One of the most spirited debates among musicians is electric versus acoustic. For most of human history, acoustic instruments reigned supreme simply because they were the only option. But when electric instruments began to gain popularity in 1930 it was clear that thousands of years of dominance were now in peril.
Today both electric and acoustic instruments coexist in relative peace, but there will always be people wondering which is best. This question is especially common with people deciding on their first instrument. If you came looking for an easy answer, we, unfortunately, do not have one. However, we can look at the strengths and weaknesses of both instrument types so you can make a choice that fits your wants and needs.
In this section, we will look at what is required to play each type of instrument. In most departments, electric and acoustic instruments are fairly evenly matched, but this is not one of those areas. To play an acoustic instrument, you simply need the instrument itself and any required accessories. With electric instruments, you need the instrument, required accessories, and power. And that just describes the basic necessities! If you are playing an instrument like the electric guitar, you will also need an amplifier. This means that electric instruments can be less portable and more difficult to set up.
Of course, it’s important to note that everything varies depending on the instrument. For example, electric keyboards are almost all more portable than even small acoustic pianos. It’s one more reason there is no one-size-fits-all option in this discussion.
Since the day where a caveman started banging a stick on everything, he could find humans have been trying to make new sounds using their instruments. We accomplished some amazing things with natural materials from plants and animals. But even the most creative instrument makers found that they could only make so many sounds naturally and that one instrument has a limited acoustic range. Electricity and electronics changed this.
Electric instruments are capable of an amazing variety of sounds. Just pick up even the cheapest electronic keyboard, it can play for an entire band! Electronic signals are also easier for computers to handle, which is why these instruments can be hooked directly into computers to be captured and then manipulated later. If you want a tried and true sound that you know you can rely upon then acoustic is the way to go. Even fans of electric instruments recognize that the sounds can feel hollow and cold if used incorrectly. But if you’re dedicated to truly learning music, and you want to make as many sounds as possible using just one type of instrument, then electric is the way to go.
In many ways, music is about mood. That’s the magic of it all, if you know how to play an instrument you can manipulate the way people feel. Different types of instruments make people feel differently. Acoustic instruments have a very natural sound and feeling. It’s more than just a metaphorical feel; you can also feel the vibrations of the instrument running into your body. With an electric instrument, you get waves from the amplifier or speaker, but it just isn’t the same.
If you want loud, brash, high energy music for a club or a stadium then electric has what you need. Acoustic music is more intimate in nature, while electric music is usually bigger. Think about what you want to feel when you perform, and what you want people to feel. If you want natural vibrations and sounds, then acoustic is the way to go. If you’re willing to push through an initial feeling of distance, you can unleash the range and energy of electric instruments and achieve great things. Once again, neither option is right or wrong. Only you can decide what feels right.
Some people learn music purely for the love of the art while others want something in return. That’s the case for millions of students who pick up instruments every year to get the credits they need. Even many students who love music would find it difficult to devote the necessary time to learning if they couldn’t justify the time academically. This is one area where acoustic instruments have the advantage. Most schools have classes dedicated to teaching acoustic instruments, but few teach the electric variety. There are some, but they are relatively rare. There are also more colleges offering scholarships for acoustic performers than for the electric variety.
Whether it’s fair or not acoustic instruments offer more of an academic advantage. If you pick up a band instrument, you’re more likely to find classes that will give you credit, groups that will look good on your resume, and scholarships that will save you money on college.
Music is more than the music itself. That is to say, for most people being a musician means something bigger than simply playing music. It’s also about image, about the sort of person you are when you step up onto the stage to perform. While most musicians can put forth logical arguments about why they prefer their chosen instrument most actually made their choice while considering style. Acoustic instruments feel regal, sophisticated, and timeless. Electric instruments feel energetic, new, and rebellious. This doesn’t mean that everything fits into need and tidy boxes. Today there are orchestras using electric instruments and punk bands thrashing with acoustic instruments., Still, overall there is some truth to these stereotypes.
When choosing the type of instrument, you want to buy you have to consider what sort of musician you want to be. If you want to be in a garage band, an electric instrument is probably the choice to make, something that will sound cool on stage even if you haven’t perfected your chords yet. On the other hand, if you want to play in an orchestra or perform music with a softer, lighter feel then acoustic is the way to go. It’s really pretty simple, think of the type of music you want to play and find the instrument that you can play it with.
Making the Right Choice
Ultimately there is no wrong or right answer. Choosing between electric or acoustic instruments comes down to the personal tastes of the musician. In the end, what really matters is whether or not the musician likes their instrument. Even if someone is naturally talented with the electric violin, if they’d rather play the acoustic variety then they will not be as happy, and their music won’t be as soulful. It takes a lot of time and effort to truly learn an instrument. You want to make that time as enjoyable as possible by choosing the instrument you like to play. After all, the easiest instrument to learn is the one you truly want to play.