7 Reasons to Become a Multi-Instrumentalist

Charmaine Li  /  Musicianship  /  UPDATED Jan 9, 2023

If you’re reading this, you probably play piano (or want to!). But you may have wondered whether it’s a good idea to become a multi-instrumentalist.

By the time I started learning guitar, I had been playing piano for years. I thought I knew everything there was to know about music.

Then, guitar opened up a whole new world of musical awesomeness. It was challenging, humbling, and oh so rewarding.

Picking up a second instrument can be hard. But if you love music, there are many reasons to pick up a second (or third!) musical instrument.

Get a head start on your second instrument! If you like Pianote, you’ll LOVE Singeo, Guitareo, and Drumeo, our sibling brands. Lisa also teaches Singeo!

Becoming a Multi-Instrumentalist: Why You Should Try It!

Black and white photo of hands holding up instruments: acoustic guitar, laptop, mic, electric guitar, cymbal, bass, keyboard, mic.

Reason #1: Explore a larger variety of musical genres

The piano is a versatile instrument that can handle tons of genres. Jazz, classical, pop — you name it, the piano can do it.

But while some famous guitar riffs sound awesome on the piano, there’s nothing comparable to playing an epic guitar part on the guitar.

Like many teenagers, I got super into classic rock during high school. I yearned to sound like my rock heroes, and so I learned guitar. Knowing that you’re playing the same instrument as Eddie Van Halen or Jimi Hendrix is a powerful feeling. You gotta try it to believe it.

Reason #2: Play in a band!

Becoming a multi-instrumentalist can help you join a band. Band in Pianote studio including drummer, acoustic guitarist, and Lisa playing piano and singing.

Let’s be honest: how many times have you seen an ensemble of piano players?

Piano isn’t the best band instrument. At best, there is one piano in an ensemble. But if that position is already taken and you want to join in the band fun, you may need to learn another instrument!

Many bands have more than one guitarist, and some bands have trouble finding a bass player or drummer. By knowing a secondary instrument, you’ll be an asset. Understanding how to play with other people is also a vital part of musicianship.

And if you don’t know a band to join, you can become a one-person completely independent band yourself!

As a multi-instrumentalist, you can also be a one-person-band!

Reason #3: Different instruments affect the brain in different ways

Guitarists’ brains seem very intuitive. Pianists are perhaps more ambidextrous than most people. And drummers appear to be highly intelligent problem-solvers.

Different instruments seem to influence the brain in different ways. I’m certain that my piano training helped with learning the guitar. But my brain definitely had to work hard when I learned my first chords. Guitars and pianos work very differently, and you may be surprised at how hard your brain has to work to learn a new instrument.

A brain workout can be challenging, but also rewarding. And who knows? You might gain some new brain powers in the process.

Reason #4: Because pianos are not very portable…

One thing I get jealous of is the portability of some instruments. Let’s face it: pianos, even keyboards, are clunky. Unless it’s specially designed, you can’t just sling a piano over your shoulder, go on a hike, and play on top of a mountain.

Learning a portable instrument means you can bring your music-making ability wherever you go: campfires, vacations, boats, you name it!

Friends playing guitar and socializing in front of a campfire in a pit with the words "HOT ASHES."
Guitars and many other instruments are far more portable than a piano or keyboard.

Trust me: playing guitar surrounded by all your friends, is a magical experience!

Reason #5: Sharpen your ear

The piano is unique because most of us don’t tune our own pianos. This can make our ears lazy if we don’t make an effort to train them. Learning a second instrument, one that requires manual tuning, can help fill in this gap.

As a classically-trained pianist who relied on sheet music, I didn’t learn songs by ear until I picked up guitar. I’m not the best at playing by ear, but I am a lot better than I used to be! Guitar also introduced me to the magic of chord charts, which give you guidance while encouraging creativity.

Reason #6: Deepen your musical appreciation

The home of a multi-instrumentalist. Two acoustic guitars, an electric guitar, a keyboard, a mic, headphones, and a bass in an apartment.

Understanding a second language can help you appreciate other cultures. Similarly, learning a second instrument can deepen your appreciation of other genres.

Understanding what it takes to play a tuba or belt high notes can make listening to music more interesting and enjoyable. You’ll also be able to appreciate the skills and talents of other musicians at a deeper level.

This can make talking to other musicians more enjoyable too. And through playing different instruments, you may fall in love with a whole new genre.

Reason #7: Influence the way you compose songs

If you’re a songwriter, knowing different instruments will help you compose songs with more texture. And if you have access to lots of instruments, you could make recordings all on your own.

For a fascinating take on how piano influenced one guitarist’s songwriting, take a look at this interview with math rocker Yvette Young.

Becoming a Multi-Instrumentalist: the Challenges

Three photos: hands playing a keyboard (from the front), man singing into a studio mic with headphones, up close view of acoustic guitar playing hands.

Now, there are some things to keep in mind when learning multiple instruments at the same time.

Time management can be tough

There are only so many hours in a day. If you learn a new instrument, you’ll probably have to cut into your piano practice time. If not your piano-time, you may have to sacrifice some relaxation.

Learning how to play an instrument is hard work, after all.

So, before you commit to a second instrument, take a look at your schedule. Ask yourself if you’re willing to make sacrifices.

Some things don’t “translate”

Musical instruments have a lot in common, but they’re obviously not all the same. Many piano concepts don’t translate into other instruments and vice versa.

One advantage that piano has is it’s completely linear. There is only one way to play a note, and all the notes are arranged in a row.

In contrast, guitars with six strings have six rows, and there is more than one way to play one note. This is because you can make the same pitch on different strings.

Learning another instrument will require some un-learning and re-learning. Keep an open mind.

Electric guitar laid on a piano keyboard with hands playing on top.
Unfortunately, piano skills don’t translate directly into guitar skills!

Being a beginner again can be frustrating

I was very confident in my piano abilities by the time I learned guitar. But going back to learning basic notes, rhythms, and technical skills was frustrating at times. I didn’t enjoy being a beginner all over again.

So, expect that learning a second instrument will be humbling. Set your ego aside, and try to remember the joy and excitement of being a beginner. Set realistic expectations, carve out some extra time, and most of all, enjoy being a multi-instrumentalist.

Charmaine Li is a Vancouver writer who has played piano for over 20 years. She holds an Associate diploma (ARCT) from the Royal Conservatory of Music and loves writing about the ways in which music—and music learning—affects the human experience. Charmaine manages The Note. Learn more about Charmaine here.

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