Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Anyone Can Play Guitar

Unusual Instrument Usage in Modern Pop Music

The standard roles in a five piece band are lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.
Some bands are not satisfied with traditional instrumentation. Bored with the lineup, they go looking for ways to alter their sound, such as Radiohead did by eliminating their label as "guitar rock". They incorporated instruments such as a glockenspiel, as well as drum machines and samplers. A Perfect Circle's debut album, Mer De Noms relies heavily on gourd instruments and violins to set the often dark theme of the music. The White Stripes experimented heavily with the marimba on their album Get Behind Me Satan, and The Roots have evolved over the years to include a sousaphone as a regular part of their lineup.

Some bands don't just experiment on a song or two, but use unusual instruments as part of their regular lineup. In addition to the traditional guitar, bass, and drums, Dave Matthews Band has a violinist and saxophonist.
Artists like Robert Randolph and Ben Harper forgo the standard electric guitar in favor of pedal steel and lap steel guitars. Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson use a ukulele.

Beck is so experimental with unusual instruments, that I had to use wikipedia and google images to figure out what some of them were. The list includes: sitar, banjo, glockenspiel, slide guitar, vocoder, and melodica.

Musicians that think outside of the box make some of the most creative and beautiful compositions.

What are some of your favorite examples of unusual instruments in contemporary music?


  1. They Might Be Giants- so much accordion!

    Sufjan Stevens- banjos, horns, orchestras, odd percussion!

    Beastie Boys- ping pong balls, straws in fast food cups... wow!

    Ozomatli- as it says on their Wiki page: "You drive down Sunset Boulevard and turn off your stereo and roll down your windows and all the music that comes out of each and every different car, whether it's salsa, cumbia, merengue, or Hip Hop, funk or whatever, it's that crazy blend that's going on between that cacophony of sound is Ozomatli, y'know?"

    Rachel Goodrich- Ukulele and kazoo, and giving everyone in the audience a noisemaker of some sort. So much fun!

  2. Oh damn I can't believe I didn't think of TMBG! That is such an obvious one!
    Rachel Goodrich passes out noisemakers?I like this chick a little more all the time.

  3. Yeah, when we went to see her in St. Pete, she brought people up on stage. But she always has on hand, more kazoos, clackers, horns, maracas, egg shakers, you name it. It sometimes just becomes an all out jam where you can't tell where the band ends and the audience begins.

  4. That sounds like so much fun. I wanna see her sometime.