Anyone with a passion for playing music should consider starting a band. This arrangement allows you to express your musical abilities while being backed up by other musicians. If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’ve already seen many bands perform or record their music.
This guide will examine what instruments are in a band as well as the role they play in different band set ups.
List of Instruments in a Band
Most, if not all bands feature guitars. This stringed instrument has been reimagined countless times across history and in different cultures. However, most bands today use electric guitars, acoustic guitars, or a combination of the two.
The modern electric guitar has remained largely unchanged since the 1960s. Electric guitars are versatile instruments that allow you to convey a wide range of tones and play using different playing styles.
Most bands fit guitarists into one of two categories. These are rhythm guitarists and lead guitarists.
As their name implies, rhythm guitarists offer a rhythmic element to musical performances. These musicians focus on driving songs by strumming chords. This adds structure to songs while also supporting other rhythmic instruments such as bass and drums.
Lead guitarists on the other hand focus on playing individual notes and punctuating songs with melodies. The greatest guitarists of all time such as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton were the lead guitarists in their respective bands. Such guitarists rarely use chords in their performances, but their melodies may still loosely follow a chord structure.
This video illustrates the differences between rhythm and lead guitar playing styles.
You might be wondering if there are specific guitars suited for playing rhythm or lead. Most guitars are suitable for both playing styles. If your guitar has multiple pickups, you can switch to the pickup closest to the neck for playing rhythm. Similarly, you can switch to the pickup closest to the bridge for playing lead.
Acoustic guitars are the non-electric counterparts to electric guitars. These are typically thicker and feature hollow bodies. Most acoustic guitars feature a “sound hole” near the center of their body portion. This is a resonating chamber that channels the sound from the strings and amplifies it through the guitar’s body.
Many bands also use electric acoustic guitars. These are acoustic guitars that contain a pickup system or built-in microphone so that instrument can be plugged into an amplifier. Electric acoustic guitars are great for live performances where an ordinary acoustic guitar would be drowned out by the sound of other instruments.
2. Bass Guitar
The bass guitar may share many features with electric guitars. However, they are used differently from other guitars. These instruments typically feature four thick nickel-steel strings that produce deep bass-heavy tones when struck. However, many five-string and six-string bass variants also exist.
Bass guitars tend to be longer in length compared to electric guitars. However, both feature electric pickups that amplify the instrument’s sound when plugged into an amplifier.
Bass guitars play a very different role compared to electric guitars in a band. These instruments provide the deep bass-heavy backbone and rhythms that drive songs. They offer a percussive element as well as a melodic one in the mix. This makes them incredibly important and versatile in a band setting.
The rhythm element of bass guitar playing also means bassists must work in tandem with rhythm guitarists and drummers during their performances. For example, many songs feature a bass guitar being plucked in-time with the song’s kick drum.
Many bands also feature a piano or keyboard in their setup. Pianos have been around since the 18th century and are a staple in jazz, classical, and pop music. These instruments are incredibly versatile and can be played with one or both hands. Pianists can use them to play rhythm or lead sections. In some cases they may play the rhythm section with their left hand while simultaneously playing the lead section with their right hand.
Pianos can be broken down into two broad categories. Acoustic pianos and digital keyboards.
Acoustic pianos typically feature 88 keys. These consist of 52 white keys and 36 black keys. A single 12-note octave will contain 7 white keys and 5 black ones.
Acoustic pianos contain dozens of carbon steel strings. The middle notes on an acoustic piano typically use three strings per note while the deeper notes on the left side of the piano use one string per note. Pressing a key on an acoustic piano triggers a small hammer to swing. This hammer strikes the strings and produces that distinct piano sound.
Acoustic pianos also contain pedals that perform different functions. The sustain pedal lifts the damper from the strings, allowing them to ring out freely and adding “sustain” to the note. The “soft” pedal reduces the number of strings the hammer strikes, producing a more muted and darker sound.
Digital Pianos are the digital counterpart to the acoustic piano. These instruments do not rely on mechanical components to produce a sound. Instead, they playback pre-recorded sounds whenever a note is pressed.
Digital pianos tend to be smaller and lighter than their acoustic counterparts. This makes them portable and better suited for live performances at different venues
In addition to reproducing the sound of an acoustic piano, digital pianos can also play artificial sounds. This includes organs, pads, percussive sounds, or even drums.
Drums are the backbone of any band. The drummer plays the vital role of providing tempo and rhythm for each song.
The average acoustic drum kit consists of many different components. This includes:
- A snare drum
- A bass drum operated with a pedal
- Two or more tom drums
Each of the components in a drum set produces a distinct sound. The snare produces that hard metallic “thud” that is prominent in most songs. The bass drum produces that dark and thunderous sound that drives the beat.
The hi-hats produce a sharp, crisp, and muted sound that can drive or interrupt up a beat. Cymbals produce that bright crashing sound that adds energy to the drum beat.
Vocals are arguably the most important instrument in a band. You can swap out one guitar for another guitar, or one piano for another piano in a performance, but you can’t swap out one vocalist for another without changing the song’s feel dramatically. This is because the vocalist’s voice tends to be the most prominent melody in a song performance.
A singer’s job isn’t easy. They must utilize mental and muscle coordination to ensure they are singing in-key and are hitting the right notes in-time with the other instruments. They must do this while also conveying the emotion of the lyrics they are singing. Consider becoming a vocalist If you want to become the most prominent member of your band.
As you can see, the average band utilizes a core set of instruments in their performances. So consider looking into each one before choosing to start your own music group.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.