Before Flea became famous for playing the bass guitar, he first learned how to play the trumpet.
During live performances, you'll often see Stevie Wonder behind the keyboards. But unknown to many people, he plays several instruments, including the drums, bass, and the accordion.
A lot of Nirvana fans were caught by surprise when Foo Fighters released its self-titled album and discovered that Dave Grohl could play the guitar and sing.
If you have been playing a musical instrument for quite some time, you might be wondering if it is possible or even helpful to learn to play another.
The benefits of learning to play another instrument
Apart from earning the bragging rights of calling yourself a multi-instrumentalist, why should you even consider studying another instrument? Here's a brief look at the benefits.
Transfer of skills
If you choose to learn another instrument from the same family as the one you are currently playing, you will immediately notice a transference of skills.
For example, if you are currently playing the violin, you will see that the bowing techniques you have learned can be applied to instruments from the same family.
Or, if you are studying how to play a wind instrument like a clarinet, some techniques can be applied to a sax.
Another benefit of playing two instruments is that you can find ways to modify your form when playing an instrument. This can help prevent injuries related to repetition.
Improve your understanding of music theory
As a musician, you might already have some grasp of the different concepts of music theory. However, you might have some deficiencies in some areas as well.
For example, if you are currently playing a stringed instrument, you are familiar with the treble clef, but you may have some passing knowledge about the bass clef. Picking up another instrument like the cello will give you a more thorough understanding of other musical concepts.
Better understand songwriting concepts
Some artists compose tunes with a guitar. And if you are currently playing the instrument, you can grasp the concept and logic behind the composition because of your familiarity with the guitar.
However, you might find yourself stumped with songs that have been composed with the piano. Learning to play the piano can open a whole new musical world for you where you’ll see different chord voicings.
And if you are planning on composing and playing your compositions, playing two or more instruments can help expand your songwriting abilities.
If you have aspirations to work as a professional musician, the more instruments that you play, the more likely that you are going to get paid gigs. You can work as a session musician, create compositions for TV and movies, or even form your band. And if you master two or more musical instruments, eventually, you can teach playing those instruments to other aspiring musicians.
Answers to FAQs
Perhaps there are still a few questions lingering in your head after reading the benefits of learning to play another instrument. Here are the answers to a few common questions.
Would it be confusing?
The truth is, you've probably studied different subjects at the same time in school. The same thing applies to learning two musical instruments at the same time. The human brain is an amazing organ, capable of acquiring and storing different types of knowledge and skills without having difficulty switching between tasks.
In rare instances, some multi-instrumentalists may find their hands positioned wrongly, most likely due to muscle memory. But these are few and far in between. Plus, the mechanics involved in playing instruments may be similar, but with distinct differences that your brain can cut through what you may perceive as a potential for confusion.
How much time should you allot for practice on each instrument?
Ideally, you should devote at least one hour per day for each musical instrument. Now, if you are learning two musical instruments at the same time, that can look like a sizeable chunk of your time, especially if you are a student or even if you are working in an office.
The best workaround is to alternate the days you allot for each instrument. If you can fit two hours of practice from your day, you should make sure that you rest for at least an hour in between your practice sessions.
After each hour of practice, you should rest or do something different, like eating, reading, or even walking.
Are there instruments that pair off well?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing which instruments to study together. Some prefer studying instruments from the same family, while others pick instruments that are vastly different.
However, many teachers and professional musicians recommend studying the piano as the instrument can give you numerous advantages, especially in terms of learning and understanding musical theories.
Are there are negatives that you should be aware of?
Despite the numerous benefits of learning to play two or more instruments, there is one disadvantage that you need to be aware of: it will take time to master all the instruments. But if you are keen on learning the instruments you have chosen, you will devote time and persevere through the hardships that you face.
Amrit Shivlani is the Founder and CEO at Music Majlis, a community-driven e-commerce platform that offers a wide variety of musical instruments and equipment for every musician and sound professional. The company's goal is to make music-making, recording, producing and mixing accessible and available to everyone.