How to learn a musical instrument on your own


There are a wide variety of avenues for a definitive absorption of the emotions that music brings about. Sometimes it’s listening to the lyrics of your favorite vinyl albums, and other times it’s being behind the instruments. For most of us, it is much easier to process the emotions coming from the instruments since the lyrics, for the most part, need to be contextualized first. This leads to a desire to want to learn musical instruments because it is like learning a second language.

Music lessons are excellent and should always be taken into consideration where appropriate. In fact, many have gone online and are great resources as we navigate the pandemic while trying to keep our creativity going. But if you want to go the DIY route, the internet has everything you need to at least get started on the musicians front.

While instruments like the trombone and timpani are fantastic in themselves, they are a bit esoteric in terms of general music. Here, we’ve broken down some easy-to-follow routes for mastering three of the most popular and accessible instruments – piano, drums, and guitar.


Man playing a black piano.
Isaac Ibbott / Unsplash

The piano can be intimidating what with his considerable stature and his attachment to geniuses like Mozart and Beethoven. Some are so big they look like giant pieces of furniture, almost too pretty to play with. Look, we don’t expect you to be the next Herbie Hancock. But be aware that the piano is an inviting instrument and also a generic term, in this case composed of sibling instruments like organ, keyboard, glockenspiel, marimba, etc.

If you have a piano or an old keyboard, so much the better. Otherwise, a children’s piano will suffice. And if you even miss that, you can download countless instrument apps, get attachments for your iPad and your favorite music making software, or just hang out with a virtual piano on your laptop. Once you’ve secured your instrument, you’ll need a bit of wisdom. Again, there are many sources and forums like appgrooves do a good job of scoring and categorizing them.

If you really want to DIY, just display a picture of the basic piano chords and use it as a card. Learn a few major and minor chords each day, memorizing them for convenience. Work on simple scales (think college group class) to help your dexterity, then start looking for songs that are easy to tackle. Outlets like tabnabber give you access to tabs for all kinds of music, which will allow you to match notes with the pattern of figures.

A great organ app for experimenting at home is the Minimoog model D brought by the continuing legacy of the legendary Bob Moog. It has an assortment of fun settings, great button sensitivity, and solid sound given that you’ll likely run it through your phone’s speakers. Plus, it’s incredibly retro and a fun app to pull out when trying to match the melody of a catchy song that’s playing.


Man playing drums with drumsticks.
Oscar Ivan Esquivel Arteaga / Unsplash

If you can drive a shifter, you’re already one step ahead of becoming a drummer. Both acts require similar eye-hand and eye-foot coordination. If you can keep a beat, you’re even closer.

Like the piano, full drums can seem a little intimidating. A bass, a snare, a cymbal and a few toms take up a lot of space. And while we encourage you to channel your interior Neil Peart (RIP) and go for it, you might be better served by a smaller kit, electronic setup, or something entirely digital. For the beat-making, there are pretty and relatively small drum machine options. For percussion sticks in hand, you can have a lot of fun with an Octopad setup like this battery.

Again, if you want to DIY, get yourself a tricked digital kit through an app. Or take it to the next level and make your own from home scraps. It’s satisfying and a fraction of the cost of the real thing. Again, you will need some advice. Learning the snare drum and some of its basics like a roll, paradiddle, etc., is a great way to start. Once you’re ready for the multitasking involved on a kit, try out some introductory rhythms like those.

And, of course, drum up with your favorite songs and try to match the beat.


Man learning to play guitar with his friend.
Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels

Musicians are doing some pretty cool things online these days, from intimate performances to guitar lessons. And many of them involve the guitar, a ubiquitous instrument.

You might have one lying around, desperately in need of a melody. Or, maybe a ukulele or an electric bass. Either way, it’s time to learn. If you own an instrument and want to quickly learn a few pop songs, outfits like CoachGuitar can get you there. Plus, apps like Real Guitar and others are available and iconic names like Fender will let you play on your phone or tablet, should you need virtual strings.

For the spirit of assembly, there is electric guitar kits there too. The internet is full of free advice and this is especially true for guitar lessons. Test a few to see what you like and don’t like. If you’re willing to shell out the cash, go with something like ArtistWorks for a more personalized tutorial.

Whatever the instrument, play often, try to reproduce what you hear in nature, and don’t be afraid to rush things often. It takes some getting used to, but soon you’ll be dropping a four-way pace to the floor or scratching Free fall’ by Tom Petty with ease.

Read more: Learn Guitar with the Fender Play App

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