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Prog composer's instrumental background

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paganinio View Drop Down
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    Posted: February 17 2017 at 09:40
I heard that the majority of composers also know how to play the piano/keyboard. 

This is true in classical music and probably in modern pop music. But in rock music, and prog rock, the guitar is the far more common instrument.

So I'm just wondering, the people who write prog music -- do they usually know how to play a keyboard instrument? Is the guitar playing ability enough for a prog composer? 

Also, let's consider music with flute, violin, mellotron, etc. in them. Is it necessary for the composer to know how to play those instruments, in order to write music that uses those instruments?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote presdoug Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 17 2017 at 11:15
I know that Triumvirat's composer/ keyboardist Juergen Fritz was a classically trained, Honours student at the Cologne Conservatory.
           J. Peter Robinson, composer/keys player with Quatermass was classically trained as well. These two players later went on to compose music for film.
                        Quatermass and T'rat are examples of keys dominant progressive rock, though. Their classical training shows in their prog compositions, definitely.


Edited by presdoug - February 17 2017 at 11:18
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Manuel Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 17 2017 at 16:43
I don't think it is necessary to be a multi-intrumentalist to write music, but it certainly is a big plus.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Thatfabulousalien Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 17 2017 at 17:08
Not at all but you do need to know how to write idiomatically for whatever instruments you're writing for
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Dean Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 18 2017 at 02:43
Once you know the limitations of an instrument you can write music for it. This goes beyond just knowing the range of each instrument and understanding which instruments are monophonic and which are polyphonic. (Don't write chords for a flute unless you have three flautists in your band).

Guitars and pianos are oft used for composing because they have a very wide range so can play the parts other instruments would be expected to cover. However, even these have limitations that the composer must be aware of when writing or transposing music with them and for them.

A keyboard player has 88 notes at their disposal and two hands with five fingers each with which to play them so there are limitations of what they can physically do at any moment in time based upon their hand span and the distance between keys - it is no accident that on a full-size keyboard that the average hand-span from pinkie to thumb is one octave on the keys - in principle a pianist can play 10 notes simultaneously (or in quick succession) but they cannot play top-C, bottom-C and middle-C at the same time without using a third appendage. Similarly guitars are made (and thus tuned) so that (at the top of the fretboard) the four fretting fingers can span five frets and cover two octaves - a guitarist takes a finite time to move their hand from one end of the fretboard to the other so jumps of more than two octaves cannot happen instantaneously.


Edited by Dean - February 18 2017 at 03:13
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Atavachron Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 18 2017 at 02:54
^ In fact I'll often notice a phrase or riff consisting of roughly five to ten notes, or within the limits of one to two hands.   No surprise, though one wonders what music would sound like if we had more, or fewer, fingers.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Dean Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 18 2017 at 03:11
PS: I was watching the BBC Symphony Orchestra play a Philip Glass piece the other week and from a "composer's" perspective it was interesting to see the near-seemless transition of one of his leitmotifs from violin to viola to cello to double-bass. 

On an electronic keyboard I would compose something like that using a 'violin' preset because while the violin only spans 4Ĺ octaves I can obviously play all the other parts using the same preset because it doesn't have that limitation. The 'problem' there is a 'violin' preset down-sampled to cover a cello and/or double-bass range doesn't sound like either instrument (it actually sounds pretty horrible to my ears).

However, should I decide to record that using real stringed instruments I would have to decide which other stringed instrument players to hire to accompany the violinist (I own a violin but haven't progressed beyond scratching out "London's Burning" on it - I'd also have to employ a violinist). As the picture above shows I could in theory get away with just a violinist and bassist, or combinations thereof... you pays your money and you takes your choice. In reality (being impoverished and only knowing a cellist) I'd actually use a sampler with violin, viola, cello and double-bass samples, and record each section separately.


Edited by Dean - February 18 2017 at 03:15
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ginodi Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 18 2017 at 18:59
I am primarily a guitar player, but after decades of writing on that instrument I have switched the last couple years to composing on piano (Yamaha DGX 650, which I use as many voicings as needed), and I actually prefer it over guitar. At 57, I am in the final mix of a seven song CD I have been working on since last March. I am not looking for it do anything, nor for anyone to be amazed. The thing I am most proud is...I actually did it. The problem with guitar is I can't tame the metal-type progressions or riffing. I love dynamics, and I prefer the guitars to be heavy in sections instead of dominating the entire composition. The keyboards tame that wild beast.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Lewian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Yesterday at 09:03
One good thing about the keyboard is that a big range of notes is not only there but arranged in a rather simple and logical manner that makes it easier to think things through and keep an overview. Not everybody needs this but it helps.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HackettFan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Yesterday at 17:50
Originally posted by Lewian Lewian wrote:

One good thing about the keyboard is that a big range of notes is not only there but arranged in a rather simple and logical manner that makes it easier to think things through and keep an overview. Not everybody needs this but it helps.
Actually things are laid out in a superior fashion on guitar. If we discuss just the major scale, and all it's modes by implication, on guitar there are distinct patterns for five different hand positions to remember. Some but not all of the notes are duplicated in some of the other hand positions. This seems difficult to the non-initiated, but that's it. Five. Yes, five and only five patterns. So why would five be so good compared to the piano, which only has one pattern to learn for a major scale that repeats every octave. Well, the piano has one and only one pattern for the major scale until one changes key. When that happens, the asymmetry of white keys and black keys forces a whole new pattern for the same scale in a different key. With twelve potential keys there are twelve different patterns. By comparison, on guitar, if one changes key are there any new patterns to learn? No. Not even one. The same five patterns just move up or down the neck like a conveyor belt. The major scale in one key is the same as another key, just moved. It's the same idea behind a capo and it's the same idea behind a bar chord too.
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