9 Hardest Instruments to Play & Learn – The Difficult Ones

Updated on by Gavin Whitner | Please note that there may be affiliate links on this page.

If you’ve checked out my list of easiest and coolest instruments to learn, it seems only fitting that I introduce you to the most challenging ones too. Some of them you probably don’t know and others you’ll recognize but have no idea they’re not as easy as they seem.

Sit back, relax, and learn about which instruments you should probably put off learning for later until you have some musical experience and knowledge. In no particular order, here are the instruments you’ll likely struggle with the most.

Piano

Here, we’re going to be talking about an actual acoustic piano and not keyboards, a digital piano, or anything like that. Learning to play an acoustic piano involves developing upper body and lower body independence and coordination, much like in the case of acoustic drums.

Not only do you have to use most of your body to play the piano, but you’ll also have to learn to rely on your sense more than your eyes, given the width of the instrument and the two rows of keys.

Another thing you probably don’t know is that while most instruments have music written on a single bar line, piano music is written on two bar lines. That’s a lot of information to follow and process, especially given the soloist nature of the piano as an instrument.

Accordion

You may not be thrilled with the unique sound of an accordion. But if you think for a second that this instrument is easy to learn or play, then you have another thing coming.

Playing the accordion is like a combination of playing the piano, bagpipes, a sax, and a keytar. You need to use both hands independently from each other, learn how to apply the correct pressure to the bellows – the middle component that pushes the air through the instrument.

You may have noticed that accordions come with plenty of keys and buttons. Professional instruments have a lot more than you’ve probably seen in a cheesy or parody music video.

To top it all off, finding accordion instructors, a new and affordable instrument – it’s not going to be easy. Besides, with its limited use in modern music, it can be difficult even to find the necessary drive and motivation to learn the instrument.

Acoustic Drums

Not many people appreciate the drummers as much as they should. Drums are often considered simple to play due to how many popular songs use very simple beats. But did you even watch Whiplash? Now, if that movie doesn’t paint an accurate picture of how difficult it is to learn and master drums, then I don’t know what does.

Keep in mind, that even without having to deal with complex odd time signatures and polyrhythms, learning to coordinate both legs and hands to maintain even a simple beat is quite difficult, especially if your weak hand is really weak.

Independent coordination is only the beginning, of course. Learning a basic 4/4 beat doesn’t mean you know how to play drums. Dealing with different tempos, being able to maintain the pace even though other band members may be going off the rails, that’s drumming.

And to top it all off, drums have sheet music too. So, good luck with learning that. It won’t be nearly as easy as learning the notes on the fretboard of a ukulele.

Harp

For such an angelic-sounding instrument, the harp is a serious pain to learn and master. It’s all about hand and feet coordination because guess what? – Harps have pedals too.

Harps have a lot more strings than any other string instrument, so there’s a lot of ground to cover. Another thing that’s going to be difficult is learning by feel and ear where to position your fingers to get the correct notes.

There’s a lot more muscle memory involved in playing harp than guitar, violin, piano, and perhaps any other similar instrument. Of course, the high price tag and difficulty to find reputable teachers is not going to help either. To say that the journey will be long would be an understatement.

Bagpipes

Even if you’re a non-smoker, you run track, and you free dive in your spare time, playing the bagpipes won’t come easy.

It’s a very difficult instrument to learn because it’s not something you find at your local music store, and it’s extremely loud. Finding a good practice spot will be hard and will slow down your learning process.

Besides the availability and practicality issues, bagpipes require a unique type of breathing technique and control. Switching to bagpipes after playing a flue, harmonica, or oboe won’t act as a shortcut to achieving greatness.

And, bagpipes are not just about breathing. That’s hard enough as it is on its own. But you’ll also have to coordinate with your hand, apply pressure, while at the same time putting your fingers on various keyholes to get the right sounds.

Organ

One of the most iconic instruments is also one of the most complex ones. The organ is perhaps most recognizable for its ability to produce both the loudest and lowest sounds, as well as the faintest sounds.

But what makes it so difficult to learn? First of all, the organs are massive. If you have small hands and poor upper body to lower body coordination, you’ll struggle a lot.

Because it’s so big, the organ is also divided into different sections. Each of these sections or divisions pretty much acts like a separate keyboard if you will. That means that the note range is massive, and just learning the notes will take you a long time.

Playing it gets even harder when you consider that unlike the piano, you can’t let your fingers off the keys. If you put your fingers on hold, so to speak, the organ will stop making the sound. And, if it wasn’t complicated enough, there’s also the pedal component to take into account.

Violin

The violin is one of the most pretentious instruments ever made. It’s often the star of most symphony concerts and for a good reason. It sounds amazing in the right hands. But, for an instrument with just four strings, it’s notoriously difficult to learn and play.

Violin is all about subtlety and conviction. You need to be very smooth yet highly determined. Your fingertip precision needs to be perfect every time, and the movement and pressure of the bow give it a unique play style that’s unlike more popular string instruments.

To make matters worse, violin parts are highly complex, and sometimes they take years to master even for experienced musicians.

French Horn

A lot of brass instruments can be considered difficult to learn. However, few of them are as hard and frustrating to learn even at a beginner or intermediate level as the French Horn.

This instrument requires two things most of all – highly accurate lip positioning and an excellent breathing technique. Of course, neither is going to be easy to learn.

It’s also a very heavy instrument, so holding it with a correct posture won’t be easy, either. If you don’t have the strength for it, it’s probably an instrument you’ll never going to be able to learn.

Reading the sheet music is also a challenge in and of itself. Just think that the instrument is big, it has to be near your lips at all times, and it blocks most of everything in front of you. You’ll have to adjust to reading to your side.

To round things off, you also need to use your fingers. With your fingers, you’ll play the keys which are in the middle section of the instrument.

Oboe

The oboe is not the most popular instrument in the world. However, it has a distinct sound among woodwind instruments and requires a lot of talent and practice to learn and play properly.

The first difficult thing to deal with is the almost never-ending string of keys to press. If you have short hands, this will pose an even greater challenge.

Another aspect of playing the oboe is developing proper breathing techniques. Furthermore, breathing won’t be enough if you can’t also manage a proper lip, tongue, and mouth coordination along with your key pressing.

Getting the correct sounds with an oboe is most difficult. If you can’t decide between it and the flute, I’d suggest starting with the flute any day.

Is Picking a Harder Instrument More Rewarding?

Not always, in my opinion. As you can see, some of the instruments on this list are not head-turners or crowd-pleasers, by any means. Some are just niche instruments that are very difficult to play.

If you were to pick the violin or the piano as your first instrument and try to master either, then sure. Perhaps at the end of your journey, the sense of fulfillment will be greater than if you were to pick a ukulele or a mandolin.

Just know that it may take you twice as much to learn one of these instruments than any other one. If you think it will be worth the wait, then, by all means, good luck to you.

Gavin Whitner

About Gavin Whitner

A guitar player, songwriter, composer, and also the lead editor of MusicOomph, Gavin is one of the four musician friends behind this site. Outside of music, he's an avid sports fan and hardly misses anything from football (soccer) to F1.

4 thoughts on “9 Hardest Instruments to Play & Learn – The Difficult Ones”

  1. Hi, So I happened on you post while looking for something else and I have to agree with the other poster that playing the piano is rather intuitive, and that even classical organ and the harp are not too much of a challenge to reach an intermediate stage. What needs to be on this list is carillon, which is played using both hands, fingers, and both feet. Instead of keys on a carillon, there are two rows of batons for hands (most playing is done by striking a baton with the side of your hand in a fist) and fingers are used for more complicated movements. The row of pedals for the feet are configured similarly to a classical pipe organ’s pedals. Music for carillon is written differently from any other instrument. Whole systems of symbols are unique to carillon music. With the carillon, a note cannot be held regardless of the length of sound desired (as the length of sound produced depends on how the baton/pedal is struck). It takes many years to become adept at playing a particular carillon instrument, to be able to create the wide range of musical quality that is much easier with a piano. Each and every carillon instrument has its own unique sound, based on when it was made, who made it, the quality of the bells attached to the carillon, etc. As someone who plays carillon concerts weekly, has an extensive background in (competitive) piano, classical organ, bassoon (also not mentionned), flute, and dulcimer, the piano is definitely not the most difficult, nor would I even include it in your list. Oboe is the same as flute for fingering complexity and somewhat similar for breath, whereas a bassoon is extremely difficult to play because of its size/weight, unique double reed (also the same as oboe), breathing requirements (similar to bagpipes), and having hands large enough to accomplish the fingering key configuration. Susan

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  2. I’m not sure you have a realistic grasp on what makes one instrument more difficult than another.
    The piano is by far the simplest to dive into due to the intuitive layout and the fact that tuning and tone are done by the instrument. The harp is also quite a bit easier than you might think, I believe they only have 7 notes to an octave as opposed to the 13 semi tones on a piano. These are tuned to the key signature at the beginning of the piece, unless you have a peddle harp that adjusts semitones with the peddles. The organ is similar in difficulty to a piano. The French horn and oboe are notoriously difficult because they really do require a lot of precision to play well. The violin is unique in this list as it is the only instrument that only has 4 notes already in tune, so the player has to make sure every note is in tune, as well as bowing correctly to produce good tone.
    Obviously all instruments are difficult to master, but as far as reaching intermediate levels the piano, organ, and harp are some of the easiest. The French horn, violin and oboe will take significant longer to be able to play anything that sounds good in, as the tone has everything to do with the player’s experience.

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    • I have been playing the flute for 4 years and I am learning the piano now. I wanted to add another instrument to learn. Everyone is saying that’s too much to handle and yes the flute does have a lot of different notes with keys. It is hard to learn at first but that’s not why it is a hard instrument to learn. It is very hard to learn how to blow into the flute. I was one of those people when the instrument came to my house I tried to play it straight away. It did not go very well so I went on youtube to learn before I take lessons. You have to learn how to blow the air a certain way in the flute. I don’t know how hard it is to play other instruments but the flute is harder than the piano is thats all I know.

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