As a beginner musician, you might be wondering which musical instrument to start with. They are two of the most popular instruments in the world. Each instrument brings unique musical qualities and benefits, however, they are very different.
Below are 6 key differences between piano vs guitar
- Piano Music Is More Challenging To Read
- Guitars Have To Be Tuned Frequently
- Pianos Are Less Portable
- Pianos Are More Expensive
- Guitars And Piano Are Both Versatile Instruments
- Both Instruments Have Learning Benefits
If you’re not sure which instrument to start with then this guide should help! I’ll break down each of those 6 key differences so that you can see the benefits of each instrument. Let’s start with talking about one of the biggest challenges any new musician will run into; reading sheet music.
1. Piano Music Is More Challenging To Read
Reading sheet music of any kind will always be a challenge initially for a new musician. However, it should be noted that reading piano sheet music is more challenging.
This is due in part to the fact that pianists have to read both the bass and treble staff at the same time. That can be very difficult in the beginning if the pianist does not have a firm understanding of where the notes are different on each staff.
Syncing up the hands with the sheet music also takes some time. Both the left and right hands have to coordinate together so that the music sounds correct. Because a pianist typically accompanies themselves, there is also a learning curve with timing and balance of those notes.
Guitar players, on the other hand, play more of a soloist only role. Guitar players are used to reading just the treble clef, although they will occasionally accompany themselves with well-placed chords.
The fingering positions are all controlled by the left hand while the right hand simply strums the correct string to form the chord. As a result, coordination on the guitar is much easier to attain for a beginner.
Classical guitarists especially will work with the treble clef from the beginning, learning the positions and understanding note placement.
The great thing about the treble clef for the guitar and piano is that it’s universal. If a guitar player plays a C, it will also be a C for the pianist too.
Although the notes are located in different positions on their respective instruments, they will sound the same. Compare that to woodwind and brass instruments who usually have to transpose in order to match the pitch of a piano or guitar.
For a beginner guitarist though, learning the treble clef can be tricky. In this case, guitarists can also read music using guitar tablature.
Guitar tablature is a unique way of reading notations based on strings and hand positions within those strings. Many times guitar sheet music will show the treble clef above the tablature to help musicians compare the notes they are playing as they learn.
There are 6 lines, and those lines represent the actual strings of the guitar. The bottom line is considered an open position and counts up to 5 from there. The tablature features numbers on the lines.
In cases where there are multiple numbers on separate lines at the same time, it’s an indicator that multiple strings are played with that particular finger position.
In addition to reading tablature, guitar players usually read chord charts. Pianists will sometimes read chord lead sheets as well, however for Classical players that is very uncommon. If the pianist is studying Jazz or Gospel music, then chord charts are used quite extensively.
2. Guitars Have To Be Tuned Frequently
As convenient as a guitar is, one thing you’ll have to constantly do is tune the instrument. This is the case whether it’s an electric or acoustic guitar.
Every time the instrument is put into the case, the tuning knobs may turn slightly out of place. Playing the guitar for a long period of time also causes the string tension to loosen too, meaning it will need to be tuned before its used again.
A typical six-string guitar will consist of just as many notes. The top string the tuning notes are E, A, D, G, B, E. Although tuning a guitar is a bit of a hassle, it’s a fairly straightforward process. There are many ways to tune a guitar, but the most reliable method is to use an electronic tuner.
A simple tuner like this one will ensure you can play each note at the correct frequency. Typically these tuners sit on the fret of the guitar to feel the string vibrations. Other tuners such as the Korg have built-in microphones that can transmit the sound to the device. It will return an accurate reading of the tune.
In ensemble playing, guitar players sometimes tune to other acoustic instruments, most notably the piano. In this case, the piano may or may not be in tune. However, this ensures that the entire band is synced up to the other acoustic instruments that produce a natural tone.
Acoustic pianos, on the other hand, require a lot less maintenance than a guitar when it comes to tuning.
A piano typically needs to be tuned once or twice per year compared to on a daily basis as guitars would. The pianist can simply sit down at the instrument and start playing knowing that everything is right. Occasionally pianos will go out of tune due to poor humidity control.
In these cases, it helps to invest in a dehumidifier system to help regulate the moisture levels in the air. While guitar tuning is essentially free, piano tunings cost around $150 – $200 per treatment.
Electric pianos offer even more convenience when it comes to tuning. Simply power it on and the piano will always be perfectly in tune. Advanced digital piano like these allow for transposing, modulating effects, and much more too.
3. Pianos Are Less Portable
A typical grand piano weighs over 600 pounds! This means once the piano has been moved and set up in its primary location, it will almost always have to stay there. Hiring piano movers can be expensive, and so it’s not an ideal instrument if you desire to travel around with one.
Digital pianos are an alternative though, many of them weighing just under 25 pounds. While digital pianos are great options for those wanting to play the piano anywhere, they do present some limitations.
For one, most quality digital pianos will need a wall outlet to power them on. Stage pianos like the Yamaha CP88, for example, would need an external speaker system in order to produce sound. Along with the keyboard stand and pedals, there’s a lot to bring for the full playing experience.
Guitars, on the other hand, are much simpler. An acoustic guitar is the most simple of the bunch. A guitar is light enough to store in a case and portable enough to toss in the back of a car.
The most you will need is a guitar pick, and it can be carried around anywhere with you. While electric guitars are designed to work with speakers, they can also be played without them.
If you’re traveling and just want to practice a bit strumming on the strings, the instrument will function the same way. The only difference is that the sound will not be nearly as amplified.
For guitarists, there are really small portable amplifiers like this that can still produce an excellent sound without taking up too much space.
4. Pianos Are More Expensive
As a whole, acoustic pianos are more expensive than guitars. Even a low-end piano like a Nordiska costs at least $5000 just to get a baby grand model. More high-end pianos like Steinway cost up to $171,000 for their largest models.
Pianos cost more because they are more complex to build, contain thousands of parts, and are built to last for generations. It takes 1 – 3 years to build a piano from scratch. They are a handmade instrument that requires expert craftsmanship to produce correctly.
From the bending of the wood to the securing of the felt hammers, cast iron plate, and action mechanisms, pianos rightfully cost more than guitars. Besides, these instruments are much bigger and more expensive to produce.
Outside of regular tuning maintenance, minor regulation work and keeping the instrument clean, there aren’t really any other expenses associated with an acoustic piano.
Digital pianos are also quite expensive, but not early as much as their acoustic counterparts. Most digital pianos cost between $200 – $3600. The more quality you desire out of the piano as far as touch response, sound effects and features, the more it will cost.
There are some guitars that do fetch fairly high prices. For example, a vintage Les Paul guitar costs around $3000 – $3500 on the secondary market. A brand new electric guitar typically costs $200 for an entry-level model.
The Epiphone Les Paul is about the average you should spend on a quality guitar. More custom tailored options like the Gibson Custom 60 cost as much as $5000.
Guitars require more parts in order to function though, especially if they are electric. A quality amplifier costs around $300. Looper and effects pedal setups can cost anywhere from $80 – $200. Once you factor all of those parts in plus the cables, an ideal guitar setup for a serious musician would cost between $800 – $1000.
5. Guitar And Piano Are Both Versatile Instruments
The piano is an instrument that can be used to play a wide variety of genres. It’s featured across just about every platform from Jazz to Pop and alternative styles. For the most part, though, most novice pianists will only learn how to play Classical repertoire.
Classical piano playing relies heavily on reading notated sheet music. While that’s an amazing skill to have, it can be limiting without any exposure to the other styles. Because of this, it’s hard for some Classical players to dive into other musical styles.
If a pianist wants to try out Jazz or Gospel, they may have a hard time fitting the concepts of lead sheets and improvisation with what they already know. On the flip side, those in other styles might have a hard time following the structured principles of Classical music.
As far as instrumentation is concerned, acoustic pianos can sometimes have a hard time fitting in with other electronic instruments. This has to do with the tuning and the lack of being able to adjust a volume knob.
Digital pianos are almost always used when there is a rock band or electronic music setup. Those who play in those groups primarily learn how to play those other music genres. However, almost every pianist has had some Classical training at some point.
The guitar is just as versatile. Not only are there different types of guitars to fit various styles, but the ability to customize the sound the instrument produces electronically is really intriguing.
A guitarist can even filter in keyboard instrument sounds into its mix as well as other sound samples using looping and computer software.
I find that guitarists are more lyrical players by nature, and have a better grip on improvising and creativity that some Classical pianists lack. While many guitarists read sheet music to start, those playing Rock, Pop, Jazz, or any other style almost never use sheet music.
In general, it’s much easier for a guitarist to fit their sound into another group than it is for a pianist. With the exception of orchestral arrangements where pianos dominate, guitars of all types can work with just about anything.
6. Both Instruments Have Learning Benefits
Whether you choose to play the guitar or piano, both have great learning benefits.
The piano is an instrument that requires a lot of coordination to master. Young pianists especially work on their ability to visualize where the hands go and make quick calculations to play those notes accurately.
There is also some math involved with figuring out when each hand should play and for how long. From note duration to the actual choreography of playing, piano playing is a huge developer of key motor skills.
Guitar also provides a lot of the same coordination and motor skills. Forming more complex guitar chords is actually quite a challenge, so being able to do that at a young age is really beneficial.
The guitar is a great way to develop the ear too as you create unique harmonies and explore chord progressions. From a social perspective, the guitar is the more desirable instrument.
Most guitar players eventually start playing in small groups and ensembles so they can make music together. It’s also an instrument that you can easily take around to a gathering or out in public and enjoy the sounds with others.
Both instruments do a whole lot do develop good memory habits. This is not just memorizing how to play a piece of music, but also knowing the entire structure of the piece and the relation as a whole.
Both guitar and piano provide some unique therapeutic benefits as well. Music can be a soothing activity for most and both are very easy instruments to get started with the right teacher.
Should You Choose Piano Or Guitar?
Choosing between the piano and the guitar comes down to a few factors. The first is personal preference. Both instruments have a completely different sound, however, each instrument has plenty of versatility.
When it comes to the learning curve, the piano definitely takes a bit more time than the guitar. However once a pianist knows the basics of playing technique and notes reading, playing becomes much easier.
While guitar may be easy to learn initially, the more complex elements of playing do present a challenge later on. This includes learning how to add effects to your playing, alternative fingering for chords, and much more.
My advice to you would be to invest in a cheap guitar and a low-cost digital piano. Take a few lessons with an experienced piano or guitar teacher. After a few lessons, assess which of those instruments you enjoy spending time with the most.
Once you’ve done that, you can commit fully to that instrument or even stick with both. Unlike some other instrument combinations, a lot of the same musical principles apply to the guitar and piano.