How to Learn to Play an Instrument

Three Parts:Choosing an InstrumentLearning FundamentalsMaking Music

Learning to play an instrument the right way can be one of the most satisfying and exciting ways to spend your free time. With the right dedication and training, you can learn to play any style of sound, any kind of instrument, and start speaking the language of music. Pick an instrument from the suggestions offered below, learn to play with the correct fundamentals, and start making music.

Part 1
Choosing an Instrument

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    Experiment with many instruments before committing to one. Deciding to start learning to play an instrument can be as simple as picking one up at a store or a friend's house and making a few notes. You might not be making music yet, but try to get your hands on an instrument and get a feel for it in your hands before committing to buy one or signing up for lessons. a
    • Typically, if you want to sign up for band or orchestra at your school, call-outs are regularly held during which the directors allow you to experiment with instruments and select one. Go to one of these call-outs and check out all the different kinds of instruments.
    • Most instrument stores are excited to share their instruments with you and let you give them a shot. They might even be able to show you a few things.
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    Try out the classic piano. One of the most common instruments to start out on, used in many different styles and regions, is the piano. From children to adults, the piano is an extraordinarily popular instrument to play and learn. Because you can actually see the notes in front of you, the piano is also a good instrument to build your knowledge of how music works, and your music-reading. Once you've learned the piano, you can also specialize in:
    • Organ
    • Accordion
    • Synthesizer
    • Harpsichord
    • Harmonium.
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    Think about rocking out on guitar. Other than the piano, the most popular instrument from Hank to Hendrix is the guitar. Technically a classical stringed instrument, the popular electric guitar put the instrument into pop culture like no other instrument. It's fun for rock and roll, jazz, and almost any kind of music. Guitar also provides a good foundation for different kinds of folk or rock instruments:
    • Bass guitar
    • Mandolin
    • Banjo
    • Harp
    • Dulcimer.
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    Consider orchestral stringed instruments. If you want to play in an orchestra, a string quartet, or have a particular interest in classical music, a stringed instrument might be right for you.[1] These instruments are also commonly used for folk music and other acoustic sounds. You might consider the following instruments:
    • Violin
    • Viola
    • Cello
    • Double bass (also known as the upright bass).
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    Try your hand at the brass family. Brass instruments are so-called because they are traditionally extremely long metal tubes, bent in intricate patterns, featuring valves or keys to change the pitch, and made entirely of brass. Now they're generally made of different metals, but still work by vibrating your lips inside a metal mouthpiece. They're used in concert bands, jazz, marching bands, and many other types of music. Brass instruments include:
    • Trumpet
    • Trombone
    • Tuba
    • French horn
    • Baritone
    • Sousaphone.
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    Check out the woodwinds. Like brass instruments, woodwinds are played with the power of the breath. While brass instruments use mouthpieces to blow through and vibrate your lips, however, woodwinds use reeds that vibrate themselves when you blow over them. They're made of many different combinations of metals, woods, and reeds, and no orchestra or jazz combo is complete without them. Woodwind instruments include:
    • Flute, piccolo, or fife
    • Saxophone
    • Clarinet
    • Oboe
    • Bassoon
    • Harmonica.
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    Bang on some percussion. Holding down the bottom-end of most music groups are the percussionists. In rock bands and jazz combos, the drummer typically plays a drum kit, made of several drums organized at once to play simultaneously with sticks and pedals. In orchestras and concert bands, percussionists perform a quite large variety of instruments that are played by striking them with hands, mallets, or sticks. Percussion instruments include:
    • The drum set
    • vibraphone, Marimba, and xylophone
    • Glockenspiel
    • bells and Cymbals
    • Congas and bongos
    • Tympani
    • Woodblocks, cowbells, and triangles.
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    Consider other varieties of instrument. There are literally thousands of instruments you could take up and hundreds of teachers who offer lessons. Explore the world of music and listen for things you like and you might enjoy playing. Some difficult-to-categorize instruments:
    • Harmonica
    • Djembe
    • Concertina
    • Bagpipes
    • Singing bowls
    • Ukulele
    • Mbira
    • Sitar.

Part 2
Learning Fundamentals

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    Get the correct size of instrument. You want to make sure you end up with both an instrument that works for your size and your hands, as well as an appropriate size of that instrument for you. Long and slender fingers are desirable for string instruments, while some brass instruments are somewhat heavy and require the strength and lung-capacity necessary to play them.
    • Some instruments, like violin and guitar, are available in lots of different sizes that can be customizable for your abilities and your size. Child-sizes are common. Look into your options, and get something in your budget that feels comfortable. Talk to the employees at the instrument store to get a sense of appropriate sizes and models.
    • Some band directors try to steer people away from particular instruments like trumpet or saxophone because they're very popular. Pursue the instrument you want to play. There are one-handed guitarists and petite tuba players.
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    Learn to hold and tune your instrument properly. You can very quickly develop bad habits by playing your instrument without the right posture, or by playing it out of tune. You need to develop the proper technique with your particular instrument, holding it, sitting right, and blowing or striking the strings in the correct position.
    • Have your band director, teacher, or music store employee to give you a tutorial on the proper technique for your instrument. If you don't have access to teachers, videos and diagrams online are excellent resources for technique.
    • Spend time tuning every time you sit down to play. Even unexpected instruments like the trombone need tuned, or you'll develop the wrong positioning on the slide when you're trying to hit the notes.
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    Learn to read music notation. Though it can be a bit like learning a new language, learning how to read music will expand your musical horizons considerably. You can learn any song just by looking at the sheet music, noting the melody, the rhythm, and even the feeling of the music in the page directions. It's an invaluable tool for students of any instrument.
    • Make sure you learn to read bass clef if you're learning bass guitar or low brass instruments like trombone, baritone, and tuba.
    • Learn and practice playing scales. On all instruments, playing scales will help you improve faster technically and help you become more familiar with the correct notes, building your muscle memory toward them.
    • As you progress, consider learning a little theory. Knowledge of simple chords and scales will broaden your musical imagination, you can do a great deal with a just a little. Ask a friend to show you, or find an online resource. Learn these basic structures at a comfortable pace, and you'll soon be tackling more advanced ideas.
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    Practice constantly. The difference between learning an instrument and giving it up is practice. Develop a practice routine and commit to it. Practice at least 30 minutes a day, every day, to develop the right consistent habits and learn to play the instrument like it deserves to be played. [2]
    • Consider taking private lessons. Instructional books and YouTube videos can only take you so far, especially with instruments like the violin or wind instruments. Suzuki method classes spend a great deal of time (sometimes years) playing on fake violin-shaped instruments to get the correct bowing technique. Having one-on-one attention is invaluable when you're trying to learn an instrument.
    • Make it easy to practice. Find a nice place in the house for your instrument. Store it where you spend your leisure time, or someplace where you're going to see it often during your day. The more accessible your instrument, the more you will pick it up and play it. Eventually you'll be picking it up every free minute you have.
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    Get rhythm. It's very important to always practice playing in time. One of the signs of a novice player is that they often will play the notes as quickly as they are able, rather than playing them appropriately. When you learn the difference between playing in 4/4 time and waltz, when you learn the difference between quarter notes and whole notes, these things will be more clear, but it's critical to play according to the rhythm of the song that you're learning to play. Even if you're practicing scales, play in time.
    • Find a beat off of which to work: there are free metronomes online. A ticking clock or the radio will function well for you too.
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    Take care of your instrument. It's no fun to play a trombone with a sticky slide, a sax with old reeds, or a guitar with gnarly green strings. Learn how to take care of your instrument, taking the time to clean, maintain, and respect it for the piece of art that it is. You won't develop bad habits in your technique and you'll get more life out of your instrument, not to mention a cleaner and more true sound. Take a few minutes before and after every practice session to take care of your instrument and do it right.

Part 3
Making Music

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    Join a band. If you're in school, consider joining the orchestra or the concert band to take advantage of the lessons and the training that it has to offer. Even if your eventual goal is to become a rock drummer, the fundamentals offered in school band are quite valuable, not to mention that you have access to the school's instrumental resources, practice spaces, and teachers. They're usually sympathetic to your music goals, as well. Sign up!
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    Start your own band. If you're trying to learn an instrument on your own, start playing with other people to learn as much as you can about playing in a group, playing with the right technique, and developing good habits. Aside from all you'll learn, it's also a whole lot more fun than playing scales in your bedroom. Try meeting other players at:
    • Music festivals
    • Open-mic nights
    • Fiddlers' jams
    • Guitar shops.
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    Play the music passionately. Music is more than notes. No matter how boring a piece, even if it's like a nursery rhyme or a march, learn to inject feeling into the music and play it with your heart and soul. If you're finding this hard, imagine you're telling a story with the music and actually say an appropriate story in your head. Really listen to the music that you're playing and learn to give it color and character. Make it come alive.
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    Improvise. Learning to play on the fly will make you a better all-around player. One part scales and one part creativity, playing extemporaneously means that you're learning the "language" of music. You're one step closer to speaking it fluently.
    • Start sight-reading sheet music when you get comfortable with your instrument. Rather than playing the Darth Vader theme one more time on your tuba, try learning something else and seeing if you can play it right the first time. Stick with it until you've got it just as much as the Imperial March.
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    Commit to the long haul. Learning to play an instrument takes years of practice. It won't happen overnight. If you want to be good, commit to your instrument. Jimi Hendrix used to sleep with his guitar and some expert players are even buried with their horns, violas, and drumsticks. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, a Hindustani classical musician, once famously said: "If you practice for ten years, you may begin to please yourself. After 20 years, you may become a performer and please the audience. After 30 years, you may please even your guru, but you must practice for many more years before you finally become a true artist—then you may please even God."


  • If you get frustrated, loosen up. Even as a more proficient musician, sometimes it's just better to close your eyes and play.
  • If you really want something, go for it. So why hinder this tip?
  • The way music is brought to life is through play, just as learning is brought to children through play; the joy of music is in the freedom to play. Don't put too much pressure on yourself, especially in the beginning.
  • When buying an instrument make sure that you play it first, and that it's of a high enough quality and easy to play. Cheaper instruments not only sound worse, but they're harder to play and you're not going to want force yourself through the inadequacies of the instrument. Compare your instrument to other contenders in every price range to find what you like or don't like about each one. Then buy something simple that you find pleasant.
  • Cherish your early stages in music making. There is an "innocence" in every musician's first stages that is lost as they continue learning. Some accomplished musicians spend their whole lives trying to make music this way.
  • Practice by playing the scale do that till you get that hang of it then work on some songs and new notes.
  • Determine what type of music you like. If you are into one of the following types of music consider selecting one of the instruments next to it:
    • classical - violin, flute, or even cello;
    • r&b or soul - acoustic guitar;
    • rock - electric guitar, bass, or drums;
    • jazz - saxophone or stand up bass;
    • Irish or Scottish - fiddle, bagpipes, acoustic guitar (mostly as accompaniment), stand up bass;
    • bluegrass - fiddle, stand up bass, mountain dulcimer
    • a piano or guitar would probably fit in most of the categories above.
  • Get friends to play too. Playing an instrument is fun but is better with friends.
  • Many schools offer renting opportunities so you don't have to buy an instrument right away. Also, lots of schools can assist with rentals for families with financial difficulties.


  • Don't play when you don't want to play. A piano is not "worked", it is played. There is nothing wrong with putting your instrument down to "rest" for a while. Often time away is necessary for the arrival of new ideas and the abandoning of old habits in your music.
  • Don't force yourself; you can't become good overnight. Only by continued playing are you going to improve your skills.
  • Ignore stereotypes. Just because you are in band or orchestra or some type of music group doesn't automatically make you a nerd.

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Categories: Musical Instruments