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Musical Instruments Ranked

Image from Extra Update.

Music: a beautiful form of cultural expression and personal exploration. If you want to learn how to play music, there are hundreds of instruments to choose from. With so many options available, it may be hard to decide where to start. So, I  put together an entirely arbitrary list based on absolutely subjective criteria to help(?) your process!

The evaluating system will be on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being terrible and 10 being extraordinary. The categories are as such:

a. Playability. How easy is this instrument to learn and play? Does it fit with many songs/can you play any song with it and have it sound good?

b. Aesthetic. What’s the sound like? Is it aggressive or pleasing to the ear? Is it versatile?

c. Convenience. Is the instrument easy to transport? Is it easy to hold and set up?

All right, now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.

#1 Piano

  1. Playability: 9/10. The piano is popular for a reason. It’s not so difficult to learn, especially if you just want to play chords. Many people even self-teach or follow YouTube tutorials. Also, you can play pretty much any song on the piano, and it will sound good.

  2. Aesthetic: 9.5/10. The piano has an ethereal, soft, comforting sound to it that is naturally pleasing to hear. You can play any genre of music. But, it is somewhat difficult to control the sound’s volume, making it less versatile than, say, a wind instrument.

  3. Convenience: 5/10. Pianos are not easy to transport. They are big, heavy, and delicate. Keyboards are more accessible!  While still not the easiest to carry around, they are definitely easier to move than a grand piano. Pianos are also quite hard to tune, often requiring a professional.

#2 Guitar

  1. Playability: 8.5/10. Another popular instrument!  Guitar is also quite easy to pick up. However, it’s not as intuitive as the piano, hence the lower score. You can also play pretty much anything on a guitar, from ballads to rock songs, and it will sound good.

  2. Aesthetic: 10/10. The guitar has a warm, round sound that can be soft or loud. It’s more versatile than the piano, and artists from all genres use guitars. 

  3. Convenience: 7/10. Guitars are definitely easier to transport than pianos, but they are somewhat delicate and can be difficult when traveling. However, you can bring a guitar to a nearby gathering and be the life of the party. Also, they’re fairly easy to tune and string (if I can do it, you definitely can too).

#3 Ukulele

  1. Playability: 10/10. The uke is pretty simple (only 4 strings!) and easy for people of any age to learn. It’s certainly easier than both piano and guitar, and with a simple chord chart, you can play pretty much any song you’d like.

  2. Aesthetic: 8/10. Ukuleles have a bright, warm, soothing sound that goes well with ballads and mellow songs. It’s not as versatile as a guitar (you could play System of a Down on a uke but it might not have the same impact), tending to fit better with certain types of soft songs.

  3. Convenience: 9/10. Yep, ukes are small and easy to transport (I travel with mine in my backpack), and they’re super easy to tune. The only reason they get a 9 is because they are pretty delicate and could easily be broken, so that’s something to keep in mind when traveling with yours.

#4 Violin

(Now we are entering the realm of instruments I have literally never touched, so keep that in mind when you read my thoughts).

  1. Playability: 4/10. From what I understand, violins are very hard to play. It seems to take a long time for someone to play in tune, probably requiring more energy and dedication than the previously listed instruments.

  2. Aesthetic: 7/10. Violins have a high, bright, far-reaching sound that can be either extremely pleasing or terribly piercing. Since the line is quite thin, it gets a lower score. You can also only play a certain kind of sound with the violin that may not go with every genre or song.

  3. Convenience: 8.5/10. In my mind, ukes and violins are structurally similar (everyone who plays the violin is screaming). By that I mean, they are physically similar in form and shape, as well as in how delicate they are. Granted, violins also come with a bow, which is yet another thing to take into account.

#5 Drums

  1. Playability: 8/10. Okay, the extent of my experience with drums is playing Guitar Hero. So, I don’t know the first thing about playing, but from what I have observed and read, it seems like the drums are fairly intuitive as long as you have a sense of rhythm. Since they are a percussion instrument, you can’t really play a song just with the drums and expect the song to be obvious, so that also docks it a point. 

  2. Aesthetic: 6/10. Don’t get me wrong, I love the drums. I’ve always wanted to learn to play them. But in terms of sound? You don’t get much versatility save for the specific kinds of percussive sound each element of the drums produces.

  3. Convenience: 1/10. Drums are big, heavy, loud, and pretty much impossible to carry around. Traveling with drums seems like a pain in the ass, so that’s certainly something to consider.

#6 Cello

  1. Playability: 4/10. The cello seems HARD, and I mean properly hard. They are large and cumbersome to hold properly. And similar to the violin, it seems like you need to put in quite a bit of effort to pay well.

  2. Aesthetic: 8/10. The high grade is entirely based on my subjective love for the sound the cello produces. It’s rich, dramatic, and melancholy: ideal for beautifully moving music. However, I do recognize that the cello is also not the most versatile instrument. Since it fits a certain type of mood and not much else, it does not get a perfect score.

  3. Convenience: 4/10. The cello has the delicacy of a violin with the cumbersomeness of a piano. It’s large, heavy, and difficult to travel with, let alone carry.

#7 Trumpet

  1. Playability: 5/10. Much of the trumpet depends on your own breath support and proper technique, making it a difficult instrument to just pick up and learn by yourself. 

  2. Aesthetic: 4/10. You can’t play many types of songs on the trumpet (say, a ballad may not be the best choice), so its specific sound docks it several points. The trumpet is loud, strong, and clear of sound, making it difficult to fit with mellow music. Also, I don’t know about you, but the sound of a trumpet makes me laugh.  I don’t think I could take a trumpet ballad very seriously.

  3. Convenience: 9.5/10. The trumpet is fairly small and easy to carry. You just put it in its case, and that’s it, you’re good to go.

#8 Recorder

  1. Playability: 9.5/10. Chances are you played the recorder as a young child in school. Heck, I didn’t grow up in this country, and I played the recorder back in the day. If children can do it, so can you.

  2. Aesthetic: 7/10. The recorder has a soothing, clear tone and warm sound that’s quite pleasing to the ear. On the other hand, it’s a pretty specific sound that goes well with more mellow, relaxed songs, so that docks it a few points.

  3. Convenience: 10/10. Small, light, easy to carry. Enough said.

#9 Harp

  1. Playability: 2/10. SO. MANY. STRINGS. My small mortal mind cannot comprehend how people play the harp. It’s a beautiful skill, but a very difficult one that probably takes years to master. Not the easiest choice.

  2. Aesthetic: 8.5/10. There’s no denying that the harp produces a lovely, calming, inviting sound. That alone grants it a high grade. However, it is also a very specific, not quite versatile sound, so alas, it does not get a 10.

  3. Convenience: 1/10. Harps are big and delicate, which is not an ideal combination when trying to travel with an instrument (I actually have no idea how harps are transported, or if there’s a specific way to do it, so if you know, please comment and educate me). The number of strings also makes me think that setting it up and tuning it is a ginormous pain. 

#10 Harmonica

  1. Playability: 9/10. Seems simple enough. Maybe with some YouTube tutorials, you could learn to play. Then again, I have never played the harmonica in my life so what the hell do I know, right?

  2. Aesthetic: 5/10. The harmonica is quite polarizing. Some people love the rich, country-like sound, and others despise it (a friend of mine literally said harmonicas sound like they are perpetually out of tune, so there’s that). The sound lends itself to country and folk music quite naturally. If you want to play a pop song, it may not sound as good, so take that into consideration.

  3. Convenience: 10/10. So smol. So light. So pocket-sized. The perfect traveling instrument. You can bring it anywhere! School, work, the bank (not recommended), you name it.

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Written by Danny

Student at Georgetown University. Lover of Film and TV. Self-taught clown.

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