It looks difficult. I borrowed one for a weekend and could play Mary had a little lamb by the end of the weekend. However, I imagine complex songs would be much more difficult. I would think you would have to be able to play by ear to do it well

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It depends on the person, everyone will have a different level of difficulty with it

Well, technically this is probably true, but I’d say that about the banjo as well in general. But you have to consider that it’s the same instrument as violin, which is almost exclusively a music reading instrument

  1. Fiddle
  2. Harmonica(very different than strings)
  3. Banjo (using my non-dominant hand- right)
  4. Guitar (the first one I learned)
  5. bass guitar (easy in theory, hard not to buzz)
  6. Mandolin

I’m not gonna try to rank piano, it was the first instrument I learned, and very different.

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Is 1 easiest or hardest? In my list 1 was easiest

  1. Stand-up Bass - for some reason I just picked it up and could play & understand it, But it does require a feel for the pull.

  2. electric Bass - need to understand the amp, etc as well. Bass has the most time between notes and gives time to think…it’s all bout feeling the groove. very easy to get bored and overplay if not in the proper frame of mind.

  3. mandolin - tuning wins this spot & it has frets…easier than guitar to understand fretboard but faster notes than bass

4 Guitar - Actually tied with mandolin…both plectrum picked and note speed comparable…guitar has more difficult chord position possibilities, and a “skip” in the tuning…longer reach than mando, but easier to sound correct notes on.

  1. fiddle- small scale, no frets, bow…very easy to play out of tune or get terrible sound effects or tone from. Also the note can change where they are from day to day.

  2. Banjo - this should have been far easier but I never had the knack of playing it well…

unrated:
Saxophone - it was an embarrassing experience…
Hammond chord organ - first instrument…always had on in the house when I was a kid, It was also my first experience learning to read “music”.
Trombone - another slide instrument…more chances to play out of tune
French horn - cool instrument and has only 3 valves and no reed…it usually gets stuck with musical parts akin to the baritone part in vocals.

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oh… switch that around, as in fiddle is hardest.:roll_eyes:

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