Thoughts on Picking Up a Second Instrument Before You’ve Mastered the First

ImageI am curious by nature. If something is a mystery to me, I’ll try to find out more about it. Take the Japanese language, for example. After learning Irish I found myself very curious about Japanese because I watch a lot of anime, and the language and its native speakers seemed very…different from myself and my own language. Was it as hard as I had heard? Were Japanese people special because they could speak it?

No, on both counts. It’s just a language. If you put in the time and effort, you start to get it.

I saw the fiddle in a similar way, and asked similar questions about how it’s played and the people who play it. So I decided to take it up. Like Japanese, I really love it. But since it’s music related, I have a feeling I won’t let it fall by the wayside the way I did with the native language of Japan.

Taking up another instrument, especially if you’re not a master of your first, brings up some issues. You should be aware that the second instrument can take time away from your first–I still need to practice the concertina, but I’m pretty dedicated to the fiddle as well. I am lucky in that i am able to play the concertina most days at lunchtime at work–either outside or in the car–so I get to play it pretty regularly. This means I can practice the fiddle at home without using up a ton of time. If you don’t have this advantage, though, think hard about whether a second instrument is going to work out for you. Picking an instrument that is portable, like the concertina or the whistle, might be a good choice if you have the option to practice away from home.

One advantage of playing two instruments is that your playing and progress on one will inform your playing and progress on the other. Your sense of timing, pitch, and your ability to really memorize tunes are all enhanced by the different approaches to music. It’s also true that if you have progressed well on the first instrument you will probably progress well or better–and possibly more quickly–on the second. It’s that way with languages too–you learn how to learn. It makes it much easier the second time around.

Another caveat which I have heard mentioned is that if you pick an instrument that is too similar to your first, it can trip you up. I’m not sure if this would be true for everyone, but I do think it could cause some folks a headache or two. For example if I had picked the English system concertina–it would feel familiar in my hands, but it’s played very differently. I may find myself wanting to use techniques that apply to the Anglo system that would never make sense on the English.

So think well, weigh the pros and cons. Your second instrument will take just as much time and effort to learn as the first, so make sure you have it to give! And by the way, cowbell is alot harder than it looks, believe me–I recommend fiddle instead. ;)

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Picking Up a Second Instrument Before You’ve Mastered the First

  1. Thanks for this! I love learning and have to keep reminding myself of the limits of my time and energy! I needed to read this! I’ve been studying Mandarin and Spanish for quite some time and just could NOT put the time into French as well. I have been practicing piano for a while now and seriously considered something more mobile like the ukulele but when I think about the actual amount of free time I have each day and how it would cut into my other activities, I have to reconsider.

    • Thanks for commenting! Yes, I’m really impulsive when it comes to hobbies–I started studying a foreign language again since this was posted–do I have the time? Well, I am definitely doing less playing now, but I’m still having fun with it all, so, there ya go.

      • Glad you are having fun! Another blogger just wrote me a comment saying, “If you really want to do something, you make time to do it.” Perhaps that is why you have so many hobbies! You really want to do them all even if it complicates time management! LoL!

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