Guitar vs Drums: Which is Right for You?

Guitar or drums: Which will you choose?
Guitar or drums: Which will you choose?

Drummer or Guitarist?

Should you learn to play guitar, or are you destined to be a drummer? For some budding musicians it is an easy decision. They know the path to their destiny, and they charge forward certain that musical greatness awaits them.

Then there are those of us who aren’t so sure. Guitar and drums both seem to have their strong points and both have their drawbacks. So how do you choose the right instrument for you?

This article can help. I went through the same decision making process when I was choosing an instrument, and I remember the gut-wrenching feeling of staring at the instruments section of a Sears catalog and trying to decided if I was meant to become the next Eddie Van Halen, or the next Alex Van Halen.

Three decades later, I know a whole lot more about both instruments. As you can tell by the name of this site, I chose guitar and I’m glad I did. But I still think, every now and then, how much fun it would be to set up a drum kit in my basement and bang away.

So, which is right for you: Drums or Guitar? By the time you get to the end of this article, I hope I’ve helped you to figure it out!

Drums vs Guitar: Practical Matters

When you are first starting out on any instrument you may feel like nothing will stand in the way of your success, and no obstacle is insurmountable. That’s a great attitude, but as you get into it you may also look back and wish you thought things through a little more, and perhaps made different decisions.

One of the first things a beginner needs to consider is cost. How much will it set you back to get started with either instrument?

If you’re thinking about guitar you can grab a starter kit for under $300. This will give you everything you need to start learning the instrument, and you can go a little while before you ever need anything else. There are both electric guitar starter packs and acoustic guitar starter kits available, and they are smart, economical ways for a guitar player to kick off their career.

There are starter drum kits out there too, but they are a little more expensive. Expect to spend a minimal of $500 for a quality, full-size, 5-piece starter kit with cymbals and hardware.

This might seem expensive, but remember that, if you choose a quality kit from the beginning, you can expand on it with new cymbals, toms and even add another bass drum. Conversely, most guitar players end up totally replacing their guitar and amp once they start getting better.

In the long run, your expenditures will be about the same whether you choose guitar or drums. It’s a fact that most of us musicians suffer from GAS in one form or another. There are always new toys out there to play with!

Drums are Loud!

Another important factor to consider when choosing between guitar and drums is where you intend to practice and play every day. Acoustic drums are loud. Very loud. In fact, if you haven’t been around bands in a rehearsal situation you may not understand how loud drums can be.

Guitar amps are loud too, but at least they have volume knobs!
Guitar amps are loud too, but at least they have volume knobs!

A hard-hitting rock drummer will shake the dust from the ceiling of most average-sized homes. To put it in perspective, when I used to rehearse with my 120-watt tube stack the only part of our drummer’s kit we mic’d were the kick drums. The rest of the kit was plenty loud enough to be heard alongside my monster amp.

Of course electric guitars can be very loud too, but they have a volume knob so you can turn them down to reasonable levels. Unless you choose to play electronic drums, you have no such option as a drummer.

So what does this mean for your decision? It means if want to be a drummer but you live in an apartment, or in a neighborhood where houses are close together, or if you have family members who are subject to frequent migraine headaches, you may not get much practice time in before people are screaming at you to stop.

If you want to be a drummer, for the sake of your family and neighbors, make sure there is a way you can rehearse without angering everyone you know!

If you have your heart set on the drums but don't feel like seeing the cops at your house every night, you might consider electonic drums like the Roland TD-1KV kit below.

Roland TD-1KV Electronic Drum Kit Tested by Rhythm Magazine

Roadies Wanted

Another thing to think about is portability. For a guitar player it may seem annoying to lug a couple of guitars, an amp, a 4x12 cabinet and other assorted essentials to a gig, but that’s nothing compared to what the drummer goes through.

When you are rich and famous you will have a roadies and techs to tear down your drum kit, pack it up, and reassemble it again. Until then, as a regular schmuck you are going to have to do all of that yourself. If you are lucky the rest of the band will pitch in to help you out, and if you have a sound guy he’ll help you with the mics, but most of the setup still falls on you.

Being a drummer is a big hassle sometimes!

Obviously, if you only intend to set up a kit in your basement and play for your own enjoyment this isn’t a concern. But if you plan to be a gigging drummer you’d better get used to lugging a lot of stuff around. And the bigger your kit, the more stuff you have to tote. You’ll also need to own a vehicle capable of getting the job done. I’d guess there aren’t a lot of drummers driving Smart Cars.

Drummers are in Demand

So far it looks like a few points for guitar and zero for drums, but being a drummer does have its perks. For one thing, a good drummer is hard to find. If you become known as a talented and professional drummer you ought not to have much trouble finding gigs.

A good drummer is a beautiful thing!
A good drummer is a beautiful thing!

Guitar players grow on trees. If you are starting a band it is never hard to find a guitarist. It isn’t even hard to find a good guitarist. Good drummers and bassists, on the other hand, are a rarer commodity. This, by the way, is one of the reasons I decided to pick up bass back when I was playing in gigging bands.

So why are there so many guitar players, and comparatively few drummers? Some of the reasons have already been discussed here. It’s just easier and cheaper to start out on guitar. If you are a drummer you can turn that to your advantage as you start looking to get into bands. As a drummer you’ll be in demand. As a guitarist, you’ll just be one of the crowd.

This gap only widens as you get older and people start dropping out of the music scene. Truly, many of us (me included) would still be in bands today if it were easy enough to find the right people, and good drummers are very hard to find.

As a drummer you will have more power to decide who you work with, and who you don’t. That is a huge advantage when you are looking to form or join a band.

Which is Harder to Learn?

So now we come to the million-dollar question: Which is harder to learn, drums or guitar? When people ask this, I assume they mean which is harder to learn to play well. Because you can play either just for fun, bang away and make a bunch of noise. Playing an instrument in a way that other people recognize as music is another thing altogether!

Unfortunately, it’s a question that’s really difficult to answer. Both drums and guitar are as hard as you want to make them. You can spend a lifetime mastering each instrument and struggling to reach your full potential. To achieve greatness at any instrument takes a huge amount of hard work and perseverance.

If you aren’t going to seriously study the instrument, your choice may be clearer. If you just want to play a little in your spare time and learn a few songs, guitar is probably the easier option. With a few basic chords you can play popular rock songs, impress your friends and have a little fun.

Playing the drums competently takes a certain amount of coordination, an excellent sense of timing and a real feel for rhythm. Not everyone is cut out to be a drummer, but just about anyone can be a guitar player.

In other words, you can be a bad guitar player and still have fun, play recognizable music and perhaps even play in a band. If you just want to have a good time with music, this is the easier way.

Bad drummers on the other hand aren’t capable of doing much except making a lot of noise. The drums are the bedrock that the rest of the band builds upon, so if the drummer has bad timing and screws up a lot the whole band is doomed.

Drummer, Guitar Player or Both?

Have you made your decision? Here is one more little anecdote that may be helpful: Earlier I mentioned how, as a kid, I was trying to choose whether to emulate Eddie or Alex Van Halen. Alex Van Halen, you hopefully know, is Eddie’s brother, and the drummer in Van Halen. In fact, Alex Van Halen is one of the best drummers in the history of rock.

But you may not know that, as legend has it, when they were both starting out Eddie was the drummer and Alex the guitar player. Eventually they switched and the world is a far better place for it, but the point is this: You aren’t stuck with whatever choice you make today.

Maybe you start out on drums and figure out you haven’t the coordination for it, or the desire to learn. Maybe you start out on guitar and discover it doesn't satisfy your need to hit things with a stick. You can always switch later. Or, you can do what many musicians do, and learn both eventually.

Hey, I might. After 30 years as a guitar player and 20 years as a bassist, I may yet add drummer to my list of skills. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time. Of course, for a long while I’ve also wanted to learn the cello, banjo and bagpipes.

Good luck choosing between guitar and drums. Try not to be too stressed over the decision, and remember that as long as you are musician there is always something new to learn.

Guitar vs Drums

Which will you choose?

  • Guitar
  • Drums
  • Both
  • Maybe I'll play bass, now that I think about it.
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