When people are deciding to learn an instrument, piano and violin are two common first choices.
These are both common instruments to start your kids on as well.
There are good reasons these instruments are considered good first instruments – they both teach musicality, sight reading and theory. And, they both have a wealth of repertoire to choose from.
So, which should you choose?
We wrote this guide to fill you in on some of the pros and cons of each instrument.
At the end of the day, the decision is still yours to make, but I hope you’ll feel better equipped to choose an instrument you’re going to love after reading!
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
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Learning Piano: Pros & Cons
Piano is a common choice for a first instrument.
There are many reasons piano is considered a great place to start, but there are definitely cons to learning piano as opposed to violin.
Pros To Learning The Piano
Let’s start with a few reasons you may want to learn the piano.
It’s Easy To Get A Satisfying Sound Out Of A Piano
Piano is a viscerally satisfying instrument to play. You sit down at the keys, play a note, and the note is produced.
Getting a nice consistent tone out of the piano takes time, but frankly you can get a very pleasant, passable tone out of the piano on your first try, simply because a hammer is striking the keys for you.
The Piano Is Laid Out Logically
In university level music school, all students must learn basic keyboarding skills.
This is partly for the convenience of being able to play different parts and songs on the piano, but it’s also because it’s easier to make sense of theory on the piano.
Each note is laid out sequentially, and there is only one place to play a specific note on the piano.
On the violin, guitar, and most string instruments, there are many places to play the same note, which makes theory a little more confusing.
The piano is also highly visual, the black and white keys make it easy to remember where notes are and how they are related to each other.
There Are Many Great Resources For Learning The Piano
Because the piano is such a popular instrument, and because it is easy to understand, there are tons of great resources for learning the instrument.
It’s also easy to find a piano teacher wherever you live. Whether it’s through a music store, through a piano studio, or through family or friends, someone can teach you to play piano.
There is also a glut of piano lesson books, many of which have been used for decades to teach people piano.
Now, it’s easier than ever, because you can take lessons online. If you just want to learn a few pop songs and melodies on the piano, you can probably find a step-by-step lesson to whatever song you want to learn on YouTube.
Which brings me to my next point.
You Can Learn Piano On Your Own
If you’ve read any of my other guides on piano and piano lessons, you’ll know I’m an advocate for taking at least a few professional lessons when starting piano.
That said, piano is one of the easier instruments to teach yourself.
Between the logical way that a piano is laid out, the glut of (often free) resources and tutorials online, you can go a long way on your own.
Piano Teaches You How To Read Music On The Treble & Bass Clef
One of my favorite things about learning piano is that it teaches you to read music.
Violin players also tend to read well, due to their classical training, but piano players learn to read early on, learn to read both treble and bass clefs, and learn to read and play many notes at one time.
Pianos Can Be Used For Accompaniment & In A Variety Of Settings
The piano is an incredibly versatile instrument. It can lead you to many places.
First off, if you play piano, you can play in all sorts of group settings. Almost every type of popular music can be played on piano and many bands require piano.
The piano is also just a keyboard. The skills you learn playing real piano are immediately transferable to all sorts of keyboards.
Organ, electric piano, synthesizers, accordion – these all use the same keyboard. If you can play one, you can pick up another.
Cons To Learning The Piano
Being that I am a keyboard player, it’s easy for me to drone on about how great the piano is.
But that is not to say there aren’t any cons to learning the instrument.
Here are a few reasons you may opt for the violin.
Pianos Are Expensive
No matter which way you slice it, pianos are expensive.
The truth is, most musical instruments and musical pastimes are expensive. The more you do it, and the better you get at it, the more money you’ll spend on it.
Decent, new upright pianos cost between $3,000 and $5,000.
Grand pianos start at $10,000.
Of course, you don’t need to have a “real” piano. You can buy a cheap digital piano for $150. A better, full-size digital piano will be at least $500. A professional digital piano will be at least $2,000, if not more.
It is possible to get a cheap piano and learn to play.
But at some point, you will want either more keys, better sound, or better playability and then you’re looking at a serious investment.
Lessons Can Be Expensive
Taking lessons from a music store is affordable, but quality can vary.
Nothing beats getting lessons from a trained pianist and teacher.
Generally, those lessons are going to start at $35/hour and will go up from there. When I was studying jazz, I was playing $80/hour for lessons.
Pianos Aren’t Portable
Real, acoustic pianos are big and heavy and you do not want to move them.
This can be frustrating, as it makes it harder to jam or bring your instrument to a friend’s house.
Even a digital, portable piano is a bit of a pain, because you need to plug it in close to a wall, bring a stand and an amplifier or speaker as needed.
Pianos Have A Low Skill Floor But A High Ceiling
Piano is easy to start learning but difficult to master.
Playing difficult pieces on the piano takes years and years of practice, and the skill ceiling is almost limitless, as players have been pushing the boundaries of the piano for a long time.
Learning Violin: Pros & Cons
Violin is also a common choice for a first instrument. Here are a few reasons you might and might not consider it.
Pros To Learning The Violin
The violin, much like piano, is an instrument steeped in history and tradition. Here’s why learning the violin might be the right choice for you.
Violin Trains Your Ear
Violins do not have any frets. This means that in addition to tuning the strings, you must also tune each note as you play.
Over time, you develop muscle memory that guides your hands to right positions. Nonetheless, violin requires a careful and trained ear for pitch and harmony.
Violin Teaches You How To Read Music
Professional violin players often have a magical combination of great ears and reading abilities.
Playing in orchestras and ensembles teaches violin players to sight read quickly and accurately.
Violins Are Portable
Whereas even portable digital pianos are large and awkward, violins are small and portable.
The portability of a violin is nice as both a beginning student and a professional. You can take your violin anywhere you want to practice – in a park, to a friend’s house, to a hotel – anywhere.
This also means you get to take your violin everywhere you go. Practicing on the same instrument is a huge advantage. Not all pianos are created equal, and they can sound and feel wildly different.
If you’re practicing violin, you’re practicing on your violin.
Violin Is Great For Group Playing
Early on while learning violin, you’ll end up playing in ensembles and orchestras. This teaches you how to blend, tune and play with others.
If you’re more interested in fiddle and playing violin in a popular music setting, there are lots of opportunities to play with Celtic bands, country bands and fiddle bands.
Skills Learned On The Violin Transfer Over To Other Stringed Instruments
I know many professionally trained violin players who also play viola, cello, double bass, mandolin or bass.
Many of the skills you pick up while learning the violin extend to other stringed instruments – intonation, tone, vibrato, tuning, groove and sometimes the strings are tuned and used in the same manner.
Student Violins Are Relatively Affordable
You can get a starter violin and bow for around $100.
If you end up loving the instrument, you’ll quickly realize that you need a higher-end violin to achieve the feel and tone that you are after.
The better the violin, the more expensive it will be, but that tends to be the pattern across all instruments!
Cons To Learning The Violin
Violin is a great instrument, but like any instrument there are things that make it challenging. Let’s explore a few.
Violin Has A Steep Learning Curve
Both piano and violin are difficult instruments to master, but when it comes to achieving a quality tone, the violin is harder.
Have you ever heard a beginning violin ensemble? It’s cute but it can be a little funny.
There are a lot of awkward positions that you need to learn – how to hold the bow, using the chin rest and getting your fingers to press down with just enough force.
Violins Require Maintenance
Violins cost a little more to maintain than pianos. They require somewhat routine cleaning, string replacements, peg replacements, bridge adjustments and bow maintenance.
Humidity and changing weather conditions can cause cracks in violins and repairs to the wood or to the neck can cost a great deal of money.
Violins Are Fragile
If you sit on a piano, you probably won’t be comfortable, but you also probably won’t hurt the piano.
If you sit on a violin, you will crush the violin and have to buy another.
It’s not uncommon to drop a violin as you learn to grip, use the chin rest and develop your posture. Over-tightening the violin can lead to broken strings and problems with the neck.
There is just more that can go awry on the violin.
Violins Are Less Versatile Harmonically
Pianos have 88 keys, and if you wanted to, you could play all of them at the same time.
The range of a violin is far more limited, and thus the music that is available to you is far more limited.
That said, the point of a violin is not necessarily to provide harmonic context, it’s often to carry the lead melodic parts, demonstrate virtuosity, speed and emotion.
You can even play chords on the violin. It just doesn’t have the same effect as playing chords on the piano.
It’s Harder To Write Or Accompany Yourself On The Violin
The piano lends itself to accompanying your singing and to writing your own songs.
For one thing, there are hundreds of famous songs with piano accompaniment. This gives you an idea of how to accompany yourself and write songs for the piano.
The posture you must use to play the violin does not lend itself to singing and playing and the fact that you can’t play big, “deep” chords means it’s harder to write for the violin.
Piano Vs Violin Summary, Which Should You Learn?
Both instruments have pros and cons, but the truth is they are both beautiful, versatile instruments with a wealth of wonderful repertoire to play.
When you’re starting out, follow your heart. If you’ve always wanted to play the violin, do it.
Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work out. If it doesn’t work out, try the piano.
Either way, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success by taking lessons, practicing regularly, maintaining your instrument and buying an instrument of good quality.