Why You Should Pick Another Instrument

Guitar Noises #13: August 20, 2021

You should pick another instrument to learn. I don’t mean you should “give up guitar because you’ll never be any good.” What I’m trying to say is learning another instrument will make you more knowledgeable about music and more curious about guitar.

Welcome to Guitar Noises, a free newsletter about learning guitar online. You can read all the past issues in the archives.

Apart from grade school recorder lessons, guitar was the first instrument I learned to play. I’ve stuck with it over the years, but I never realized how confusing guitar is until I learned another instrument.

After quite a few years of just playing guitar I got my first ukulele. David Hodge sent me an advance copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing the Ukulele to review. I quickly digested the material, learning ukulele as quickly as I could so I could post my review the day the book came out. There were moments where I felt like I padded my resume and would be found out. But David’s books are always excellent and I was able to pick up most of what was taught quickly. (You can read my review of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Ukulele on Guitar Noise.)

While learning ukulele, it dawned on me that learning a second instrument isn’t as hard as learning your first. What I already knew about playing guitar made picking up ukulele easier. Later on I discovered that the things I learned on ukulele were helping me with guitar.

More recently I started learning piano. I didn’t have formal music lessons growing up and a lot of my guitar learning relied on visuals. Scale and chord charts, finger patterns, tabs, cheat sheets were all committed to visual memory. I learned to see what I should play. Far too much time was spent time trying to learn music with my eyes instead of my ears.

Piano really helped simplify music for me. Seeing the notes in black and white, evenly spaced in front of me closed a lot of the gaps that being a self-taught guitarist had made. I found that I already knew a lot more than I realized. I just didn’t know what I knew. Gaining a new perspective on familiar aspects of music made a lot of things suddenly click. My practice routines became more refined. My improvisation skills and ear training abilities all improved. It was like finding a whole bunch of things waiting for me behind a door that had been locked for years.

I don’t think all of this was specific to piano. It was just the result of making an effort to branch out with a new instrument.

How does learning another instrument help you with guitar?

Learning to play another instrument reignites your curiosity. Taking on something new will cause you to ask more questions. How do I get that sound? Why does this work when that doesn’t? The more questions you ask - the more answers you’ll find.

Questions that you ask about a new instrument also make you think about guitar in new ways. Being a multi-instrumentalist isn’t going to make you give up guitar. More likely you’ll gain more applicable music knowledge and a greater appreciation for guitar.

So what’s a good second instrument?

The aforementioned piano and ukulele are good choices for learning a second instrument. Ukulele is compact and travels easily. Playing it feels like a cinch if you’ve already played guitar for a while. It may seem like a simplified version of the guitar, but it is no toy. It carries just as much potential as guitar and it’s not something you’ll tire of easily.

A simple digital piano or keyboard is also a good choice. If you want to understand more about music theory, learning piano after guitar is like finding the corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Once you have those in place you’re ready to close in all the edges. Piano can help sharpen your knowledge of scales, keys, chord voicings, rhythm, melody, the circle of fifths … and so on. Better still, you’ll be working towards a new understanding of how to apply all this stuff.

Other instruments you could try include bass guitar.  If you have friends who also play guitar there are probably too many guitarists when you get together to play. A bass player among you will always be useful.

Harmonica is a nice addition if you usually play alone. If you dig country music and fingerpicking you might want to try the banjo.  Guitar Noise has a series of beginner lessons on the 5-String Banjo which will get any newbies up and running.

What are your suggestions for other instruments to learn? How about some sites or lessons you’ve found for other instruments? Let us know in the comments or reply to this email.

Can you believe summer is almost over? When you get the next newsletter we’ll already be in September!

The next issue of Guitar Noises is going to feature an in depth review of the premium guitar site Tony’s Acoustic Guitar Challenge. If you’re on the fence about signing up you’ll definitely want to read my review and share it with all your guitar playing friends.

See you then.