Is it musically different to learn piano than guitar?

I came across a fascinating article from this website teaching piano online discussing whether it was easier for pianists to learn guitar than guitarists to learn piano recently. It got me thinking, is there a fundamental difference playing the two instruments in terms of chord patterns, harmonies, etc.?

I used to play piano/keyboard when I was younger and considered picking up the guitar but wonder if what I learned will help me or hinder me when looking to become a Mariachi.


Reported for forum change …

My mother told me that music theory was easier learned on the piano … who’s gonna argue with her?

Moving thread to Café Society.

samclem, moderator

I learned piano first. You’re fine. :slight_smile:

I think the biggest challenge for those who learn guitar first is that often they haven’t really learned to read music. Because most piano repertoire and pedagogy relies heavily/exclusively on notation, this puts a lot of players in a position of having to learn to read notation at the same time as they’re learning an instrument. This is, of course, how it works for most people whose first instrument is piano, but it can put students who already have a degree of skill on guitar in a position where their reading skills become a major bottleneck for advancement.

Which is all good. But it’s good to be aware that there are two seperate things you’ll be learning. How to play piano, and how to read music. And, your ability in those two areas will likely not be at the same level when you begin.

The layout of a keyboard makes an excellent visual for the chromatic scale. It can be very helpful for keeping track of accidentals. Thus anyone who understands piano has a bit of a head start on learning some of the details of any other instrument. The reverse is often not the case.

Other than that, I’d say it’s apples and oranges. Keyboards and fretboards present fundamental differences in how chords are laid out and in the mechanics of playing both notes and chords. Also, a number of guitar players learn chord formations and picking patterns without knowing or even caring about the names of the notes they’re playing.

A pianist may understand a few things applicable to guitar more readily than a guitarist would understand things on a piano, but in terms of learning to play the instrument I don’t know that either has an advantage over the other.

ETA: What you learned previously almost certainly won’t hinder you. It’s likely to help to some degree, but probably not to a large degree.

On a piano, there’s a one-to-one correspondence between the keys you hit and the notes you play, which probably makes it easier to learn about, or at least to visualize, the music.

Recent thread: What’s harder: guitar or piano? And how hard to move from guitar to Piano?

There’s a similar effect among the woodwinds. If you learn the fantastically complicated clarinet first, you can pick up saxophone, oboe, bassoon, or flute in almost no time. (Obviously, it takes years to become a virtuoso, but you can become more or less adequate in a week.)

Really? I thought I read somewhere that the bassoon’s key system made it the most complicated of all woodwinds to learn. I’m not a bassoonist, though (and I could only play a grand total of three notes on a clarinet almost 30 years ago…)

Hmm, I have a problem with differentiating between musically and physically in this context. They are very different instruments in how you physically manage them.

I can play guitar well enough that people I don’t know sometimes compliment me on it without me fishing for it. I’ve owned keyboards (currently only a reed organ), but the separation of left/right hands playing related but separate parts is very different from playing any instrument I’ve tried besides a drum kit. With most instruments, both hands are creating one part of the musical piece. piano is often creating two parts that interlock. So, I’d say that learning them is very different. Guitar is relatively easy in comparison to piano. If you’re planning to start with the piano, it will not hurt you. If you plan to start with the guitar, it won’t hurt either, but it won’t prepare you for managing an instrument like a piano.

Hearing my son alternate between guitar and piano while working on the same song, I will say this:

  • If you can Juggle (or think your brain and hands are a fit for juggling), or can Type like a badass ;), then favor piano.
  • If you can use a chef’s knife well, or know what it takes to swing a bat or throw a baseball well, then favor guitar.

When he blocks out a song on piano, he gets a melody, main chord, Right Hand thing going. When that is fine, he adds a single-key, plonky bass note under each chord with his Left. Once he sees how he wants to lock those two together - where and when does he hit each bass key - he starts experimenting with different types and layers of complexity. Should the bass hand toggle on octave keys, or arpeggio the notes of the full chords that sit underneath what the right hand is doing, etc. He’s basically practicing juggling or typing - organizing and training his brain to do that interlocking type of stuff, and gaining muscle memory for it.

With guitar, you are dealing with fine-motor-skills motions with precision and fluidity. Catching the ball, transferring it smoothly from glove to throwing hand and whipping it with accuracy and force is intricate muscle-memory stuff - focused on execution of the Whole System in an integrated way.

So is playing Dust in the Wind :wink:

Hope that helps.

To strike a balance between chromatic learning and chordal/progression learning, everyone should start with an accordion.

The notes in the various positions on the guitar neck vary in combination of positions as you move up in octaves. They do repeat at some point.

A piano has a single note at a given octave, on one key. A guitar and other stringed instruments may have that note and octave in several positions. This presents more complexity in learning all those positions of the notes and octaves. But also allows some flexibility in playing them physically.

Where does a slide whistle fit in?

A slide whistle also has one frequency ( note ) at a particular position.

But it is more easily amusing.

I wonder if anyone ever created a reed, slide whistle. Or a slide whistle with a brass instrument type mouth piece?

It might make for even more amusing sounds. And someday a symphony orchestra seat?


The trombone. Brass section slide whistle.

Next to the triangle, and in front of the bass jug.

Never mind… Rethought it.