15 Hardest Instruments to Play 2023 (and Why?)



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I have been playing musical instruments since middle school, and I can tell you that there are instruments that are harder to learn and play than others.

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in any of these instruments, but I have had experience with nearly every one of the instruments on this list and can give you a little insight as to how hard these amazing instruments are.

So, what are the hardest instruments to play?

In this article, I will break down the list as I see it, and I will also answer why each instrument is so hard to play and learn.

Pipe Organ

pipe organ

I’ve always been fascinated by the complex pipe organ. This instrument is regarded as one of the hardest to master.

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty about why this is a stupid hard instrument to play. To play a single melody, I would have to simultaneously manipulate multiple keyboards, called manuals, stacked on each other. This requires a high degree of dexterity and hand-eye coordination that usually takes years to develop.

In addition to the manuals, the pipe organ also has a pedalboard that I must navigate with my feet. This element adds a whole new layer of complexity to the instrument, as it involves coordinating both hands and feet to execute intricate musical passages.

With thousands of intricate parts to monitor, keeping the pipe organ in top condition calls for dedication and a keen ear.

French Horn

french horn

While it is often regarded as one of the hardest instruments to play, the French horn has an amazing sound that still rings in my ears as they sit next to me in band class.

Several factors make the French horn a challenging instrument for many musicians, especially beginners.

First and foremost, the French horn plays in a higher range of the harmonic series compared to other brass instruments. This higher register means that the notes are much closer together, making it more sensitive to small changes in the positioning of the mouthguard, and therefore, requires greater precision from the musician.

Cracked notes and failing to hit the intended pitch are usual for beginner players.

Then, we have the overall feel and look of the horn that adds to its difficulty.

Even maintaining the horn contributes to how hard it can be to play it. The instrument’s long and coiled tubing makes it rather sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, which can ultimately impact its performance.

Despite these challenges, the French horn has an incredible range and versatility, allowing the player to produce rich harmonic tones and powerful melodies. 

The French horn is challenging, but its difficulties can be overcome with dedicated practice and a passion for music.



The oboe is definitely considered one of the hardest instruments to play.

The difficulty begins right from producing a sound to begin with and then, let alone controlling it. It requires immense precision and dedication, making it quite a challenge for beginners and experienced players alike.

One of the reasons the oboe is so challenging is the double-reed system used to produce sound. The reeds of the oboe have to be custom-made according to your embouchure and playing style.

Much time is needed for adapting and maintaining my reeds to achieve the desired sound quality.

It also has a unique vibrato, achieved by controlling air pressure in the mouth rather than moving fingers quickly on the keys like other woodwind instruments. This makes producing a pleasant and in-tune vibrato even more difficult, requiring excellent breath control and strong diaphragm support.

In addition to the challenges in producing sound, the oboe has a limited range compared to other woodwind instruments like the flute or clarinet, as oboes cannot play as high. This often demands more dexterity and agile finger movements for rapid and accurate note transitions.



The guitar can be quite a challenge for beginners. It has a lot of intricate fingerwork and hand-eye coordination, which makes it difficult for first-time players to produce the desired notes and chords.

As I picked up the guitar for the first time, I realized playing it requires both hands to work independently and together, which I am pretty terrible at.

My fretting hand had to press down on the strings accurately, while my strumming hand needed to get the rhythm and pacing right. Mastering this hand coordination took a significant amount of practice and patience.

Additionally, several types of guitars are available, each with unique challenges.

  • The classical guitar is often considered one of the hardest types to play due to its nylon strings, wider neck, and emphasis on fingerpicking techniques.
  • The steel-string acoustic guitar is easier to play but can be tough on the fingers, especially for those just getting started.

The guitar also has a steep learning curve when it comes to understanding various chord shapes, scales, and techniques.

I remember feeling overwhelmed at first trying to memorize all these different shapes and techniques, and I still struggle with it today.

Despite these challenges, I can’t deny the immense satisfaction and enjoyment that comes with playing the guitar, but be patient with yourself.



The piano is a versatile and popular instrument used both in classical music and modern compositions. I enjoy it mainly because of the sound and, frankly, the prestige you get when playing it. 

Like those people in the mall, when they are playing something amazing, people will stop in their tracks to listen and watch in awe!.

When starting to learn the piano, beginners often face challenges in remembering chords, developing finger independence, and coordinating both hands.

The hand doing one thing and the other doing another was the hardest part for me. 

One of the primary difficulties when learning piano is the need to read two staves of music simultaneously. This means reading treble and bass clef simultaneously, which can mentally challenge many beginners. 

A study comparing the difficulty of various instruments ranked the piano as one of the hardest, mainly due to the multitasking nature of playing it.

And don’t get me started on mastering the use of the pedals. This pedal helps create a more vibrant and continuous sound. But learning how to use it effectively can be tricky, as it involves precise timing and a good sense of musical expression.



The harp is an ancient instrument with a rich history and a unique sound that can add a touch of elegance to an orchestra’s sound. 

However, one of the main challenges of playing the harp is mastering its complex technique.

The harp requires precise finger movement and good hand-eye coordination. It’s essential to have a solid understanding of music theory and proper fingering techniques to create a beautiful sound.

Harps come in various sizes; some have over 40 strings. This means that not only do you have to memorize the location of each string, but you also have to tune the harp regularly.

The harp is profoundly satisfying to play, and you look angelic while playing it.

It’s used in various genres of music, from classical to modern pop.

As with any instrument, practice, dedication, and a passion for the craft are essential to mastering the harp.


Alpharetta, GA, USA – August 1, 2015: A senior man plays the bagpipes before the start of the annual Old Soldiers Day Parade in Alpharetta, GA on August 1, 2015.

I’ve always been fascinated by the unique sound of bagpipes, so I decided to give them a try.

And I failed… miserably.

These things are hard for no reason. 

The main challenge lies in blowing, squeezing, and fingering the instrument. The constant air supply is required to make the bagpipe produce a melodious sound. It takes about 6 to 12 months to play simple rhythms and over two years to learn more complicated songs.

Another aspect that added to the difficulty was the tuning of the instrument. Bagpipes have multiple drone pipes, and ensuring that each produces the same pitch is tough. I had previously played other wind instruments, but bagpipe tuning required a whole new level of patience and dedication.

My experience with learning to play the bagpipes was a failure. I just didn’t have the patience for it the time that I tried.


Alpharetta, GA, USA – August 1, 2015: A senior man plays the bagpipes before the start of the annual Old Soldiers Day Parade in Alpharetta, GA on August 1, 2015.

The bassoon stands out as one of the most complex instruments to play. Its unique structure and sound have captivated audiences for centuries, but mastering it takes tremendous skill and dedication.

The bassoon is notoriously temperamental and has a steep learning curve for beginners.

Many people feel overwhelmed when they first see the bassoon, with its seemingly unwieldy size and over 20 keys. 

The bassoon has a unique sound that often makes it the focus of listeners’ attention, which, in turn, adds pressure when performing, as any mistakes may be readily noticeable. 

As with many instruments, the bassoon requires patience and determination. It isn’t an easy instrument to play, but with consistent practice, it’s a nice addition to your musical repertoire.



The clarinet is a versatile and unique musical instrument, but it can be quite tricky to master. In my experience, a few key aspects contribute to its difficulty.

The first challenge is the embouchure, which refers to how the mouth is positioned to create the proper airflow and vibration across the reed. This technique is crucial for producing a clear and consistent sound on the clarinet.

It took me some time to get comfortable with maintaining the correct embouchure, but my experience with the saxophone prepared me for it. (I’m still not great at it.)

The complex fingering system is another reason these things are tough to play.

There are 17 keys on a standard Boehm clarinet and numerous finger combinations. In fact, according to this article, the clarinet is considered 20 times more challenging to play than other instruments.

A wind instrument requires a steady and controlled stream of air to produce a consistent tone. This is especially true when attempting to play notes in the higher register, which may demand even more air support and precision.

The instrument has various musical applications, from classical orchestras to jazz ensembles.


Closeup detail of a man in a white shirt playing the red accordion. Hands close-up

Playing instruments has been a passion of mine, and I must say that the accordion stands out as one of the most unique and demanding ones.

The sheer versatility of the sounds it could produce was, in one word, interesting.

The accordion requires both proficiency and coordination since it involves using the hand to play the keyboard while manipulating buttons and bellows with the left hand. For beginners, this can be pretty overwhelming as it demands multitasking with precision and finesse.

Here is something that really makes learning this instrument difficult: finding learning resources and instructors.

While there are plenty of resources for instruments like the guitar and piano, it can be a bit more challenging to find high-quality materials for learning the accordion since it’s not as commonly played.

However, with practice, patience, and the right learning materials, anyone can become skilled at playing the accordion.

While it may not be the instrument out there, mastering the accordion certainly presents a rewarding yet demanding challenge for those who dedicate time and effort to learning it.


shiny golden saxophone on black background

Speaking from experience, I’ve found that playing the saxophone can be quite challenging due to finger combinations and options.

One of the aspects that make playing the saxophone trickier is the need for finger placement and a formed embouchure.

I’ve had to put in practice to ensure my fingers are accurately positioned, and my embouchure is solidly formed in order to produce perfectly tuned notes.

I am a little “buck-toothed,” so after a while, even the mouthpiece had grooves on it. 

Although playing the saxophone can be quite a challenge, I love playing it. It is my instrument of choice, and it can be found in a number of musical genres, like jazz, classical, and even pop music.

The wide range of styles and environments associated with the saxophone adds a level of appeal and excitement to learning it.

However, it’s important to note that the difficulty of learning any instrument can vary from person to person. While some individuals might find the saxophone particularly challenging, I believe that personal abilities, learning style, and musical background play a role in one’s ability to learn the saxophone with ease.

Moving on to another instrument…

Acoustic Drums

acoustic drum
White drums and cymbals on a stage

As a musician myself I have discovered that playing the drum set is genuinely demanding.

It requires a level of coordination, physical stamina, and precise timing.

From my experience, drumming involves using all four limbs simultaneously, each performing rhythms and patterns, and beginners often struggle with this independence of the limbs, so to speak.

Additionally, mastering control and various techniques like flams, rolls, and ghost notes add to the learning curve.

Another challenging aspect of playing drums is the responsibility of setting the tempo for the band. You must be mindful of timing and tempo to provide a foundation for others playing with you.


Old violin lying on the sheet of music, music concept

The enchanting music produced by a violin has always captivated me.

However, due to its intricate design, the violin often emerges as one of the most difficult instruments to play, and in my experience, becoming proficient in playing the violin involves overcoming unique obstacles.

To start with the fretless design of the violin can be daunting for beginners as it requires precise finger placement.

Developing muscle memory and the necessary dexterity to produce pitches may take years.

While not having frets allows for producing sounds beyond scales, as explained by Your Music Point website, it also means that even slight variations in finger positioning can result in sharp or flat notes.

Through my experience, I’ve discovered that applying insufficient pressure can result in harsh or weak tones.

Balancing between managing the bow position on my fingers correctly and maintaining body posture can sometimes prove difficult.

Moreover, reading sheet music while playing adds another layer of complexity to the task at hand. Consequently, successful violinists must possess concentration and coordination.



The cello is a demanding instrument that takes a lot of time to learn to play well. The cello boasts a mesmerizing versatility with its resonant timbre that effortlessly establishes a connection between performer and listener.

You will quickly realize the effort and dexterity the cello demands.

Unlike string instruments like the violin, playing the cello usually requires a seated position, which can initially feel a bit awkward due to its size. It calls for strength and balance from your hands, arms, and core. 

Cello intonation is also tough to achieve. With no frets to guide you, finding the correct finger placement relies heavily on muscle memory and ear training. It takes time, patience, and consistent practice to ensure your fingers hit their marks with precision every time.

Moreover, navigating through pieces explicitly composed for the cello can be both technically demanding and emotionally draining – adding another layer of difficulty to this remarkably difficult instrument to learn and play.

Double Bass

double bass

The double bass has always intrigued me as a musician who has played stringed instruments in the past.

It may seem intimidating at a glance.

This is particularly true when considering the array of techniques and styles that can be explored across classical, jazz, and contemporary music genres.

Coordination and dexterity are darn near required to learn this instrument fluently.

Unlike the violin or cello, playing the bass requires an amount of strength and stamina to produce rich tones.

The instrument’s size, along with its elongated fingerboard, demands finger placement and refined control in the left hand. Meanwhile, mastering the grip and pressure with the bow in your hand adds another layer to the challenge, and for beginners, especially, this combination can feel quite daunting.

Another aspect that adds to the complexity of learning the bass is its tuning system. Unlike string instruments like violins or cellos that use fifths in their tuning systems, the standard tuning for a bass is in fourths. This unique characteristic can make transitioning from another string instrument to playing the bass perplexing as familiar finger patterns, and scales must be relearned.

So, which instrument is the hardest to learn? 

Many of the instruments on this list are the hardest in the music industry to learn. 

But if I had to choose one as being the hardest, it would be a close tie between the pipe organ and bagpipe.

Each requires nearly surgical precision to make a pleasing sound to whoever is listening.

It is also wise to keep in mind that the “hardest” instrument to play is relative. If you have a passion for the instrument you are learning to play, regardless of how hard it is to learn, you will figure it out with enough time and effort.

So, do not allow anything on this list (or any list for that matter) to stop you from giving it a try and finding something you’d be proud to show off to friends once you have conquered the hardest instrument to learn and play.

Check out the rest of our piano tips and guides for more information and learn how you can learn to play piano in no time.