Do you day dream about becoming a famous composer, but aren't really sure where to begin? To write music, it definitely helps to know how to play an instrument. But which one should you know how to play? Should you know how to multiple instruments, or is one enough? How well should you be able to play that one?
Sure it's easy enough to write some words down on a page, but is an instrument truly required to write a great song? Which instrument should you be using, and is it possible to get away with not using one at all? Allow me to help clear some things up for you.
The jury is still out on this one, but what do the facts say? Let us investigate:
1. During the Baroque/Classical/Romantic music period of the 1700-1800s, all the great composers of that time were generally virtuoso of their chosen instrument (or at least really darn good). This includes names such as Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, and the list goes on.
2. There were times where the above wasn't the case. For example, French composer Hector Berlioz famously never learned to play the piano. Though he did become quite proficient at other instruments including the guitar.
3. Today you can find many successful musicians who are not exceptional at any one instrument. However, they are usually able to get by playing an instrument or two (there is still one exception that I will explain in my video)
From this we can gather that YES, you are probably going to want to know how to play at least one instrument if you want to compose music.
The previous points I made might have you believe that you can get by as a mediocre player. Though the truth is, that might not cut it. Imagine how far Hendrix or Paganini would have gotten if they were only okay at their instruments?
How well you should be able to play your instrument all depends on the kind of music you are hoping to create. If you are looking to wow people with your instrumental compositions, you are going to need to get very good at playing. If you aspire to head down a similar career path as The Beatles, then just getting by on your instrument is enough to do it.
There is always something to be gained from any musical instrument you choose to learn. However, you are probably looking to gain something that will help you in your immediate musical goals. In that case, by just learning the basics of 3 particular instruments, you will have a practical understanding of how music works (I bet you that you already know at least one or two of them).
Watch the following video to learn about these 3 helpful instruments and how to use to them to access a new level of compositional abilities.
So did you already know some of these instruments? If not, it doesn't take too much time to grasp the basic understanding. With just a little practice, you will be surprised how much your composing will improve.
Don't forget to have fun, and also that NO you do not have to be a virtuoso to be a songwriter!
Tommaso Zillio is a professional prog rock/metal guitarist and composer based in Edmonton, AB, Canada.
Tommaso is currently working on an instrumental CD, and an instructional series on fretboard visualization and exotic scales. He is your go-to guy for any and all music theory-related questions.
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