17 Reasons Guitar is Harder than Piano (for Beginners)

There’s no question that piano and guitar are both daunting instruments to learn. But which is harder to tackle as a beginner?

Generally speaking, guitar is harder to learn than piano for beginners. For example, there are 50 more notes on a guitar fretboard than on a piano. Plus, the guitar requires different techniques for each hand, whereas piano keys are played similarly with both hands. Guitars also require more frequent tuning.

I actually have a pretty strong opinion on this, so let’s jump deeper into my list of reasons that guitar is harder than piano:

1. Each Hand Performs a Different Action

While piano requires each hand to play different notes and keep separate rhythms, at least the act of hitting the notes remains the same. 

Guitar is a little more complicated. One hand needs to keep time while strumming, while the other stays busy moving from note to note or chord to chord. Not only are these actions very different, but they need to be timed just right or the notes won’t ring out. 

Both hands need to learn separate techniques in order to perform their tasks, and then need to learn to work together in perfect harmony to produce great music.

2. You Can’t See Both Hands at the Same Time

When you’re just learning to play piano or guitar, it helps a great deal to be able to look at your hands to see what they’re doing. Sure, as you get better you want to get to the point of being able to play by feel alone, but that comes later: after all, we’re just getting started!

If you choose piano, both hands will be in sight at the same time, so you can take a quick glance to orient yourself and make sure you’re covering the right keys. With guitar, it’s not so easy. Your hands are too far apart and too close to your body to be seen at the same time.

Since one hand will be desperately trying to keep hold of the pick while the other is fumbling along the fretboard, it would be nice to be able to keep an eye on both…but that just isn’t possible. You’ll have to focus on learning fret hand and pick hand techniques separately at first, which slows down the learning process compared to piano.  

3. Learning to Use a Pick

While finger picking is a popular technique with some music genres, all guitarists should learn how to use a pick. But even just properly holding a pick can take some time to learn for a beginner, let alone strumming properly. 

Without proper picking technique, you’re going to find it very difficult to learn almost anything else. In essence, the pick is the gatekeeper that must be learned before conquering any other playing skills.

4. Learning to Fret Notes

Properly fretting a note is a bit more complicated than pressing a piano key. If you don’t apply enough pressure or don’t have your finger in quite the right spot, the note won’t ring out. 

Even if your picking technique is solid, a finger in the wrong spot could mute the note you’re trying to play, and it could also mute adjacent strings and sabotage your seamless transition to other notes.

5. Learning to Fret Chords

Think fretting a single note is a challenge? Try fretting multiple notes at a time to form a chord properly. 

Chords present an extra challenge. They require significant dexterity to either spread your fingers across the fretboard or pack them in tightly together while only covering the notes you want and none of the ones you don’t. 

There’s a lot that can go wrong when playing a single chord, and even more when transitioning from chord to chord. You’ll need to get your fingers into some pretty weird positions sometimes, and this can be very tricky.

6. Guitar Requires Unique Finger Dexterity

Speaking of finger dexterity, while piano certainly requires a good deal of hand strength and mobility, the positions you’ll find your fingers in while playing guitar can be much more complex. 

Piano keys are lined up in a single row, while the guitar stacks six rows of notes on top of each other. This significantly increases the difficulty of reaching various notes. Sometimes your fingers will be stretched to their limit to reach a note, while other times they’ll be so closely squished together that they’ll seemingly get in each other’s way. 

7. There are Many Challenging Playing Techniques

Piano certainly has its fair share of difficult techniques, but so does the guitar. And since you’ll need your hands to perform different tasks for each of those techniques, this presents an extra challenge.

Alternate picking, hammer ons and pull offs, palm muting, finger slides, string bends…these are just a few of the myriad techniques that will elevate you beyond beginner status. But they all take time, and a lot of practice. 

Not to take anything away from piano, which is absolutely a difficult instrument to master, but the range of tasks you’ll need to teach your hands to perform on guitar is just greater. 

If these techniques are giving you trouble, check out our previous article for some tips to help you nail them! 

8. A Guitar Has More Notes

A standard piano has 88 keys. A typical guitar has six strings with 22 frets per string which, including open string notes, means there are a possible 138 notes to play. That’s 50 additional notes to learn. Not an easy feat!

9. A Guitar Has More Chords

Since a guitar has more notes than a piano, it will also have more chord possibilities. In fact, if you set the goal of learning a new chord everyday, you’d keep yourself busy for quite a few years (remembering and memorizing them…now that’s a different story). 

What’s more, there are often different ways to play the same or similar chord around the fretboard. This can sometimes make things easier on a new player: don’t have the dexterity yet for a certain tricky chord? Try turning it into a power chord instead, where you just play the root and 5th note. 

But in general, a lot of chords means a lot of memorization, and this can quickly get overwhelming. Guitar experts struggle with this too: look at your favorite band’s music, and you’ll see the same chords pop up regularly in many of their songs. Remembering thousands of chords is hard, even for the pros!

10. Notes on a Guitar are Harder to Find and Memorize

All of a piano’s 88 keys are in a single row. These keys represent 12 individual notes which repeat in order 7 times. Once you memorize this pattern, it becomes relatively easy to find the note you’re looking for.

On a guitar, each of its six strings is tuned to a different note (in standard tuning). This means that, as an example, the 5th fret on one string will be a different note than the 5th fret on another string. This makes things a little more complicated trying to find notes when moving between strings.  

These notes also change position anytime you switch to a different tuning. And speaking of that…

11. There are Many Different Guitar Tunings to Learn

While standard tuning is the most common, many guitar songs require alternate tunings…and there are a lot of them! 

The plethora of alternate guitar tunings out there allow for a wide variety of sounds, so learning at least a few of them can really improve your playing ability and range of skills. But this doesn’t mean it will be easy. It takes a great deal of practice to tune to these alternates by ear, and even longer to learn where all the notes have moved around the fretboard.

12. Guitar Needs to Be Tuned More Frequently

Tuning 88 keys on a piano takes significantly longer than six strings on a guitar. But once it’s done, a piano may only need to be re-tuned 1-2 times a year to keep it in optimal playing condition. 

A guitar on the other hand may need to be tuned weekly, or even more frequently. Guitars can fall out of tune for a number of reasons, and constant re-tuning may be necessary depending on these factors.

13. Guitar Strings Physically Hurt More than Piano Keys

It must be said that when you’re learning to play guitar, your fret hand fingers are going to hurt! This is normal: those thin steel strings are going to do a number on your sensitive fingertips. It’s just part of the experience for beginners. 

While this feeling of discomfort goes away the more you play (when your fingertips develop calluses, making them tougher), this isn’t something a new piano player has to worry about at all.

14. Getting Started with Guitar Requires More Items

If you want to learn to play piano, you buy yourself a piano. Want to learn electric guitar? You’ll need a guitar, an amp, picks, cables, extra strings, strap, and effects pedals (if you want to achieve some different sounds as you get better). 

The amount of “stuff” you need to buy when starting out on guitar is much more significant than piano. This “pay to play fee” can be a barrier to entry for some. And while the cost of all of this pales in comparison to something like a baby grand piano, there are entry level pianos too, just like guitars. 

All told, playing guitar can get expensive as these little costs add up. And don’t forget about recurring costs of consumable goods like strings and guitar cables. Items like these will break eventually and need to be replaced. 

15. Using an Amplifier Can Be Challenging

Plug your guitar in, switch your amp on, adjust the volume, and you’re good to go, right? Well, sure. And that’s about as far as many beginners will go. 

But what about all the other adjustment knobs on there? What do Gain, Treble, Mid and Bass mean? If you’ve got a fancy amp with built-in effects, you also have settings like Chorus, Reverb, Delay, and Wah. Maybe you also have Amp Presets that mimic the sound of other amps. What does this all mean?!

It seems like you need a degree in music production to operate some amps. And the fact that most bands have their amps tuned a specific way to produce their signature sound means that even after you master a song, it may just sound off if your amp isn’t set up the same way. 

Getting a song to sound like it’s supposed to requires a working knowledge of all of your amp’s settings, and this only comes after significant trial and error. 

16. Selecting Different Pickups

Most electric guitars have two or more pickups, and a selector switch so you can choose which pickup(s) are active. The more pickups your guitar has, the more choices you have. The tone that your guitar will produce depends on which pickups are selected and their location on the guitar. 

Depending on the style of music you’re playing, some pickup selections will be preferable to others. But to a beginner, the differences in tone will be minor. It may seem like selecting the right pickup is not that important, but it can have a drastic impact on your guitar’s sound. 

It takes time to really understand how your pickups work and how they can positively or negatively influence the sound you’re trying to achieve. 

17. Troubleshooting a Guitar That Doesn’t Sound Right

If a piano doesn’t sound right, there are a couple of reasons why this might be the case. If your guitar doesn’t sound right or isn’t producing sound at all, there are a whole lot of issues that may be to blame.

Have you broken a guitar string? Do you need to adjust the truss rod? Have your internal volume and tone pot wires come loose? Is it the amp cable, or the amp itself that’s the problem? 

There are so many things that can go wrong with a guitar, and fixing the problem isn’t always straightforward. Sometimes a DIY fix isn’t even possible without specialized tools and knowledge; otherwise you run the risk of doing more harm than good. 

Why to Learn Guitar Anyway

Despite all these challenges, you still may be interested in tackling the guitar anyway. If that’s the case, I highly encourage you to go for it!

The guitar is an incredibly versatile instrument. No matter what kind of music you’re into, there’s likely to be a place for a guitar. From blues, to jazz, to rock, to metal, a guitar will add a unique sound to whatever song you’re playing. That’s why so many bands incorporate guitarists.

There will be challenges you need to overcome learning any instrument, but the sense of accomplishment you’ll get from mastering a skill on guitar will only motivate you to keep improving. If you can devote the time to learning, playing guitar will become an incredibly fun hobby or maybe even a future career! 

Now, to help you get going, here’s our guide on what to learn on guitar (in order!).

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