Is Learning a New Instrument Hard?


Emily Loughridge

Instruments aren’t always easy to learn, which Paul Tointigh learned with his viola.

Paul Tointigh, Managing Editor

I get asked all the time: “Is learning a new instrument hard?” Being an instrumentalist, I find it fascinating to learn how to play something new. I can play the guitar, piano, and percussion, but I never thought I would pick up an instrument that stumped me completely.

About a year and a half ago, I went on a ride in my then roommate’s car. Sitting in the back, I noticed he had two small cases on the opposite passenger seat. In each case was housed a used viola. For those who don’t know, a voila is related to a violin.

Out of curiosity, I asked him what he was planning to do with them. He responded that he had no plans for them, they just rode with him everywhere he went, and he didn’t play them.

With ambition inside, I asked him if I could borrow one for a bit (though secretly I wanted one to keep). I do not know if he read my deeper intentions, or if he just really wanted to get rid of the viola, but he told me: “you can go ahead and keep it.”

So, I got out of the car that day with my very own viola, and a sense of thrill came out of the case with it. Could I learn and play in an orchestra one day? Could I perhaps be like the people I see on YouTube, making money by doing viola covers of songs? So many questions tuned into my mind.

Over the next week, I refurbished the instrument and gave it some new life. Polishing, restringing, wiping off thick dust, and even buying a new bow went into this restoration process.

With a viola ready to play, I decided to give it a go one afternoon. After an hour of playing, I realized playing it is much harder than playing anything else I played before.

There are no frets on a viola, so any misplacement in your fingers can make a beautiful sound into an awful, scratchy one. The bow and I did not become friends due to its demand of precise arm placement. Even the way the instrument is intended to be held is very foreign to me.

It took me about a week to learn the C major scale, which is a very easy scale to learn. After the brief session, a few more followed, but they did not bear much melodic fruit. The viola found its home back in its case, and took up residence in the back of my closet, where things go to be forgotten.

One year later, the viola remained undisturbed in its resting place. The viola actually has not seen the light of day until the picture that comes with this article was taken.

One day, I intend to resurrect the viola out of its retirement and begin learning it once again. The time demands for this instrument are immense. Just as with any skill that is learned, practice makes perfect.

Maybe someday I will be rocking covers on YouTube among the greats or playing Canon in D at wedding venues. For now, though, I am content with only knowing the C scale.

All of this to answer the question I get all of the time: “Is it hard to learn an instrument?”

Well, it can be.


Paul Tointigh is a third-year Communication major at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.