The Most Difficult Instrument in the World: Ranking the Ultimate Musical Challenge

Choose the instrument you think is the most difficult!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Updated on Feb 29, 2024 05:38
Do you have what it takes to master the most difficult instrument in the world? Music enthusiasts, it's time to put your skills to the test and vote for the ultimate challenge in our musical showdown at StrawPoll! We've curated a list of the most complex and intricate instruments known to mankind, and we need your expertise to determine which one truly deserves the title of the most difficult instrument. Whether you're a seasoned virtuoso or an aspiring musician, your vote counts, and you may even discover a hidden gem that sparks your interest. So, don't miss this melodious battle - take a leap into the world of harmonious complexity, and let your vote be the deciding note! And if you think we've missed an option, feel free to suggest your own contender. The stage is set, the spotlight is on, and it's time to let your musical prowess shine!

What Is the Most Difficult Instrument in the World?

  1. 1
    The Organ
    José Luiz · CC BY-SA 4.0
    It is considered as one of the most difficult instruments to master due to its complex pedals, keyboards, and multiple manuals.
    The Organ is a large and complex musical instrument that produces sound by means of pipes and/or electronic synthesis. It is considered one of the most difficult instruments to master due to its vast range of sounds and technical intricacies.
    • Size: Organs can vary in size, from small portable organs to large cathedral organs that can occupy entire rooms.
    • Number of Pipes: Pipe organs can have thousands of individual pipes, each producing a specific pitch and timbre.
    • Manual Keyboards: Most organs have multiple manual keyboards or manuals that allow the player to control different sets of pipes.
    • Pedalboard: Organs usually have a pedalboard for playing bass notes with the feet.
    • Wind Supply Systems: Organs require a complex system of bellows or fans to supply wind to the pipes.
  2. 2
    The harp requires exceptional hand-eye coordination and finger dexterity to play. It also has a large range of notes spanning over six octaves, which requires a lot of practice to master.
    The harp is an ancient stringed musical instrument that consists of a resonator, strings, and a frame, played by plucking the strings. It is considered one of the most difficult instruments to master due to its large size, complex technique, and demanding musicality. The harp produces a rich and ethereal sound that adds depth and texture to various genres of music, from classical to modern compositions.
    • Size: The harp ranges in size from small lap harps to concert grand harps, with varying numbers of strings.
    • Strings: The harp typically has anywhere from 22 to 47 strings, made of nylon, gut, or metal, each tuned to a specific pitch.
    • Frame: The frame of the harp is usually made of wood, such as maple or birch, and is designed to support the tension of the strings.
    • Pedals: Pedal harps have a mechanism of pedals that allow the player to change the pitch of the strings, enabling the harp to play in different keys.
    • Technique: Playing the harp requires precise finger placement and control, as well as the ability to coordinate both hands independently to produce harmonies and melodies.
    The Harp in other rankings
  3. 3
    The Theremin
    Hutschi · CC BY-SA 3.0

    The Theremin

    Leon Theremin
    It is played without physical contact, and the player must master the art of controlling the pitch and volume using hand gestures.
    The Theremin is an unusual electronic musical instrument that is played without any physical contact. It is known for its unique and haunting sound, often associated with science fiction movies. The instrument produces sound by electromagnetic fields created by the movement of the player's hands around two antennas. It was one of the first electronic instruments ever invented.
    • Year of creation: 1920
    • Playing method: Non-contact
    • Sound generation: Electromagnetic fields
    • Antennas: Two antennas - one for pitch control and the other for volume control
    • Range: 3 to 5 octaves
  4. 4
    The Bagpipes
    Abraham Bloemaert · Public domain
    The bagpipes require a great deal of breath control to play, and the finger movements are not intuitive. It can take years to master the instrument.
    The Bagpipes are a complex and unique musical instrument that originated in ancient civilizations like Egypt and Persia. The modern version, commonly associated with Scottish culture, consists of a bag made of animal skin or synthetic materials, connected to a set of pipes and reeds. It is known for its loud and distinctive sound.
    • Types of Bagpipes: There are many different types of Bagpipes including the Great Highland Bagpipes, Scottish Smallpipes, Uilleann Pipes, and Northumbrian Smallpipes.
    • Number of Pipes: A traditional set of Bagpipes consists of at least three pipes: the chanter, which is fingered to play the melody, and one or more drones that produce a constant sound.
    • Materials: The bag is usually made of leather, but modern versions use synthetic materials. The pipes can be made of hardwood, such as African blackwood, or plastic for some practice models.
    • Reeds: The Bagpipes feature various types of reeds including the chanter reed, which is responsible for producing the melody, and the drone reeds that produce a continuous harmonizing sound.
    • Air Supply: The bag is inflated with air either by blowing into it through a blowpipe or using a bellows system in some types of Bagpipes like the Uilleann Pipes.
  5. 5
    The Oboe
    Gisbert · CC BY-SA 3.0
    The oboe is notoriously difficult to tune and requires a lot of practice to achieve a consistent tone. It also has a complex fingering system that can be challenging to master.
    The oboe is a musical instrument of the woodwind family known for its distinctive and penetrating sound. It is considered one of the most difficult instruments to master due to its challenging technique and precise control required to produce desired tones and dynamics.
    • Type: Double-reed woodwind instrument
    • Material: Various types of wood, usually grenadilla or rosewood
    • Length: Approximately 65 cm (25.6 inches)
    • Weight: Around 500 grams (1.1 pounds)
    • Range: Approximately three octaves, from Bb3 to A6
  6. 6
    The Bassoon
    Gregory F. Maxwell <> PGP:0xB0413BFA · GFDL 1.2
    The bassoon has a complex fingering system and requires a lot of breath control to play. It is also one of the largest instruments in the orchestra, making it physically challenging to play for extended periods.
    The Bassoon is a woodwind instrument that is widely recognized as one of the most difficult instruments to master. It is a double-reed instrument with a distinctive deep and rich sound. The bassoon is known for its unique combination of a wide range, complex fingerings, and demanding technique.
    • Range: It has a wide range that spans over three octaves, from B♭1 to E♭5.
    • Material: The bassoon is typically made from maple wood, although other materials like plastic or synthetic compounds can also be used.
    • Length: The overall length of a bassoon is approximately 1.34 meters (4.4 feet).
    • Key System: It uses an advanced key system with numerous keys and key combinations, totaling around 25 to 27 keys.
    • Reed: The bassoon uses a double reed made of cane, which requires precise adjustment and maintenance.
  7. 7
    The French horn requires a lot of breath control to play, and the fingering system can be challenging to master. It also has a reputation for being difficult to tune.
    The French Horn, also known as the horn, is a brass musical instrument known for its distinctive sound. It is considered one of the most challenging instruments to master due to its complex playing technique and unique design.
    • Type: Brass instrument
    • Range: Around 4 octaves
    • Pitch: typically in F or B♭
    • Valves: Usually 3 or 4 rotary valves
    • Length: Approximately 12 feet (3.7 meters)
  8. 8

    The Violin

    Andrea Amati
    The violin requires exceptional finger dexterity and ear training to play in tune. It is also a physically demanding instrument, requiring a lot of practice to build up the necessary strength and stamina.
    The violin is a string instrument known for its versatility and expressive capabilities. It is often regarded as one of the most difficult instruments to master due to its demanding technique and sensitivity. The enchanting sound produced by the violin has made it an integral part of classical music and various other genres.
    • Size: Approximately 60 cm long
    • Strings: Typically four strings (G, D, A, E)
    • Sound Range: Nearly four octaves
    • Body: Curved shape with an arched top and back
    • Materials: Body made of maple or spruce, fingerboard usually made of ebony
  9. 9

    The Piano

    Bartolomeo Cristofori
    The piano requires both hands to play different notes simultaneously, making it a challenging instrument to master. It also has a wide range of notes, which requires a lot of practice to develop the necessary finger strength and dexterity.
    The piano is a versatile keyboard instrument that produces sound through the striking of strings with hammers. It consists of a wooden case with a row of keys, pedals, and an internal mechanism for sound production.
    • Number of keys: 88
    • Range: A0 to C8
    • Polyphony: Varies but typically 32 to 264 notes
    • Weight: Approximately 300 to 500 kilograms
    • Number of strings: Approximately 230 to 250 in a grand piano
  10. 10
    The accordion requires precise coordination between the left and right hands, and the fingering system can be challenging to master. It also has a wide range of notes, which requires a lot of practice to develop the necessary finger strength and dexterity.

Missing your favorite instrument?


Ranking factors for difficult instrument

  1. Learning Curve
    Consider how steep the learning curve is for beginners. Some instruments may be easier to pick up initially but become progressively more challenging, while others might have a steep learning curve from the start.
  2. Technique
    Assess the level of technical skill required to play the instrument proficiently. This includes finger strength, dexterity, and coordination, as well as breath control, embouchure, or any other specific techniques related to the instrument.
  3. Complexity
    Evaluate how intricate and complex the instrument is in terms of its structure, mechanisms, and/or the music typically written for it. This may include factors such as the number of strings, keys, or valves, as well as the range of notes and timbres the instrument can produce.
  4. Physical Demands
    Keep in mind the level of physical stamina, muscular flexibility, and strength required to play the instrument effectively. Some instruments may require significant physical effort or precise muscle control to produce the desired sound and effects.
  5. Notation and Music Theory
    Consider the level of knowledge in reading sheet music and understanding music theory that is necessary to play the instrument. Some instruments may have complex or unusual notation, making it more challenging to learn and perform music.
  6. Accessibility
    Think about how easy it is to find resources and support for learning the instrument, including teachers, textbooks, online tutorials, and fellow musicians.
  7. Versatility
    Reflect on the range of musical styles, genres, and settings in which the instrument can be played. Some instruments may be more versatile than others and require more adaptability from the player.
  8. Ensemble Integration
    Take into account how well the instrument fits into various ensembles and musical arrangements. Some instruments may be solo-centric and more challenging to integrate into a group setting, while others may need to blend and adapt to other instruments around them.
  9. Maintenance
    Factor in the effort required to maintain and care for the instrument, such as regular cleaning, tuning, and repairs. Some instruments may demand more upkeep than others.
  10. Personal Aptitude
    Every individual has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning and playing instruments. An instrument that appears difficult to one person may come more easily to another due to factors like natural talent, prior musical experience, or a strong interest and passion for the instrument.

About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most difficult instrument in the world. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or instrument is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!


  • 198 votes
  • 10 ranked items

Voting Rules

A participant may cast an up or down vote for each instrument once every 24 hours. The rank of each instrument is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.

More information on most difficult instrument in the world

The world of music is vast and diverse, with a wide variety of instruments that produce unique sounds and melodies. From the simple and straightforward to the complex and challenging, each instrument has its own set of challenges that musicians must overcome to master their craft. But which instrument is the most difficult to play? While opinions may vary, many musicians agree that certain instruments require more skill, practice, and dedication than others. Whether it's the intricate finger movements required for playing the violin or the complex breath control needed to play the French horn, the most difficult instrument in the world is a matter of debate. Join us as we explore the world of music and discover what makes some instruments more challenging than others.

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