A multi-instrumentalist is a musician who plays a number of different instruments.[1]

The Bachelor of Music degree usually requires a second instrument to be learned (unless one is studying composition), but people who double on another instrument (e.g., guitar and piano) are not usually seen as multi-instrumentalists.[citation needed]


Classical music

Music written for Symphony Orchestra usually calls for a percussion section featuring a number of musicians who might each play a variety of different instruments during a performance. Orchestras will also often, but not always, call for several members of the woodwind section to be multi-instrumentalists. This is sometimes referred to as doubling. Typically, for example, one flute player in the orchestra will switch to playing the piccolo when called to by the score. Similarly, clarinet players may double on bass clarinet, oboe players on Cor Anglais, and bassoon players on contrabassoon. Trumpet players may switch to piccolo trumpet for certain Baroque literature, and first trombone players may switch to alto trombone. Doubling elsewhere in the orchestra is rare.

The European Piffari, Stadtpfeifer and Waits were multi-instrumentalists, who played trumpet, sackbut, shawm, cornett, recorder and string-instruments.[2] Musicians with an education of a Stadtpfeifer were Gottfried Reiche,[3] Johann Joachim Quantz,[3] Johann Christof Pezel and Sigmund Theophil Staden.[3] Also many European church musicians of the 17th and 18th centuries were multi-instrumentalists, who played several instruments. Georg Philipp Telemann for example played violin, viola da gamba, recorder, flauto traverso, oboe, shawm, sackbut and double bass.[4] A contemporary multi-instrumentalist is the German kantor Helmut Kickton who performs church music on organ, violin, viola, cello, double bass, recorder, euphonium, guitar and kettledrums.

Jazz, Modern, Contemporary Music

Many professional musicians aim to become multi-instrumentalists. This process comes in lots of different forms; some jazz saxophonists are offered gigs where they are also required to play clarinet for example. So they spend time learning the differences and then continue to develop their ability over the rest of musical careers. The different types of saxophone are built to similar designs, varying mainly only in size (and therefore pitch), meaning that once a player has learned to play one it is relatively easy for him/her to pick up another. As a result, many Jazz saxophone players have made careers playing several different instruments, such as John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, both of whom have frequently used both Tenor and Soprano saxophones. To a lesser extent this is the case across the range of woodwind instruments: Jazz flute players often play other instruments as well, such as Eric Dolphy and Herbie Mann, both of whom frequently played flute and saxophone. Dolphy was also frequently recorded on bass clarinet.

Many famous jazz musicians including James Morrison, Don Burrows, Mark Taylor and many more have become detailed multi-instrumentalists.

Rock and Pop music

Often, multi-instrumentalists are solo artists who overdub several tracks themselves, rather than hiring session musicians, but they can also be found within bands or working under various monikers. However, when playing live, most multi-instrumentalists will concentrate on their main instrument and / or vocals, and hire or recruit backing musicians (or use a sequencer) to play the other instruments, thus benefiting from economies of scope.

In most cases, a multi-instrumentalist will play several types of keyboard and plucked string instruments, such as piano, synthesizer, organ, guitar, bass and mandolin, and perhaps also percussion and drums. They may also play brass and woodwind instruments, although this is fairly rare within popular music. The voice is sometimes, albeit rarely, listed amongst a multi-instrumentalist's instrumental repertoire. One of the pioneers of this style of recording was Mike Oldfield on his LP Tubular Bells, where he played multiple instruments, such as organ, guitar, honky-tonk piano, bass, drums, glockenspiel, the tubular bells themselves, and more.

Some musicians have pushed the limits of human musical skill on different instruments. The British entertainer Roy Castle once set a world record by playing the same tune on 43 different instruments in four minutes.[citation needed] Anton Newcombe, frontman for The Brian Jonestown Massacre, claimed in the documentary film Dig! to be able to play 80 different instruments.[citation needed]

Brian Jones, of The Rolling Stones, was one of the first pop musicians to be a prolific multi-instrumentalist, popularizing diverse instrumentation in Rock Music and promoting an important influence on multi-instrumentalists, World Music. Stevie Wonder is known to be skilled in several instruments; on his 1972 hit "Superstition" he played all instruments except horns and guitar. Widely considered to be one of the most critically acclaimed multi-instrumentalists of all-time, Todd Rundgren wrote, played, sang, engineered, and produced the landmark album Something/Anything? in 1972. Rundgren's overall talent, eclecticism, and body of work between the late 1960s and late 1970s would have a profound impact on the artist who is arguably the most famous pop multi-instrumentalist of all-time, Prince. Paul McCartney performed the entire McCartney album by himself, all instruments and voices (except some few backing vocals that was done by his first wife Linda McCartney).

Multi-instrumentalist Yuri Landman not only plays several string instruments, but also creates several new instruments with alternative scalings, constructions and string combinations to reach new playing techniques. His work is mainly based on resonance, string pitching and overtones.

There are a number of artists in pop, rock and electronic music that are known for their proficiency on many instruments. Some lesser known multi-instrumentalists include Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Jon Foreman of the rock band Switchfoot, Richard Wright of Pink Floyd, of The Black Eyed Peas, French singer Sébastien Tellier, AJ McLean of Backstreet Boys fame, actor Hugh Laurie, singer-songwriter Rozalind MacPhail, and Serj Tankian of the music group System of a Down. Michael Mercer covers for Kings of Leon. He uses an Epiphone Supernova, a Gibson EB-180, A Parlor Vintage '64 Bass, and a custom made instrument called a strumpini. A strumpini is a 30-string instrument with no frets but it is marked. It is always a semi-hollow. It is often confused with a tripled ten-string mandolin.

See also


  1. ^ "Multi-Instrumentalist" - Merriam-Webster
  2. ^ Riemann Musiklexikon 1967: Art. Stadtpfeifer
  3. ^ a b c Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart
  4. ^ Telemann: Singen ist das Fundament zur Music in allen Dingen; Ed. Werner Rackwitz; Reclam

External links

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