What Are the Most Popular Instruments? [10 Top]

There are many musical instruments that one can play. Some, however, are much more popular than others. What are the most popular instruments?

The most popular musical instruments are the following:

  1. Guitar
  2. Piano/Keyboard
  3. Violin
  4. Drums
  5. Saxophone
  6. Flute
  7. Trumpet
  8. Cello
  9. Clarinet
  10. Harp

These musical instruments are the ones that most people are very familiar with. They are also the most common instruments people choose to learn.

Read on to learn more about the most popular musical instruments to play and why they are so popular.

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What Are the Most Popular Musical Instruments?

most popular instruments

You will know the most played instruments by just listening to the radio. In just minutes of tuning in to one of these music radios, you will hear many of these instruments being played.

Perhaps you will hear instrumental solos, symphony orchestra pieces, or singers accompanied by a mixture of musical instruments.

More often than not, you will hear the guitar and the piano. They may be acoustic or electric guitars or a grand piano, or an electronic keyboard. You will also hear an instrument that keeps the beat in all of the music pieces you hear. This is the drums.

And then, you will also hear a mixture of musical pieces that feature the flute, the trumpet, the saxophone, and the rest of the gang of 10.

But almost always, in every song, in every instrumental piece that you will hear played on the radio, there will always be the two most popular instruments, and most-played instruments, of all – the piano and the guitar.

With that in mind, here are the most popular musical instruments that people play:

1. Guitar

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Whether they are acoustic or electric, concert or rock, guitars are the most popular musical instruments in modern times. Perhaps the piano was the most popular, especially during the times of the great piano virtuosos such as Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, and so forth.

But right now, the roost is being ruled by guitarists such as Earl Klugh, George Benson, Tommy Emmanuel, etc., on the acoustics, and Joe Satriani, Steve Val, Eddie Van Halen, etc., on the electric. Gone are the days of Andres Segovia, Chet Atkins, and Les Paul.

It is always easy to get a guitar, whether it is acoustic or electric. Just visit your local music store, and you will most likely get an acoustic for less than $50. Electric guitars made in China are a steal.

Some of them go for less than $100. If you get one at $200, that would really compete with a Gretsch or a Rickenbacker or even a Fender or Gibson.

2. Piano/Keyboard

The piano formerly ruled the top spot as the most popular instrument many decades ago. But the rise of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and their American counterparts in the early 60s brought the guitar to the fore and dislodged the piano in its sacred slot.

The piano is the choice of a particular segment of music aficionados – the educated musicians. That means those who really studied piano to play it in the right way and most artistically and culturally, just like the concert pianists.

But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be played unless you really studied music. Many pop musicians have not really studied music but play the piano and keyboard just as beautifully as the school-taught pianists – one of the most famous of which is Elton John.

It is easy to get an electric keyboard. You can get one for less than $50. But it is quite a hassle to buy a brand new piano – unless you have a fat pocket. Even a used piano can be expensive. 

3. Violin

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Our third place is the violin because you can hear it in a lot of music pieces. They are very common in classical music, orchestra music, and ensemble music. The violin has also been constantly featured in selected folk and pop music.

Hilly Billy’s music genres always have the fiddle in the background and sometimes even on solos. Many folk and pop singing groups and bands also feature the violin from time to time.

Violins are diminutive in size, even smaller than the ukelele so that they can be easily carried. And they are not that expensive unless you want a Stradivarius.

4. Drums Set

Drums are very popular and deserve the fourth spot on our popular musical instruments list. They are most popular among the younger set of upcoming musicians. Drummers such as Ringo Starr and Dave Clark inspired youngsters in the 60s to take up the drums.

Then came Karen Carpenter of the Carpenter’s fame and later on, Phil Collins with his Genesis Band and Don Hanley of the Eagles. These pop idols and the great drummers that preceded them made the drums even more popular to people who don’t even know how to play them.

5. Saxophone    

most popular musical instruments

The sax has a very captivating tone if it is really played well. This instrument gets to number five on our list. It is closely associated with jazz music. There are many kinds and shapes of saxophones. The most popular today is the soprano sax played by none other than Kenny G. 

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One of the most beautifully played sax solo is the one that is in the middle instrumental break in Karen Carpenter’s “A Song For You.” I think it was Bob Messenger who played the sax in this Carpenters’ song.  

6. Flute

The flute deserves to be number 6 on our list. Perhaps its popularity is due to its ability to produce the most soothing sounds of all musical instruments. It is also very light and easy to carry and is not that expensive.

It started as an instrument for classical music, but pop groups and bands popularized used it paving the way for its acceptance in the world of pop music.

7. Trumpet

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The trumpet is among the oldest instruments known to man. This type of wind instrument dates back to 1500 BCE or even earlier. But the modern trumpet with a set of valves was invented and patented by Heinrich Stölzel and Friedrich Blühmel in 1818.

Its popularity is also due to its small size, which makes it very portable. This instrument is a mainstay in brass bands. But it is not an easy instrument to play. The most popular trumpet players of modern times are Louis Armstrong and Herb Alpert.

8. Clarinet

The clarinet is a woodwind instrument that made it to number 8 on our most popular musical instruments. It is also a part of symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras. It also became popular because of its lightness, portability, and affordable price.   

9. Cello

The cello is another stringed instrument that a lot of people are aware of. It is also one of the most played instruments. The cello is a much larger version of the violin with a much lower tone range. It still made it to number 9 on our list because of its popularity despite its size and weight.

The cello was even made more popular by the movie “The Soloist.” It starred Jamie Foxx as a homeless cello player with a troubled mind who is being helped by a good Samaritan played by none other than Iron Man himself, ‘Tony Stark’ or Robert Downey, Jr.

10. Harp

The harp also deserves to be included in our list of top ten. It is at the bottom probably because even if it is well known, it is an instrument that is rather big and heavy to carry around. That’s why not too many people have wanted or are wanting to play it.

But the sound of the harp is one of the most enjoyable to hear. It has such a distinct tone that it has been used in symphony orchestras to give a heavenly color to certain music pieces.  

Most Popular Instruments to Learn

There are also some musical instruments that most people want to learn to play. These instruments include the following:

  1. Guitar
  2. Piano/Keyboard
  3. Violin
  4. Drums
  5. Saxophone
  6. Flute
  7. Clarinet
  8. Cello
  9. Trumpet
  10. Voice

The human vocal cords can also be considered a musical instrument. It can produce the most soothing music you can hear.

Many professional singers can move their audience to tears, anger, sympathy, and all sorts of human emotions by just singing and using their vocal cords to the max.

But you don’t need to study music to learn how to sing. If you are naturally gifted, a little vocal training will make a lot of difference.

Easiest Instruments to Learn and Play

Some of the easiest musical instruments to learn and play are not included in our list of the most popular instruments. What are these instruments?

most popular music instruments

1. Recorder

No other instrument can probably beat the recorder as the easiest to learn and play. This instrument is one of the earliest musical instruments taught to small kids in school. Hearing a small child playing good music with a recorder is a real treat to the ears and the eyes.

The recorder is also a great starting step to learning more advanced wind instruments like the flute, the sax, and the clarinet.

2. Percussion Instruments

For people who lack the ability to tune and harmonize, learning how to play percussion instruments is a good option. They are much easier to learn and master.

And you can learn more than one kind of percussion instrument in a short time. Examples of percussion instruments are drum circles (not the drum set) of different sizes, bongos, congas, and tambourine.

3. Castanets

These musical instruments are typically played in pairs. They are small wooden pieces worn on the index or middle finger and the thumb. Spanish flamenco dancers are usually the ones who play castanets while they are dancing.

4. Maracas

These are small shakers or rattlers, which are associated with Latin or Caribbean music. Inside these shakers are small hard objects.

When they are shaken in rhythm with the music’s beat, the sound they produce serves as accents to the music being played. As you can see, the only thing you need to play them is your sense of rhythm.

Most Difficult Instruments to Learn and Play

A number of the most popular instruments included in our list are the hardest to play. Play here means the ability to produce quality music through the instrument:

1. Piano

Learning how to play the decent piano is rather difficult. You may have a good ear in music, but if you don’t have a good education in piano, you won’t be able to play “Moonlight Sonata” in the right way.

Many assume that this piano piece is straightforward to play. But you really need good training in piano playing to give justice to this Ludwig van Beethoven composition.

2. Trumpet

Learning how to make this instrument sound properly is not easy. Even trumpet players who lack practice are not able to produce good quality sounds with their trumpets.

If you are not well educated and trained and practiced, your trumpet sounds will be weak at the very least and out of the pitch, hurting the ears.

3. Harp

Not everybody can learn to play the harp. This is a complex instrument, and it takes a specialist to play it. It has a lot of strings you need to pluck. Harps definitely sound angelic, but it seems it also takes angelic hands and temperament to play them.

4. Violin

A violin player also needs to have a lot of education, training, and practice to produce quality sounds from a violin’s sounding board. If you don’t have this kind of commitment, you are better off with the guitar.

Conclusion: What Are the Most Popular Musical Instruments?

According to popular culture, the most popular musical instruments to play are the following:

  1. Guitar
  2. Piano
  3. Violin
  4. Drums
  5. Saxophone
  6. Flute
  7. Trumpet
  8. Cello
  9. Clarinet
  10. Harp

There are many reasons why the guitar is ahead of the piano and the other instruments in popularity. Guitars are less expensive; they are more portable and can be learned easily, even just by ear.

Again, here are the most popular instruments to learn:

  1. Guitar
  2. Piano/Keyboard
  3. Violin
  4. Drums
  5. Saxophone
  6. Flute
  7. Clarinet
  8. Cello
  9. Trumpet
  10. Voice

Related reading:

Oboe vs Clarinet – What Is the Difference Between Them?

Easy Clarinet Songs [Top 10 Easiest]

Is a Flute a Woodwind Instrument?

Different Types of Flutes

What Instrument Should I Play? Top 10 Picks