15 Of The Hardest Musical Instruments That You Could Learn

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

You may think playing a musical instrument is easy, but it’s actually not as simple as you might think. There are over 100 different instruments in the world and each one has its own set of difficulties to learn. If you’re looking for a challenge and want to see just how hard some musical instruments can be, then this list might be what you need!

This blog post will show you 15 of the hardest musical instruments to learn and why they’re so difficult.

1. Pipe Organ

Perhaps the most difficult instrument to learn is the Pipe Organ. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is the number of keyboards that must be played at any given time.

With a normal piano, the musician only needs to focus on one keyboard. However, an organist has multiple keyboards stacked on top of each other.

Each one can create a different tone or octave, meaning one hand might be playing on one keyboard while another hand may be playing on a different one.

The craziest part is that organists must also play with their feet. But this isn’t just pushing normal piano pedals, there is an actual keyboard under the feet of the organ player. This means an organist may be playing three different keyboards at once!

2. Bassoon

Another very difficult instrument to play is the Bassoon which is often cited as the most difficult orchestral wind instrument to learn.

Its difficulty mainly comes down to the fact that it is a type of double reed instrument which are notoriously temperamental.

The bassoon generally creates a loud sound that cuts through other instruments. However, when a piece of music calls for a quiet bassoon line, things can get very difficult for the player. Due to the way the musician blows on the double reed, lowering the volume takes a lot of skill.

The bassoon also requires that the musician uses all ten fingers while playing. The combination of blowing techniques and finger placement makes the bassoon incredibly difficult to learn. 

3. Cello

Next on our list of difficult instruments, we have the Cello which is one of the most popular string instruments that people want to learn. However, learning the cello and becoming proficient can be incredibly difficult.

When playing the cello, the instrument is propped up on a thin stand and the musician must use their own muscle strength to hold it upright.

This can get exhausting, especially while using one hand to hold the bow and the other hand to move around the fretless neck.

The fact that the notes on the cello are far away from each other means that the fingers need to stretch, which can cause people with smaller hands significant difficulty.

4. Oboe

The Oboe is a reed instrument that requires a very precise mouth position. It is said that mastering the controlled breathing required to learn the oboe may be one of the most difficult aspects of any wind instrument.

Like the bassoon, it also uses a double reed to create a sound so it comes with all the difficulties involved with not only playing but also building and maintaining the reeds.

Another thing that makes it hard is that the air that is being blown through the instrument needs to be constant and at the same pressure, otherwise, things get thrown off.

Along with the complicated breathing techniques, the oboe also requires a new learner to memorize the position and combinations of 45 keys. 

5. Nyckelharpa

Next, we have something quite different, the Swedish and Norwegian instrument, the Nyckelharpa is a less known instrument but may be one of the most difficult stringed instruments to learn to play.

There are lots of variations but mostnyckelharpas have 3 or 4 strings that are played with a bow and up to 12 strings that aren’t played called the resonance strings.

The musician then bows the strings and changes their pitches with a series of different keys. The keys are located on the underside of the neck of the nyckelharpa, making them difficult to see.

Learning the nyckelharpa is like putting the violin, guitar, and piano all into one instrument. 

6. Harp

Another tricky instrument to learn is the Harp. A harp player needs a lot of dexterity in their fingers to ensure that each string is plucked at the right time making it a technically difficult instrument to play.

Not only do you have to memorize what note each string is which is difficult enough, but a modern concert harp typically has 47 strings and 7 pedals which when pressed change the pitches of the notes depending on the combinations of pedals that are pressed.

And don’t forget this is all happening on a very large instrument that is difficult to take back and forth between lessons, concerts, and practice spaces.

7. Bagpipes

Certainly one of the contenders of the most annoying instruments, the Bagpipes require skill, patience, and dedication to learn.

The musician must have strong lungs and master the breathing technique that allows the bagpipe to produce continuous notes.

On top of that, there is also a balance between the amount of air being blown into the bag and being released from the bag that also must be learned.

This all needs to happen before someone can begin learning how to play notes on the bagpipes making it a very difficult instrument to play let alone master.

8. French Horn

Any musician learning the French Horn must first master the correct embouchure, or mouth position, to even begin playing the instrument.

French horn players buzz their lips perfectly to produce just the right sound, but this is where things get tricky. The valve positions on the French horn differ from other wind instruments.

There are also many different combinations of valves that can be pressed to create notes. This means the learner not only needs to memorize where each valve is but what note they produced when pushed down together. 

On top of all that, the hornist can also change the pitch of notes by where they place their hand inside the bell of the horn. Put all that together and you’ve got a recipe for a tough instrument to learn.

9. Drum Set

For those of you who aren’t so good at multitasking, the Drums Set is going to be a very demanding instrument to try to play. This is mainly due to having to use all four of your limbs to play it.

Your feet control two pedals that play the bass drum and the high hat symbol and then your two hands play the different drums and cymbals set out in front of you. No other instrument requires musicians to use both feet and both arms simultaneously to the extent the drums do.

To learn the drums, someone must have good coordination and peripheral vision as the drums and cymbals are placed all around the musician.

There’s also the amount of stamina required. There’s no getting around the fact that a drum set is an incredibly physical instrument that can mean it’s a very tiring instrument to play, especially at faster tempos.

10. Accordion

There are many different types of Accordions but they are all extremely difficult to learn. Like many of the instruments on this list, there’s a lot of different multi-taking required to play anything decent sounding.

First of all, you’ve got the keyboard played with your right hand. This is like a typical keyboard instrument so requires all the dexterity of playing the piano. Couple that with the fact you can’t actually see it and you’ve got something reasonably difficult.

Then add in the left hand which plays different buttons for the chords. Again you can’t see the notes so it’s all done through feel again, increasing the difficulty.

But, the accordion only produces sound through the opening and closing of the bellows to force air through the reeds which creates the sound.

This means you have to constantly have your arms in motion and mastering how to move the bellows and keep everything in sync is incredibly difficult. It is not as simple as just opening and closing the instrument.

11. Trumpet

Another brass instrument that can be difficult is theTrumpet.

Like the French Horn, the musician needs to have the correct mouth placement on top of pressing the right valves for the desired note. Someone learning the trumpet must spend hours practicing buzzing their lips in the right way.

On top of that, finding the correct positioning of the lips on the mouthpiece – known as embouchure – can take years to become proficient at. Then the musician needs to master the fingering of the valves and put everything together making the trumpet a particularly hard musical instrument to learn.

12. Piano

The Piano may be one of the most common first instruments to learn, but to get good at it can be very difficult.

Most instruments only have music written on one staff, this means they can only play one note at a time.

However, piano music is written using a double staff, which means the learner needs to keep track of two sets of notes at the same time.

They also have to play multiple notes with each hand and so sight-reading piano music can be incredibly hard!

This makes the piano one of the hardest instruments to master.

13. Violin

Another popular instrument but that can be hard is the Violin. There are a number of different things that make it tricky like the fact that there are not frets to know which note is which meaning you’ll have to memorize where each note is on the fingerboard.

But, this also means that if you’re even the slightest bit out, you’ll be playing the wrong note due to the fact that the notes are not spaced very far apart. This means playing in tune on the violin is something that requires hours and hours of practice.

But there are other problems with learning the violin as well, such as how to hold the instrument correctly. It must be tucked under the chin and held there while both hands are used to produce notes.

Plus, if the bow is not pressed with just the right amount of force, the violin squeals. It can be frustrating for a new player to keep track of finger placement, bow pressure, and the position of the instrument all at the same time.

14. Double Bass

Speaking from experience, the Double Bass is a very large instrument. This means learning from a young age can be challenging.

Unfortunately, the best time to learn an instrument is as a child while the brain is developing. That’s not to say someone can’t learn a new instrument at any point in their life—it is just harder.

Unlike the violin where the notes are very close together, the double bass has a very long neck meaning that the notes are a lot further apart which can make playing the right one difficult. This is especially true because, like other orchestral string instruments, its neck has no frets for guidance.

It also doesn’t help that the double bass’s thick strings are punishing on the fingers, meaning this isn’t just a hard instrument to learn, but a painful one as well!

15. Piccolo

And finally, one of the smallest musical instruments, the Piccolo is much smaller than the double bass but comes with a whole separate set of difficulties.

It can be one of the loudest instruments in the orchestra, meaning that mistakes can often be obvious.

Another aspect that makes this instrument so difficult to learn is the breathing technique. Due to its size, air must be blown faster over the mouthpiece of a piccolo to create sound than other wind instruments.

This means that lung capacity comes into play and a musician must work hard to blow air while simultaneously moving their fingers across the tiny keys.

Summary up our List of Difficult Musical Instruments to Learn

Just because an instrument is difficult to learn does not mean it can’t be done.

The instruments on this list take time and practice to master, but with enough dedication, it can be done.

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.