Should I Learn Guitar Or Drums? How To Decide Your Future Path

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You are about to embark on a long journey–I think you’re awesome for thinking a bit before deciding what journey (guitar or drums) to take. Both guitar and drums are difficult instruments but are extremely fulfilling. How do you know which one is right for you?

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The best way to determine whether you should choose guitar or drums is to determine which aspect of music excites you more–rhythm or melody. Determining which aspect of music is exciting to you can be easily done by listening to examples and experimenting with melody and rhythms, yourself. If you enjoy rhythm more, choose drums. If you enjoy melody more, choose guitar. If you enjoy both equally, then guitar is still the best option.

This is not an easy question to decide because sometimes both instruments can appeal to you. That’s probably why you’re here. However, I’m going to try and help you go through the different aspects of each instrument to help you feel confident in your decision.

How To Decide Between Guitar and Drums

I feel your pain, I love the guitar and I also love the drums and so it’s difficult for me to decide which one I would rather spend hours and hours practicing. Fortunately I have the amazing opportunity in that I have tried both. From my experience, I’ve learned about both instruments advantages and disadvantages and also what can spark interest in one person and what might not spark interest in another.

I’m going to go step-by-step to try and go through each attribute of the instrument to help you make a decision that you’ll be satisfied with.

Step 1: Does Melody Or Rhythm Appeal More Than the Other?

If you don’t know the answer to this question… great! You’re in the right place.

If you feel you intuitively know already whether you are more interested in melody or rhythm but you aren’t sure, then this step may help you push you over the edge.

Do you get excited when you hear an amazing guitar solo that’s going up and down the fretboard? Or is it during an a killer drum solo where you really feel the music?

You might be thinking “well… I enjoy both very much!” Which I can of definitely empathize with.

In that case it’s time for some homework. Get onto YouTube and do some watching.

Researching Guitarists

You have a lot of genres to look at– Classical, Folk, Rock, Classic Rock, Blues, Metal, etc–whatever is your cup of tea really. To make it easier for you, I made a couple YouTube playlists:

Classical Guitar YouTube Playlist (out of all of these I’ve only seen Estas Tonne live–it was amazing)

Rock Guitar YouTube Playlist (blues, metal, etc)

Some ideas: Jimi Hendrix, John Petrucci, Steve Vai, John Mayer

Don’t stop there, though. If you have a favorite guitarist or a band already, check them out. It’s worth spending a couple days listening to various guitarists and really paying attention to the melodies and what the guitar is capable of.

Something to remember–these are some of the best guitarists the world knows about–you can still play and enjoy the guitar with 1/10,000ths of skill that these players have.

Researching Drummers

John Bonham, Buddy Rich, Mike Portnoy, and hundreds of other drummers are inspirational with their almost unachievable level of talent. You can check out the YouTube playlist I put together here:

Best Drummers YouTube Playlist

One caveat, many of the YouTube videos you’ll see are going to focus on drumming solos, which are fun but make sure you listen to the songs that these drummers play in. The most important job of a drummer is not the solo but rather keeping a beat and locking the song together.

Is It Worth Doing All This Homework?

It is absolutely worth your time to think this through–many people underestimate how difficult the drums or the guitar can be, and how much time it takes to improve.

(Psst.. if you are wondering just how much time, check out this article where I talk about how much time you should practice to become good at the guitar).

Learning an instrument is always a long road–but it’s particularly long for drummers and guitarists where both instruments are complex and multifaceted and require significant physical coordination.

So, if you’re going to put in the time and effort to learn the guitar or the drums it’s best to know what you’re getting into so you can have be confident in your decision of which instrument to focus on.

Step 2: Making Music, Yourself

You need to try to make some music and experiment whether you like making melodies or rhythm more

So, part of the part of the problem here is that in order to be fully informed, you have to know what it’s like to play the instrument. Not just a day or two, but months of practice may be necessary to get to a point where you know what the experience is like playing the guitar or playing the drums.

However, you can get a basic idea of what to do with a couple tricks.

You can do this too even if you don’t have a guitar or drums or any other instrument.

Making Melodies

Quick definition: A melody is almost always the part of the song that you remember. The main singer of most songs is singing the melody if that helps.

The point of this exercise is to help you figure out whether you enjoy making melodies more than rhythm:

  1. Try and play a melody of a song you like (if you know how to read music, you can even try finding some sheet music for a song)
  2. Try making up melodies on your own. Nothing fancy, just simple melodies.

Don’t have a guitar to try that with? You have some options here:

  • If you have a piano this is an excellent way to plunk out a melody even if you don’t know how to play the piano
  • If you don’t have a piano you can try using a guitar app such as this one for Android (Google Play) and this one for iPhone (A piano app might be easier because guitar apps are going to be very limited in what they can play)
  • If you don’t have a smartphone you can use a web app such as this one to play guitar
  • Even if you just try singing or whistling this is an excellent way to practice making melodies

This may seem simple–what you’re looking for is if you find yourself losing track of time as you try and plunk out different melodies.

Perhaps you even feel liberated in being able to try and embark on your own melodies–these are great signs sign that you are interested in melody and you would enjoy a more melodic instrument such as the guitar.

Making Rhythms

Quick definition: Almost every song has a pulse, or a beat. This beat is what keeps the song moving and aligns all the instruments. The drums are rhythm instruments as their purpose is to keep time, add tension, and build excitement in the song. The most basic rhythm can even just be you tapping your foot to a song.

Here are some ideas of how you can practice making rhythms to see if you enjoy it more than making melodies

  • As some mom’s lament any surface is capable of being drummed.  You can make simple beats and rhythms with any surface
  • Try listening to a song that you think has great drum rhythms and try playing along with it with what you have.  Buckets, tabletops and even pots and pans will do in a pinch.

Really you can use anything around the house to as a drum If you don’t believe me check out this video:

Incredible drummer in Amsterdam © #trash rave techno Dario Rossi Drummer

Was this a fascinating exercise? Were you able to find rhythms that you thought were super cool? Then you may have what it takes to love drumming.

Step 3: Borrow the Guitar Or the Drums

If you have discovered your path by now, then you’re good, you’re ready to go buy a drumkit or a guitar.

If, however, you’re still unsure by this step, it’s time for you to step up your game in determining what instrument is for you. 

It’s one thing to go to a music store and play on the instrument for 20 minutes or as long as you feel is socially acceptable.  But to really get a feel for what you’re in for it’s best to borrow the instrument that you are most interested in.

If you can borrow it for a month that’s the best option because only practicing for a couple of days you might find yourself more frustrated than excited because both of these instruments are difficult to play.  

If you find yourself dreading even practicing that instrument for 30 days then it might not be the instrument that you’re most interested in, and that’s completely fine. There are hundreds of other instruments to choose from.

What if You Love Melody and Rhythm?

This is a fantastic place to be! If you are discouraged because you feel like you love both rhythm and melody equally then the answer is simple: You should play guitar.

Or maybe it’s not so simple, maybe you should play both instruments. 🙂

Guitar has the amazing attribute of being both a melodic and a percussive instrument. Not very many instruments can play the melodies of the songs but also be percussive enough to maintain the rhythm of the song. It’s one of the reasons why I love the guitar.

What’s Harder Guitar Or Drums?

This is a fantastic question.  If you want to be get good in an instrument as quick as possible then you want to choose the instrument that doesn’t take years to get good at.

Unfortunately, both of these instruments are difficult to play. however you will find that you will be able to play a basic beat on the drums much faster than you will be able to play a basic song on the guitar.

Does this mean the drums are easier than the guitar? far from it. It just means that picking up the basics is a little bit more intuitive and easier physically than it is to pick up the basics of the guitar.

Guitarists have to get the physical capability to press down on the strings and play them essentially doing two things at a time with both hands. this is no thin feat, it’s difficult for many people to have the finger strength and flexibility to play the cord shapes and press down on the strings, for some people it takes several weeks to get to the point where they can play guitar for more than 30 minutes.

Furthermore successful guitarists have to understand scales and how to structure them together, this is one thing that drummers never have to worry about.

In fact I talk about multiple reasons why the guitar in particular is a difficult instrument if you want to learn what you’re up against if you pick the guitar.

Drummers have to learn how to coordinate all four limbs at the same time, and although this sounds impossible it can be done with practice.

But amazingly that’s not the hard part of playing the drums, the hard part of playing is to be able to keep time incredibly well.  Drummers have to be locked into the beat more than almost any other instrument. We will forgive other instruments occasionally, but if the drummer (or the bass player) are offbeat–it’s unforgivable.

Being able to play so locked into the beat takes months and months of regular practice with the metronome.

Being able to teach your feet to play as quickly as your hands is another difficulty facing many drummers. The physical coordination and dexterity to play the drums (well) requires a lot of work.

So, even though a beginner can figure out a basic rock rhythm in less than 30 minutes (I’ve seen this many times), being able to be good enough to actually play with a band takes much, much longer.

In summary although the guitar and the drums are both difficult instruments the drums are easier to pick up in the beginning.  

Peter Mitchell

Founder of this website. Lover of sound, music, hot sauce, and technology.

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