Are Drums Harder To Play Than The Guitar? (The Lowdown)

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So you want to learn an instrument? But you don’t know which is the right one for you or how difficult it is to learn.

So let’s dive in and figure out whether drums or guitar is the right fit for you!

Are Drums Harder To Play Than The Guitar?

  1. Playing drums uses different core skills from playing guitar. If your natural abilities lean towards having steady timing, coordination, and groove, you’ll find drums easier.
  2. Conversely, if you naturally have a good ear for musical pitch, arm and finger strength, and dexterity, you will find guitars easier.

I’ve summed up the key skills in the table below:

Guitar Skills

Drumming Skills

Good ear for musical pitch Steady timing
Arm and finger strength Coordination
Finger dexterity Groove

What Skills Are Needed For Learning Guitar?

Skills that are important to playing guitar include a good musical ear and finger strength, and dexterity.

The guitar is a melodic instrument, so to sound proficient in playing it, you’ll need to be able to tell the difference between notes and hear which notes sound good together.

This skill can be learned, but some people are naturally better at it than others.

The guitar looks effortless when watching Eddie Van Halen’s solo, but fretting chords takes a lot of finger strength and dexterity.

If you have small hands or weak arm muscles, then you may find you’re in an uphill battle trying to learn guitar.

Practice can compensate for this, but playing guitar is certainly easier if you’re blessed with big (and nimble) hands.

Playing guitar can tense up my forearms and become painful within minutes if you’re playing demanding chords or bends, but playing drums is more forgiving on the arms.

That said, many people find learning guitar techniques hard at first, so don’t get discouraged too quickly.

Even the legendary Eric Clapton said he struggled to learn chords at first.

Don’t forget to check out our pick of the 5 Best Drumsticks For Electronic Drums

What Skills Are Needed For Learning Drums?

Drums are all about rhythm and coordination. You can get away without having a good ear for pitch as long as you’ve got a good feel for rhythm and groove.

Drummers need to be able to lay down a steady groove and play different patterns with different limbs.

Many beats require you to hold steady eighth notes on the hi-hats while dropping in different accents on the snare and bass drums.

Doing this requires you to independently coordinate your right and left hands and your right foot.

Other drumming techniques involve opening and closing the hi-hat with your left foot as well. 

Timing is another area of great importance to learning drums.

As a guitarist, you can get away with being a bit looser with your timing and letting the drummer hold the groove steady.

As a drummer, though, putting out a steady tempo is your number one job. If you’re too loose, your band will lack the backbone it needs to sound good.

Just starting out on drums? Here’s our pick of the best beginner drumsticks.

How Do You Work Out Where Your Talents Lie?

The best idea is to get your hands on a guitar or drum kit and have a go. If you have a friend with instruments, try theirs out.

You could also try booking one guitar lesson and one drum lesson locally and seeing which one you gel with.

Do You Have A Knack For Guitar?

Let’s look into other ways to see if you have a good ear for guitar.

Watch the video above and try to work out which note is higher or lower.

If you can answer them all correctly, then it shows you have good fundamentals for determining pitch.

If you want to get more advanced, you can do the Compare Interval Sizes quiz

The free site has various ear training tests, with the easiest tests listed at the top of each category.

You’ll quickly find out how good your ear for pitch is by trying them. However, if you’re completely untrained, these tests could be pretty challenging.

Do You Have A Talent For Drums?

Now let’s consider how to see if you have a talent for learning drums. The child’s game of patting your head and rubbing your tummy is a good basic test for coordination skills.

For something more advanced, try playing the beat in the video above.

If you can play the 3 rhythms on your left hand and the 2 rhythms on your right hand (at the same time), then you have a natural skill with coordination, and drums could be right up your alley. 

Moving onto steady rhythm skills, one way to test them is to clap along with a song.

Listen to the verse and chorus of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” from 0:27 and see if you can clap in time with Ringo’s hits on the snare drum, which fall on beats 2 and 4 in each bar.

If you find it easy to settle into the groove and clap in time, then it’s an indication that drums might be for you.

You could record your take with a phone and listen back to get a clearer idea of whether you played in time.

All that said, it’s important to pick what you’re passionate about.

If you love the guitar but don’t care for drums, you should follow your passion, even if you find learning drums easier (and vice versa).

Learning an instrument you aren’t passionate about is a waste of time, as it’s only a matter of time until you give it up. 

Also, keep in mind that playing music is ultimately something that should be fun. If you aren’t naturally talented at an instrument but still enjoy playing it, then keep at it.

Learning an instrument is rewarding, even if you never learn to set the fretboard on fire like Steve Vai

Are Drums Harder To Play Than Guitar For Professionals?

Now, if you want to talk about whether drums are harder to play than guitar at a professional level, things change a little.

A pro guitarist will have to master the guitar skills above, but they’ll also have to master the skills I listed for drummers too.

Pro musicians are expected to have solid timing regardless of their role in the band.

Likewise, rocking a wah or talk box guitar solo will require you to coordinate your feet or mouth while also shredding on the guitar. 

If you want to be a lead guitarist, this will also require more practice than playing drums in most styles.

Dream Theater’s John Petrucci has talked about the heavy ongoing workload of maintaining his lead guitar chops, while founding Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy said he barely touches the drums when home and prefers to spend his time with family.

The Van Halen brothers had a similar dynamic, with Eddie putting untold hours into the guitar while drummer Alex went partying on weekends.  

With regard to drums, an entry-level pro drummer could get away without any pitch training. For example, you could make a living playing in cover bands without having a trained ear.

But getting regular work as a drummer would definitely help to have a broad skill set.

You’d find it a lot easier to get work if you can add vocals or jump on another instrument. And you’d need a decent ear to do that.

For example, Blink-182’s Travis Barker, in addition to being a monster drummer, writes songs and produces for Blink and other acts like Machine Gun Kelly.

Songwriting and producing generally bring in more money than playing drums, so it’s a big brain move for him to have broadened his skill set.

To learn more, check out our guide to learning the guitar here.

Just starting out on guitar? Here’s all you need to know about Rocksmith+ and Yousician.