How Hard is Learning Guitar After Piano? A Road Map for Your Musical Journey

Once I got good at piano, I was afraid to learn anything else, especially anything with strings. The instruments just seemed too different!

Eventually, though, I found the courage to start playing guitar.

I’m glad I did, too — I soon found that my piano experience actually made learning a new instrument easier.

But before I began, I did some research to ensure I’d be able to make the most of my piano experience when I picked up a guitar for the first time. I checked out Reddit, I took a look at Quora, and I even ventured into piano forums!

It turns out that most other musicians had discovered what I did: that being able to see how chord structures worked on a piano makes it easier to apply them to guitar. And of course, the music theory knowledge you’ve gained from piano always helps.

In this article, I’ll talk you through:

  • Why already playing piano makes learning guitar easier
  • What parts of piano knowledge will be especially important to apply
  • What challenges you may face and how to overcome them

So how hard is learning guitar after piano? Let’s find out.

How Does Piano Experience Help You Learn Guitar?

Everybody knows playing guitar or piano is cool.

So of course, playing both is even cooler!

But if you’re already an accomplished pianist, you might balk at the thought of being a beginner again. Luckily, there’s a whole host of ways your piano knowledge can help you master guitar!

You Already Know Music Basics

It’s hard to definitively say whether guitar or piano is easier.

Even a quick search online will show you there’s plenty of disagreement on the topic.

Regardless of which one’s easier, having a strong musical knowledge base from playing piano will make learning any new instrument a lot simpler.

You already know the musical alphabet, and you’re probably familiar with scales and keys and how they work.

In my case, already having a grounding in chord theory really simplified learning guitar. I knew what set major and minor chords apart, and I also knew a good bit about chord progressions and how to create and use them.

I also found that playing piano gave me a very solid grounding in music theory. After all, on a piano, you can see the intervals between notes.

Piano Notes Piano and Guitar

On a guitar, the ordering of the notes is less logical. But already having an understanding of music theory will help you make sense of them faster!

And lastly, one thing I really appreciated about already playing piano was that I knew how to read sheet music. That gives you a huge leg up when learning any instrument!

Reading sheet music for most instruments poses less of a challenge than reading piano sheet music, too. After all, as a pianist, you have both a treble clef and a bass clef to deal with!

Depending on what genre you want to learn, sheet music may or may not be important. If you want to play classical guitar, you’ll probably need to learn to read music.

On the other hand, if you want to play rock or metal, learning tablature might be enough.

So if you’re wondering “how hard is learning guitar after piano?” you should know that it’s a lot easier to learn if you already play keys.

You Probably Won’t Need a Teacher

When you’re learning an instrument for the first time, it’s a good idea to have a teacher. Between learning theory, reading music, and mastering good technique, it’s easy to get overwhelmed!

I know I benefited from having a piano teacher when I was learning. I became confident in my knowledge of scales, chords, and music theory as a whole.

Learning guitar is of course different from learning piano. But when I started, I already knew important musical concepts — I just needed to apply them to a new instrument.

Since I already had a good knowledge base, I didn’t need to hire a music teacher. That’s not to say you shouldn’t; everyone is different.

Girl Playing Guitar

Even though I didn’t have a teacher, I still used outside resources. I’ve learned a lot from articles on technique and song tutorials like the ones in this article.

I’ve also found guitar books to be helpful. Even if you’re self-taught, it helps to have a plan for what to learn and when.

You Can Coordinate Your Hands Already

If you’re wondering “how hard is learning guitar after piano?” you might also be wondering whether it’s easier for guitarists to learn piano than it is for pianists to learn guitar.

It generally seems to be easier for pianists to pick up guitar. Part of that’s because the piano is such a good teaching tool for music theory.

But another part has to do with hand coordination. Both guitarists and pianists need to master using both hands at the same time.

Playing Piano and Playing Guitar

When you’re a guitarist, you effectively use both hands to play the same thing. Your fretting hand frets the notes or chords you need, while your picking hand hits the strings to create the sound.

When you’re a pianist, your right hand and left hand are usually playing completely different things. It’s a hard skill to master. (I know it took me long enough!)

So when you move to guitar and coordinate your hands, it tends to be easier than the coordination you need to be a good pianist. But if you’re a guitarist switching to piano, coordinating hands becomes a little tougher.

Sometimes, it can take even longer to learn an instrument where you use your hands in a much different way. For instance, learning to play the various keys of a saxophone (you can read about it here!) poses more of a challenge because it’s so unlike the piano.

You Have Existing Finger Strength

It’s easy to forget that playing an instrument is fairly physical. Coordination is very important, but so is basic finger strength and dexterity.

If you’ve ever sat down at a piano and played at length, you know what I mean: it’s easy to get tired! The same goes for guitar; your left hand especially gets tired of gripping the neck and fretting notes and chords.

Guitar and Piano Shake Hands

Of course, you use your fingers in different ways on piano and guitar. But when you’ve already got decent strength in your fingers from playing piano, it makes playing a stringed instrument a lot easier!

Think of it like learning to play a new sport. If you’re already in shape from running track, learning to play basketball becomes less of a challenge.

You’ll Learn Faster

Already knowing music basics and having an idea of how to coordinate your hands can certainly simplify things as you begin playing guitar.

But having that experience behind you has another bonus: you’ll learn faster! Instead of needing to master the concepts and physically playing the instrument, you’ll just need to learn to play the instrument itself.

Man Playing Guitar

Word of warning, though: don’t expect to learn too fast. When I first started playing guitar, I became pretty frustrated at what I felt was a lack of progress.

After all, I was a great piano player. But even simple arpeggios on guitar were hard to master.

My advice here would be to relax and do your best to enjoy being a beginner again. After all, physically playing guitar is a lot different than playing piano.

There are some things you can do to help yourself as you learn, though.

It can be helpful to look to your guitar-playing friends (or YouTube guitarists!) for any tips they have for new guitarists.

How Hard is Learning Guitar After Piano?

Now you know that piano experience can really be an asset when it comes to learning guitar. But there are still some challenges you might face:

The Instruments Are Very Different

Learning guitar after piano is exciting.

It tests your understanding of musical concepts and helps you grow as a musician.

But that growth comes because learning both guitar and piano is a real challenge. And a lot of that challenge comes from the fact that the piano and the guitar are just very different instruments.

One difference that I found tough to wrap my head around is that of intervals. You may already know that the guitar is tuned E-A-D-G-B-E.

Up until the G-B interval, each string is tuned a perfect fourth apart. The interval between G and B is a major third.

E A D G B E

Though it seems weird, that anomaly actually makes the instrument easier to play. Without it, you couldn’t play barre chords or open chords (or at least not as easily as you can now).

Another difference has to do with how you use your hands.

On guitar, you need to maintain a certain amount of tension in your fretting hand in order to avoid string buzzing.

On a piano, you want both hands to be somewhat “soft.” It’s not a major hurdle, but it’s something to be mindful of.

Of course, if you find yourself enjoying the piano to guitar challenge, you may be inspired to play other very different instruments. If you want, you can see what it’s like to learn drums here.

You Might Deal With Finger Calluses

Look up any article aimed at new guitarists, and you’ll almost certainly see a mention of the dreaded finger calluses. To some, calluses make learning guitar a lot harder.

But if you don’t play guitar yet, you may not know exactly what I mean.

Hands and Guitar

Fretting strings, especially steel strings, is tough on your fingers. When you play long enough, you develop calluses on your fingertips.

The calluses generally aren’t noticeable unless you touch them. But the calluses themselves don’t bother most people: it’s the part of learning before you develop them!

Personally, I didn’t find it too terrible. I wanted to learn on a steel-string acoustic, and steel strings are probably the hardest on your fingers.

After about a week, I started developing calluses and my fingers stopped bothering me. But if you’d rather not go through that, you might want to try learning on a nylon-string guitar.

Guitar Strings

Alternatively, some brands make “silk and steel” strings that sound like steel strings but are softer on your fingers. These strings can help ease you into playing with regular steel strings.

Needless to say, when you play piano, you don’t develop finger calluses! But at least in my case, developing the calluses didn’t have a major impact on my learning.

Tips for Success

Learning guitar after piano isn’t terribly hard, but it’s still a good idea to know what you’re getting into. I learned some things along the way that I wanted to pass on:

1. Invest in a Good Setup

When you “set up” a guitar, you make sure that the strings are close enough to the fretboard to make sure you have an easy time pressing them down.

Some guitars come out of the box with the strings way too high. This means that you have to apply a good bit of force to fret each note.

Doing this is tiring, and it can also really hurt your fingers, especially if you’re a beginner.

Most guitar shops will perform a setup for a relatively small fee. If you prefer, there are lots of YouTube videos on doing your own setups, too.

2. Have a Plan

Boy Guitar and Learning Plan

Having a learning plan goes beyond having a practice schedule.

It’s easy to aimlessly search for song tutorials on the internet. But without a structured plan, it becomes hard to make measurable progress.

Not everyone’s plan has to look the same. I went the route of using books, but I know plenty of guitarists who opted to use online lesson programs.

3. Be Patient

I mentioned this one briefly above, but it’s worth saying again! If you’re already good at one instrument, it’s easy to set unrealistic expectations when learning another.

Of course, setting progress goals for yourself is fine. But if you spend all your time wishing you were getting better faster, you’ll miss most of the fun of learning a new instrument!

4. Chord Charts Are Your Friend

Thanks to my piano training, I knew a good bit about chord structure before I ever picked up another instrument. Unfortunately, that didn’t help me remember how to play various chords!

Chord Charts

I found that having a chord chart hanging in my practice space helped a lot. That way, if I forgot a chord, I could just glance up at the wall.

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Going Forward

If you’re a pianist considering learning a second instrument, I hope I’ve given you some reassurance.

So how hard is learning guitar after piano? With your existing music experience, it’s easier than you think!

 

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