Can I Learn Two Instruments At the Same Time? (2023)

Can I Learn Two Instruments At the Same Time? (1)

In my years as a music teacher, I have often had parents ask me if their children can learn two instruments at once. Their concerns relate to not wanting to confuse or overload their child. Below are some guidelines for what will and won’t work when it comes to learning multiple instruments concurrently.

Can I Learn Two Instruments At The Same Time? Contrary to popular belief, learning two instruments simultaneously is perfectly achievable. Many professional musicians will have some degree of competency on a second instrument. Research indicates that learning two instruments at once will not adversely affect progression on either instrument.

Many of us believe that it is advisable to stick to one thing, master that and then move on to the next thing. This belief is pragmatic and a worthy approach when applied to other areas of learning however when it comes to music we have to consider something which many people often overlook.

Learning two instruments cannot be compared like for like with say, learning two languages for example. When an individual is learning two new languages they may be required to embed two sets of grammatical rules, two sets of vocabulary, two recommended syntax structures and so on. This may lead to confusion during the process. It is not impossible to learn two new languages at once but it requires dedication and the general consensus is that it should be one at a time if possible.

When faced with learning two new instruments at once, we are faced with something different. The key here is the commonalities. Both instruments will be used to elicit a combination of sounds from the same palette as each other.

Essentially we are now learning two instruments to speak a common language, music. This interaction allows the student to assess the intricacies of how a particular musical phrase is achieved on one instrument and to cross-reference that against how the same musical phrase may be achieved on the second instrument. The very act of comparing and contrasting two approaches to a common musical phrase across two mediums will help to embed the processes required for each individual instrument.

So learning two instruments at the same time is not only possible but may actually be preferable in achieving a more robust foundation on both instruments.

Will I Become Confused If I Learn Two Instruments At The Same Time?

As addressed above there is no mental barrier to playing two instruments at the same time. Cognitively we can all manage to do that. Think about it. You probably learned to drive at the same time you were learning another subject in school. You can now do both. You learned more than one subject in school and that was fine too right?

The actual mechanics of learning two instruments are what most people worry about. They fear they will become confused and start playing the violin like a cello or start trying to blow into the keys of their piano like they are practicing trumpet.

Let me put your mind at ease now and tell you this. Cognitively humans are able to context switch and accrue knowledge and skill sets, no matter how varied, in close succession without difficulty.

(Video) How to learn multiple Instruments (Benefits and Practice Routine)

If you are lost in a piece of music and start to place your hand into the wrong position because of muscle memory, well…it could happen. But honestly, as someone who plays a number of different instruments, the times that this has happened are so few that I can count them on one hand. The physicality of instruments is so different, that your brain rarely gets confused.

How Much Time Should I Devote To Each Instrument?

I’d like to illustrate this to you by way of a hypothetical. Follow along, it’s worth learning this, I assure you. It’s something I teach to all my students and is applicable to all areas of life.

Let’ say you practice piano for one hour per day. Each evening after dinner, you have apportioned 60 undisturbed virtuoso minutes to proceed with a few pages from your piano grade workbook. You take your seat at the piano, flick the coat tails back and with the menace of Beethoven etched on your face start to play a scale at walking pace from middle C. Bravo maestro!

You perform the exercises, repeat them numerous times and eventually start to get a feel for the correct finger positions. You repeat these movements throughout the practice session and then at the end of the hour you stop.

Off you go to watch Netflix or browse the articles on miniVIRTUOSO for an hour and then finally you retire for the evening at about 10 pm.

The next day at 7 pm you return to the piano and open up the same few pages again to go over what you practiced the day previously. It may not be perfect but after another few tries, you will find that your brain has started to lock in the vital information required from this particular lesson and you move onto the next section of your book. Excellent, if you continue in this same manner and apply yourself you will discover that you are making real progress in a few months.

Now consider the same scenario but this time you have introduced learning violin to the equation. You still have that time after dinner assigned, 7 pm – 8 pm. But now you have to fit two different practice sessions into that hour.

So you do half an hour of piano practice and start to get a feel for things but now you have to stop your rehearsal and practice your violin for the remaining half an hour. The context switch isn’t too tricky to overcome because you’re like all clever and super competent n’ stuff. Soon you get into the swing of it and are playing some violin scales like Nigel Kennedy. However, after about 15 minutes you start to tire and lose focus. Eventually, it reaches 8 pm and you can stop.

Off you go to read more miniVIRTUOSO or watch Netflix for an hour and then to bed as usual.

Over the course of the next few months, you may find that you are not making as much progress on either instrument as you would have expected if you were learning just one.

(Video) How do you balance learning multiple instruments at once?

You are determined and as the week’s progress you start to look more and more like Beethoven as you sit at the piano each evening. You are bedraggled and tortured.

Your rate of progression has slowed. Why? Well, we can all recognize that it’s because you are devoting less time on the whole to each instrument. You are spreading yourself too thin.

So you decide to make an alteration to your practice schedule and now devote two hours back to back, one hour to the piano and one to the violin. You are determined and as the week’s progress you start to look more and more like Beethoven as you sit at the piano each evening. You are bedraggled and tortured. This grueling routine leaves you no time for an hour relaxing afterward. Each evening you finish violin following a two-hour slog and fall into bed exhausted.

In a few months, you find you still have not progressed very much and now you are tired and cranky each night. You start to miss your relaxation time and resent the time that playing these instruments is carving from your evening. Soon you decide to skip violin one night and instead watch Netflix. Another night you skip piano. This starts to happen more often until eventually, seeing no real progress you lose confidence, start to slip and ultimately stop practicing altogether. The violin and piano begin to gather dust. You do however finish that Netflix series in record time. Go you!

It is a pity but I see this scenario or a variation on this scenario happen all too often. It doesn’t necessarily have to be with two instruments either. Sometimes it’s one instrument and studying for exams. Sometimes it’s trying to learn a new instrument on top of a full-time job, acting as a chauffeur for children and cooking a family meal. Somethings gotta give and unfortunately, it tends to be the instrument which goes first.

However, if we think of the scenario above there is a fix that can be applied which is so simple and so effective that many of us don’t even consider it. You will forgive my selfless plug for my own website above, but there’s a reason I wanted to highlight that section. It is scientifically verified that the downtime following a period of attention and focus is absolutely critical in helping the brain to retain information. By omitting the downtime you are not giving your brain an opportunity to process what has just been learned. It cannot be committed to long-term memory. It stays in a fleeting state.

In the above scenario, we loaded ourselves with two hours of music practice and then straight to bed with no relaxation time. This was bound to end up in a crash sooner rather than later.

So what can you do to ensure you give yourself an opportunity to succeed? What I outlining here is something which you can apply across all facets of your life. When you need to learn two skills at the same time come back here and look at the following steps. Bookmark this page now, I promise you this simple little trick it has helped my students to excel more than anything else I have taught them.

To learn two instruments at the same time you need a proper rehearsal routine. Follow this checklist when you set out on your musical journey. This checklist assumes an individual is learning two instruments (piano and violin).

The Checklist

  • You will need to devote one hour to each instrument in a single session.
  • If you cannot fit two hours practice into your day then stagger your practice sessions across multiple days.

For example:

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Monday – Piano 1 hr

Tuesday – Violin 1 hr

Wednesday – Piano 1 hr

Thursday – Violin 1 hr

  • For every hour of practice, you need to follow it with an hour of downtime or an unrelated task. (Take a walk, make dinner, read a book, exercise)
  • If you can fit two hours of practice into one day, then there should be at least an hour gap between those sessions. If you practice piano for an hour, then you need an hour downtime before you move onto the violin for another hour. Remember this violin session must be followed by an hour of downtime, to let everything soak in.
  • If you can’t practice every day then that’s okay – but make sure you make that the same day each week if possible. At the very least you should try to get 1 hr of practice every day.

Music Practice For Children | Parent Guidance

In this article, I will address the recommended approach to practice and outline the potential pitfalls of which you should be aware so that you can help your child evolve at a positive rate through focused and meaningful practice.

(Video) How to Practice Two Instruments

Read More

What Instruments Can I Learn At The Same Time?

Whatever instruments you wish, there are no rules for this. Some people say that you should learn two different instruments from two different families of instruments, like Cello and French Horn for example. There’s no evidence that this is preferable. The only benefit is that it gives you a feel for different types of instruments. It’s more varied but other than that the goal should be to know what instruments you like and go with them.

If you are looking for a suggestion, however, I can propose that at least one of your instrument selections should be the piano. The piano is foundational and will give you such an advantage with music theory that I can’t recommend it enough. In short, the piano is the musical stave laid out horizontally. In music, it doesn’t often get that simple.

Should I Learn Two Instruments From The Same Family? (String, Wind etc)

There are no rules which dictate which two instruments you have to learn at the same time. It’s your life. Go, live, be free, learn bongos and didgeridoo if you wish.

What Are The Negatives To Learning Two Instruments At Once?

There are in the grand context very few negative to learning two instruments at once. You will have a great sense of achievement. You will have accomplished something that not many people in the world accomplish. You will be able to understand what it feels like to play two different instruments in a variety of settings. One day you are an orchestral french horn player, the next day you are playing whistle ina marching band.

The increased cognitive abilities which come with playing multiple instruments is something that scientists have confirmed. Don’t say that too often at parties though, it doesn’t go down well.

If I had to choose a negative, like really had to then I would say, it takes time.

But anything worth learning will take time. You will go through tough periods where you just don’t want to practice and you will curse the day you ever thought that learning two instruments was a good idea. You may even curse me and that’s fine too. However, the reward justifies the challenge.

(Video) Why everyone should learn an instrument

Related Questions

Can I learn more than two instruments at the same time?

There’s nothing stopping you from trying but I’d say two is enough for anybody. If you simply must and have no other engagements in your life, then look at the checklist above and ensure you stick to the downtime and leaving gaps between your sessions.

Can I Make Money From Being A Multi-Instrumentalist?

Absolutely, if you are a multi-instrumentalist then you are in probably the most lucrative part of the music business. Session musicians are hired to work in recording studios playing a number of instruments across a number of different styles depending on the project. If you can get there, go for it. It’s one of the few areas in music which allows someone to earn a living.


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