looking down on drumset

Are Drums Harder than Guitar? (This is Why)

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When considering becoming a musician, one of the first things people ask is how hard it is to play drums or a guitar. So, are drums harder than guitar to learn or play?

All kinds of musicians over the years have responded to this query, and they typically all have different answers. The simple answer is that drums are harder than guitar. Nevertheless, the guitar is also a complicated instrument.

Wait. What? How can both be more complicated than the other? Well, it has to do with how our brains are wired.

Have you ever tried to rub your stomach in a vertical circular motion while rubbing the top of your head in a circular horizontal motion? This test used to check a person’s intoxication level is also a good indicator of whether you might be a good drummer.

Drumming requires a high degree of dexterity. Not to mention, one needs an ear for timing. You have to be able to keep different beat timings on different drums while maintaining a time that is as close to perfect as you can achieve.  


Hiding Your Mistakes

With drumming, you can’t hide mistakes, at least not big mistakes. And if your timing is off, everyone can tell.

With guitar, there is much more flexibility to ‘hide’ a mistake. You can draw out notes to hide a timing mistake. But with drumming, there is no way to draw out a drum note; you just have to hit the drum again. That means if you’re off time, you’re not likely to hide behind a drawn-out note.

On the other hand, if you are off with the note you strike on the guitar, your timing might be perfect, but it could sound horrible. There’s nothing more obvious in a song than striking the wrong note.


Should I Learn Drums or Guitar?

It can be tough to choose which one you should learn with the different abilities required for drumming versus guitar. If it were up to me, I’d say learn them both, but this could be a costly and timely avenue you may not want to take.


Major Differences Between Drums and Guitar

But, what are the significant differences between drums and guitar?

The first and most distinct difference between playing guitar and playing the drums is the use of limbs. A guitar requires you to use both hands. Feet only come into play when you are using foot-controlled expression pedals and effects. But, a basic guitar only requires you to use two hands.

Drums, on the other hand, require you to use both hands and feet, which makes them difficult to play. Typically, one foot controls the high hat cymbals, and one foot controls the bass drum. Then both hands are equipped with drum sticks, mallets, or brushes.

As you may be able to tell, drumming requires a higher level of ambidextrous ability and a keen sense of timing.

For this reason, drumming is more difficult than a guitar.

The guitar becomes more challenging to play if subtle finger movements are tricky for you.


“I was in a band once with a drummer who was fantastic but couldn’t play guitar to save his life while I’ve also been in a band with a guitarist who was amazing at playing guitar but couldn’t hold a beat for any reason at all.”

Jeremy Shantz – Canadian Musician


As you can tell, each instrument requires it’s own abilities. So, how do you know which one you should pursue? Try taking our simple 3 question test.


The Drum Or Guitar Quiz

cartoon female holding a book


QUESTION: Hopping on one foot, do the belly and head rub test. Rub your stomach in a vertical circular motion with your left hand. At the same time, rub your head in a horizontal circular motion with your right hand. Now hop on one foot and every five hops, switch feet. Time your hopping to coincide with a full rotation of the circular motion of both your hands. Are you confused yet?

ANSWER: If you can manage the above test for any length of time, you are an excellent candidate to become a drummer.


QUESTION: When you listen to a song, which catches your attention more, the music or the beat?

ANSWER: If you answered beat, then again, you are a good candidate to learn to be a drummer. But, if you chose music, then it may be that guitar playing is in your future.


QUESTION: Are you good at typing? This may seem like a really odd question considering we are talking about music. However, typing uses a lot of the same mechanisms, both in your hands and in your brain. 

ANSWER: If you find you are naturally not bad at typing, or you were able to learn to type quickly, then it is likely that you can also learn drums quickly.


Now that you’ve had some quiz fun, let’s go over a few other commonly asked questions about learning drumming or guitar.


Drum and Guitar Frequently Asked Questions

There are all kinds of questions people have about drumming and also about playing guitar. We’ve gathered some of the most common questions related to learning both drums and guitar for you here. Hopefully, these FAQs will give you further insight into which instrument to pursue.


1. Can You Learn Drums or Guitar by Yourself?

Technically yes, but there is a considerable danger to your progress with this option. Let me use the example of driving a car.

Let’s say you have a car, and you’ve never driven it before. And there is this road, but you’ve only watched others drive on it. You can assume how the car operates with a bit of delicate and careful trial and error. But, what happens when you jump onto the road and encounter a sign. What to do?

Or maybe you think you are driving well, but then you hit some gravel, and because you’ve never learned to drive correctly, your car veers off the road and into the ditch. I hope no one got hurt!

Okay, maybe the car example is a bit of a stretch, it’s not like playing the guitar or drums could cause a car accident. But, my point is that if you have not taken any kind of instruction from anyone, you could learn the wrong things.

And making mistakes, there is the potential to learn the incorrect way of playing. Once you have learned a habit and engrained it into your mind, it can be VERY difficult to break that habit.


2. Do You Need to Learn to Read Music with Drums or Guitar?

The answer to this is technically no, but should be a resounding yes. Reading drum music is actually easier than reading sheet music for an instrument. And it is a smart practice to know how to read the music.  

Knowing how to read music will give you an advanced ability to learn to play new things. Imagine being able to play an entire song from a few pieces of paper.  

Guitar players should have to be able to read sheet music, but it isn’t always necessary. When I learned to play guitar, I did not know how to translate sheet music into playing the guitar.

However, I did learn to read a special form of sheet music used for the guitar, which is called tablature. Tablature is specifically written just for the guitar, so translating it only the fretboard isn’t as difficult as one might think.

Can you learn to play drums or guitar without being able to read sheet music? Absolutely, but it won’t help you speed up your abilities by not learning.

If you learn to read sheet music, the doors will open up, and tons of music will flood in. That is, you can easily download sheet music for various songs and then learn to play those songs. If you don’t know how to read sheet music, this option is lost to you, and you won’t be able to learn as fast as if you could learn new music from sheet music.


3. How Many Hours a Week Should you Practice Drums or Guitar?

The amount of time you spend practicing with either drums or guitar will help to determine how fast you learn. For example, let’s say Jim practices drums two nights a week for 2 hours each time. That means Jim is logging 4 hours of practice time per week.

Now, let’s say Sarah is practicing guitar four days a week for 2 hours each time. Sarah would be logging 8 hours per week of practice time. 

Assuming that Jim and Sarah both learn their respective instruments at the same rate, Sarah would be well ahead of Jim in as little as a couple of weeks. Maybe even less.

You know that old saying: “Practice makes perfect.”? Well, when it comes to learning instruments, this old phrase couldn’t be more accurate.

Some of the best musicians in the world practice for hours every day. So, the amount of time you spend learning and practicing will directly affect your ability to play the instrument.

Have you found drums or guitar more difficult?


Sources

  1. “Guitars vs. Drums: Which is Right for You?”, Spinditty, https://spinditty.com/instruments-gear/Guitar-vs-Drums, Accessed June 18, 2020.
  2. “How Hard Is It to Learn Drum? (Beginners’ Challenges and Useful Tips)”, Cmuse, https://www.cmuse.org/how-hard-learn-drum/, Accessed June 18, 2020.
  3. Marano, Scott, “Seven Habits That Will Make you a Better Guitarist” Guitar World, https://www.guitarworld.com/lessons/guitar-strength-seven-habits-will-make-you-better-guitarist, Accessed June 18, 2020.
  4. Hess, Tom, “Can YOU Really Become a Great Guitar Player?” Tom Hess Music Corporation, https://tomhess.net/Articles/CanYouReallyBecomeAGreatGuitarPlayer.aspx, Accessed June 18, 2020.
  5. “What structures in the brain are called upon to strengthen coupling between bilateral movements?”, StackExchange – Psychology & Neuroscience, https://psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/77/what-structures-in-the-brain-are-called-upon-to-strengthen-coupling-between-bila, Accessed June 18, 2020.