How to Learn to Play an Instrument

Leugh am fiosrachadh seo sa Ghàidhlig.

Follow our tips for learning how to play a new musical instrument!

If you fancy yourself as the next Nicola Benedetti or Alex Turner, then you better get practising…

Lots of us get forced to learn at least one instrument when at school – usually the recorder or keyboard. But if you want to take things further than learning ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, then there are loads of possibilities for you to learn more and on more exciting instruments.

Choosing an instrument

If you want to learn an instrument, it’s usually sensible to pick something that's not too expensive and fairly easy to get started with. Once you’ve got more of a grip on reading and playing music you might want to move on to something else like the cello, flute, saxophone or drums which are generally considered harder to learn and are a lot more expensive to buy.

It's probably not the best idea to spend loads of money on an expensive instrument right at the beginning. You can often get instruments second-hand that will be in good enough condition to get you started so you can see whether you like them or not. If possible take someone along with you who knows how to play the instrument that you want to buy so you can listen to how it sounds and get their advice.

Some people are motivated enough to teach themselves instruments, however, for most of us, the easiest way to learn an instrument is to have a teacher, either at school or at home. That way you have someone who knows what you’re doing to guide you, and you won’t suddenly realise the reason you can’t play the C chord on your guitar is that you’re supposed to hold it the other way up!

If you want to have a go yourself first then there are often people teaching songs for instruments on YouTube. This way you can take a look, have a bash, and it's free!

10 tips for learning an instrument

  • Try before you buy: before you purchase an instrument, it is a good idea to try it out first to check that you like the sound and feel of it.
  • If buying from a music shop, speak to the staff who work there. They will usually be more than happy to help you out and can recommend an instrument that suits your budget.
  • Get some lessons! Check with your school and local newspapers for lessons. Searching the internet will also help you to find a tutor in your area. Youth Centres that offer lessons can be a really good option because they are usually quite cheap and you are learning with other young people.
  • Or...teach yourself! If there are no tutors in your area, or you can’t afford their fees, don’t give up. Some of the most successful musicians in the world are self-taught. There are many “Beginners guide to playing ....” books on the market that will teach you the basics of your instrument. There is also a lot of information on the internet.
  • Set yourself some long-term goals: what are your overall aims? Do you want to play some chords along to Oasis in your bedroom or do you want to shred like Van Halen as part of a band in front of thousands of fans?
  • Set yourself some short-term goals: set yourself a goal that you can achieve over a short period of time, i.e., “By this time next week I want to be able to play ...”
  • PRACTICE. Some of the best musicians practice for over eight hours a day but even half an hour of practice a day can lead to noticeable improvements.
  • Don’t forget the theory. If you are serious about getting good at your instrument it is important to learn all the music theory, scales and rudiments behind it as well. It might seem a bit dry at first but it will make you a better player in the long run.
  • Learn with a friend. You can help each other out and the friendly competition can be an incentive to practice more.
  • Have fun! Remember that you began playing a musical instrument for enjoyment. If you are getting stressed with your instrument, take a short break from it and go back feeling refreshed.

Getting Lessons

If you’re still at school, ask your music teacher if you can get individual tuition, or if your music teacher would take you up as their own pupil. It’s good to ask people you know, trust and like because a personality clash between teacher and pupil can be enough to put anyone off learning music for life. Even if they can’t help you themselves, your music department at school may be able to tell you some good tutors to try.

Once you are good enough, joining an orchestra or band can be great fun and is also a good way to keep improving.