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Is it Better to Learn Drums or Guitar?

We look at if you should learn drums or guitar and what things to consider if you want to pick up either of these instruments. Plus, we see if you can learn both drums and guitar!

Guitar and drums are two of the most popular instruments to learn, but which one is right for you? Here, I share my thoughts on the subject, being somewhat uniquely qualified as a drummer of 19 years, with a 5 year stint dabbling as a guitarist during that time.

Is playing drums harder than guitar?

Some people say that drumming is harder than guitar because you have to use four limbs instead of two. Others say guitar is harder than the drums because you need to know where notes are on the fretboard. In my view, drums and guitar are both easy to pick up and hard to master, but I think it’s easier to become a decent all-round drummer than an all-round guitarist.

Below, let’s break down what makes drumming easier in some ways, and what makes guitar easier in others.

Why is drumming harder than playing guitar?

The typical argument of why drumming is harder than guitar is due to using all four limbs instead of just your arms. The slight flaw with this argument is that the most common drum beats in contemporary music are far simpler and only really need the use of three limbs. Most music calls for very simple drumming, so it’s certainly possible to become a solid drummer without being fully ambidextrous.

Another reason why some people find drumming hard is the focus on timing. It’s the drummer’s job to keep the rhythm for the band, so good timekeeping is one of the most important skill for a drummer to develop. Beginners will often struggle when playing to a metronome for the first time, which definitely takes effort and dedication to perfect.

When it comes to playing guitar, timekeeping is important, but not quite as important as on the drums, since the rest of the band aren’t looking to you for their timing.

Why is guitar harder than the drums?

While drumming is a full-body activity, the main movements for playing guitar are concentrated into the hands. It takes good fine-motor skills, especially on the fretboard, to become a competent guitarist. This can be tough, but just like using four limbs on drums, it’s a skill you can develop over time.

The other reason why guitar is harder than drums is needing to know notes, chords and scales, which is knowledge that isn’t required to play the drums. Learning a song on the guitar for the first time can be harder than on the drums for this reason, and it can be harder to remember songs you haven’t played in a while if you don’t know the notes.

Meanwhile on the drums, it’s easy to listen to a song and play along, or simply jam with a band once you’ve mastered a few different beats and fills. Drums can therefore be a better instrument for those not interested in musical theory, while guitar is better for those who may want to move on to songwriting which requires a bit of musical theory knowledge.

Volume and convenience

Undoubtedly one of the reasons why many people say it’s better to learn the guitar over the drums is volume and space required.

An electric guitar can be played quietly if done so through headphones, since the acoustic sound of the strings are fairly quiet. Electric guitars typically have a solid body which does not naturally amplify the strings, unlike acoustic guitars which are hollow.

Meanwhile, an acoustic drum kit is very loud, up to 120 decibels, which can be a problem for drummers who live in apartments or even playing drums at home if you have an adjoining wall.

The low volume alternative is to use an electronic drum kit, which significantly cuts down on airborne noise. While electronic drums are not completely silent, they typically cut down volume enough to make drumming accessible to most people.

Another factor is the space required. If you have limited space, learning guitar may be better, as you can store a guitar in a case, on a stand, or even using a hook on the wall. A drum kit requires around 5-6 by 5 feet, (1.5 to 1.8m), while an electronic kit typically takes up less space – around 4 by 4 feet (1.2 x 1.2m). Find out more about how much space you need for drums.

Are drums more expensive than an electric guitar?

It’s certainly true that a cheap electric guitar and amp is cheaper than a budget acoustic or electronic drum kit. However, it’s also true that you can spend a fortune on either instrument once it becomes a hobby.

Personally, I’ve spent several thousand on my drums over the years, including two shell packs, a small collection of snare drums and various cymbals, as well as my A-to-E electronic drum kit.

Similarly, all of my guitarist friends own multiple amps, pedals, and as many as 9 different guitars in their collections. Fortunately, I never caught the same guitar addiction by being a better drummer than guitarist!

Remember, you can also buy used drums or guitars to save money. If you decide to go with an electronic drum kit, check out our tips on how much you should spend.

Should you learn drums if you play guitar?

If you already play guitar, is it possible to learn the drums too? It definitely is, and for whatever reason, the drums seem to always be popular with guitarists. In every band I’ve been in, at some point the guitarist has wanted a go on the drums!

Because drumming is based around timing and guitar is based around melody, learning both instruments can help you think about music in a different way. Here’s a clip of Dave Grohl below, a noted drummer and guitarist. While he started with drums before guitar, he explains his approach to playing the guitar as if it was a drum kit (Warning: Strong language!)

Learning the drums as well as guitar can also help you develop your song writing abilities, and is why most of my guitarist friends wanted to take up the drums. They wanted to compose songs without having to call me up and ask for a drum beat. While there are tools that will help you compose drums, such as Bandmate as part of the EZdrummer 3 package, learning drumming basics certainly helps.


Image credit: Rocco Dipoppa

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By Seb Atkinson

Seb has been a drummer since 2004 and an eDrummer since 2008. He founded eDrumHub to provide information on electronic drums for other drummers who can't justify an acoustic drum kit for practice at home.