Learning an instrument has many different benefits, from relaxation and self-therapy, to increasing coordination and mental acuity, to expressing yourself in a fun and creative way. Playing music has been my favorite hobby since childhood, and in the internet-connected world of today, it’s never been easier to buy and learn a new instrument. There are tons of choices and many categories to choose from, so whether you want to start with percussion, wind, or strings, with just a few clicks you can find an easy instrument to learn on your own.
If you’ve never heard of playing the spoons before, this might sound like a joke, but they are actually a common musical instrument used in styles all around the world. There are as many techniques as genres that they are played in, but the basic principle is that two spoons are held in the hand, bottom to bottom, and struck against one another, against the thigh, and against the palm of the opposite hand. It takes just a moment to learn the basic technique and can start you on your way to learning advanced methods and rhythms used in folk music across the globe.
Bongos are a familiar percussion instrument that originated in Cuba in the middle of the 19th Century. These two open-bottom drums come in connected pairs, one slightly larger than the other, and are held between the knees with the larger drum played by the dominant hand. There are several different striking techniques used to produce a range of sounds, including the open tone, the heel-tip movement, the slap, and the basic muted tone. With a bit of practice, you can become a true bongosero as you master these attacks and learn the basic bongo rhythms like the Martillo, the Borello, and the Guaguanco.
The glockenspiel is a melodic percussion instrument very similar to a xylophone. Its metallic bars produce a pure, bell-like sound, and are arranged in the same way as piano keys. Typically covering a range of only 2 ½ to 3 octaves, there’s nothing overwhelming about the glockenspiel, and even very young children can learn to play basic songs on one. It’s typically played with two mallets with plastic, metal, or rubber heads, though you can move on to advanced four-mallet techniques once you conquer the basics. Combining melody and percussion, the glockenspiel is a great instrument to use to learn the fundamentals of reading musical notation.
Though there are many different types of harmonica, the one you’re most likely to encounter at an affordable price at your local music store is the diatonic blues harp. This a free reed wind instrument extensively used in blues and American folk music. Harmonicas are played by inhaling (drawing) and exhaling (blowing) through one or more holes, using the lips and tongue to accurately direct the airflow. Blues harps are made in a range of keys, so to play along in many different songs you will need a variety of harmonicas, but you can learn the rudimentary techniques and basics of rhythm and riffing with just one.
Melodicas are fun, lightweight, hybrid instruments something like a cross between a small keyboard and a harmonica. They sound a bit like an accordion, and are played by blowing through a tube or mouthpiece while pressing one or more keys of the keyboard to allow air to pass through a reed or reeds. They’re small and easy to play, and are typically very affordable. Kids can have a great time with them, but even serious musicians have utilized the melodica in compositions since the 1950s.
If you had an elementary school music class, chances are you’ve already learned a song or three on the recorder. Recorders are a woodwind instrument in the internal duct flute category, with a thumb hole on the bottom and seven holes on top for the fingers. Advanced recorder playing takes a bit of finesse with breath control and half-hole fingerings, but it’s nothing compared to the mouthing techniques required to play other woodwinds like the flute or clarinet. They’re low maintenance and low cost, but highly durable and highly enjoyable once you start to learn a few pleasant tunes.
With only four strings and one of the smallest bodies in the stringed instrument group, ukuleles are arguably the easiest string instrument to learn to play. Most basic chords require only one or two fingers, and even people with tiny hands can stretch about the whole length of the fingerboard. Although most times you’ll hear only basic, amateur songs played on this Hawaiian instrument, you can progress to playing truly beautiful advanced melodies. Nylon strings and a tiny neck make this a painless string instrument to play, and larger versions such as the baritone and bass ukuleles make it possible for players with any sized hands to learn.
The guitar is so popular it doesn’t need to be described, but just in case you don’t know, it’s a stringed instrument most commonly constructed with six strings. Guitars come in a wide variety of shapes and styles for every size player, from ¾ sized, soft-on-the-fingers nylon string classical acoustics, to big and heavy semi-acoustic electric guitars. The most advanced guitar techniques are of course challenging, but with just a week or two of practice you can learn enough chords to play hundreds of songs.
From common kitchen utensils to the unusual keyboard+harmonica combo of melodicas, there are literally thousands of different instruments you can learn to play. There’s no better time to start than now, and you’re never too old to learn a new trick (or song), so if you’re feeling the need to get groovy, pick one of these easy instruments to learn on your own and get jamming!