“Why should I learn to play a musical instrument?” - a fairly common question, with answers that range from cognitive benefits to social skills development. “Why should I learn to play another instrument?” now, that is a slightly rarer question.
Learning to play another instrument has its advantages, even if you have no intention of being a one-person band.
Most people who learn to play an instrument stop at one. They may go to great lengths to learn that instrument, but more often than not, they choose to focus their energy on solely that instrument. This has some obvious benefits. First of all, focusing your time and energy towards one goal (instead of several) maximises your progress towards your objective. Here’s a simple way of illustrating that: spending 10 hours practising the guitar will likely make you a better guitarist than spending five hours on the guitar and another five on the drums. Learning more than one instrument can also be confusing, for a couple of reasons. Some instruments use different clefs, meaning that reading sheet music can become difficult. This is because clefs determine which notes sheet notation refers to. It’s a bit like trying to learn how to read French and English at the same time—the same letters produce very different sounds in each language. Think of clefs as something similar to the rules of pronunciation in French and English. It’s easy to see how switching between the two might cause problems for beginners. Likewise, learning multiple instruments can confuse one’s muscle memory. Playing a scale on a bass, for example, requires very different finger movement than playing the same scale on a trumpet. And it can be hard not to reflexively apply the same finger movements on both instruments.
Understanding how your instrument interacts with those of your fellow musicians is an important part of performing in a group.
It’s fairly clear then, that it’s simply easier and more effective to start on one instrument. But what if you’re already comfortable playing an instrument? Is there any reason to learn another? Well, there absolutely is. Learning a second instrument is hugely beneficial, particularly if you plan on playing in a group. Learning that second instrument simply means that you gain another perspective. Gaining this different perspective helps you better understand how instruments interact with one another, making you a smarter musician as a whole. In a band, it also means that you can communicate and coordinate with your bandmates far more effectively. Think of it like learning a new language—you learn the drums, and you can speak in the language of percussion, and thereby easily communicate with your drummer. Lastly, proficiency in multiple instruments also enhances your individual songwriting skills. This is especially true with regards to vocal training (if you’re willing to count one’s voice as an instrument). As a guitarist, you might think of a great riff, but not know how make a song out of it. With a decent knowledge of percussion and vocals as well, however, you stand a better chance of composing entire songs by yourself.
Now, there isn’t quite any need to learn more than one instrument—after all, some of the most talented musicians haven’t been multi-instrumentalists. But it goes without saying that learning a second (or third, or fourth) instrument has its benefits. Some of our faculty at Taaqademy can play multiple instruments, while many of our students can do the same too. What we’ve found, interestingly enough, is that students sometimes end up loving their second instrument more than their first. So here’s another reason to try your hand at an alternate instrument: you might just have more fun. And isn’t that what music’s about?