Playing a musical instrument can improve memory, increase patience, and relieve some serious stress. Still, it’s difficult to choose just one musical instrument when there are so many.
Keyboards and guitars are beginner-friendly, making them popular choices, and while both are fantastic instruments, one does stand out.
A keyboard is better to learn than a guitar as a beginner instrument. It’s most comfortable at the beginner level because it requires no special skills beyond pressing keys to produce quality notes, unlike the guitar, which requires additional skills. At a more advanced level, the keyboard is the best instrument for learning and understanding music theory.
In this article, we will review the keyboard and guitar so that you can decide which one you may prefer to learn.
Posture is an essential factor in both keyboard and guitar playing. The right stance can aid in better playing, while poor posture can cause unnecessary tension and lead to aches and pains.
With both instruments, though, it can be far too tempting to fall into bad posture. You can take both a guitar and keyboard to a bed and slouch with a curved back while you pluck strings or hit keys.
If you plan on excelling at your chosen instrument, you need to have the correct posture.
While playing a keyboard sitting down, your posture should be identical to a pianist’s, and your chair or bench should be centered on the keyboard. Your feet should be flat on the floor and never curled up underneath you or crossed.
While seated, place your hands on the keys. Your elbows need to be at a relaxed 90-degree angle, while your hands and forearms are level. If you find you can’t achieve this, adjust the height of your bench accordingly (source).
Many keyboarders play standing up, but they usually play sitting down when the music is more complex and requires more precise notes.
It far more common for a guitarist to play seated or standing. In either position, you need proper posture to avoid back pain or tension in the wrists.
Your dominant hand will be your strumming hand used to pluck at the strings. Your other hand, the fretting hand, will manipulate the fingerboard to hit the right note.
Your fretting hand should not be steadying the guitar. If you remove your fretting hand and the guitar slips, you are relying on the wrong hand and need to adjust.
Use the strumming hand to hold the guitar close to your body. You’ll probably want to set the guitar on the same leg as your strumming hand. If you have a strap, you’ll want to adjust it so that the guitar hangs at the same height as when you sit (source).
Both keyboards and guitars require the player to coordinate both hands, which is a challenge all its own. It can be tricky to get your hands to make separate motions. Both instruments have basic finger placements where beginners should start.
Keyboard Finger Placement
When you play a keyboard, you’ll want to consider your fingers as numbered — your thumb is one, the index is two, and so forth. To find the basic beginner’s finger position, you’ll be referencing the one — or your thumb.
You will want to place the thumb of your right hand on the middle C key. To find the middle C, you’ll look to the center of all the keys, between two black keys.
It’s not always the centermost key since the center of a keyboard depends on how many keys it has, and it might be slightly to the right. If you’re having difficulty finding the middle C, this video provides a helpful visual reference.
In the beginning, it can be hard to remember all the notes. Because of this, it’s a good idea to label the keys at first. This also helps you to easily and quickly position your hands in each practice session.
As for your left hand, you can place your thumb on the same middle C key. That’s one basic placement, and the other involves finding the next lowest C and putting your pinky on it. The remaining fingers will fall in place.
Guitar Strumming and Fretting
On a guitar, you need to place your fingers in the basic chord position. As mentioned in the posture section, your dominant hand is the strumming hand. The fingers of your dominant hand should be poised over the strings across the soundhole.
You can strum with or without a pick. Guitar picks are held between the index finger and thumb and dragged down through the strings. To finger strum, put your index finger and thumb together.
To down strum, run the strings down your index fingernail and strum up against your thumbnail.
Your fretting hand, or the non-dominant one, should have the thumb placed on the back of the guitar’s neck. Your other fingers curl across the fingerboard.
When you fret, you press down on the string and should avoid touching the actual fingerboard.
Since guitar strings have to hold tension, they are made with strong materials. When you first start strumming on metal or nylon guitar strings, the tender skin of your fingertips experience blunt trauma, and the first layer of skin is lost (source).
All this trauma to your fingertips will eventually lead to calluses, which we would normally want to avoid. However, guitar players strive for these calluses fingers because they will eventually desensitize fingertips and allow for pain-free strumming.
Learning to Read Music
Keyboard Music is in Standard Notation
To play a keyboard, you’ll have to read sheet music in standard notation, the instantly recognizable lines of music notes. Learning to read music can prove to be an entirely separate hobby on its own.
People can study music theory for years, and you can get a college degree in it.
Musicians almost unanimously agree that either a piano or keyboard would be the best instrument for a beginner to learn music. The visual of the piano keys is one factor that makes a difference.
When you look at a musical staff, the lowest possible note starts at the bottom, below the actual staff. Meanwhile, the highest note is high above the staff. Notes then follow this pattern.
Likewise, the keyboard is set up similarly. When you look at the keys, The left side is the low notes, while the highest notes are on the right.
Guitar Music is in Guitar Tablature
For a guitar, you will have to read music as well. The guitar’s sheet music comes in standard notation or in guitar tablature. Tablature, or TABs, have six lines to represent the six strings on a guitar.
Instead of reading music in standard notation, TABs provide visuals of where your fingers should go on the strings. Whether or not that’s ideal depends on what you’re after. The ability to read guitar tablature doesn’t transfer to another instrument since all others use standard notation sheet music.
Why Learning Standard Notation First is Better
In terms of learning to read music, the guitar may be easier thanks to guitar tablature, but the skill is non-transferable. It’s best to start with a keyboard and then switch to another instrument, like a guitar.
After all, knowing musical theory is a valuable skill. A 2009 study at Bowling Green University reviewed the retention of piano skills for music majors (source).
For those who believed the ability to play the piano was a useful skill and one they would use beyond the class, they were more motivated to excel.
Why the Keyboard is Better to Learn
The keyboard is the best beginner instrument for so many reasons. At the very least, it doesn’t require damaged fingertips to play!
Producing quality sounds is also much easier when starting. You just press down a key, and you have played a note. In only a few hours, you can play an entire song with one hand on a keyboard.
Keyboards also have features that make it hard for a guitar to compete. After all, you can always change the sound of your notes to sound like a guitar on many keyboards.
Electric keyboards also have built-in metronomes to help players keep the rhythm. If they are unsure how a song sounded, they can always record it on the keyboard and play it back to review.
Some keyboards even have features just for beginners. For example, The ONE Smart keyboard can connect to an app and teach you how to play a song by lighting up the correct keys.
The keys of a keyboard or piano are laid out from lowest to highest, which easily corresponds with sheet music. The white keys represent the natural notes — the same seven lettered-notes, repeated — while the black keys play sharp and flat notes (source).
In the end, the best instrument is the one you are willing to practice, but the keyboard offers several advantages. While musicians consider the piano a great instrument to begin with, the keyboard is far more portable and less expensive.
Unlike the guitar, the skill set is far more transferable and it doesn’t involve the buildup of calluses. Before choosing, consider your passions, your time constraints, and what you want to achieve from playing an instrument.