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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jimmy Castor with two types of saxophone
Jimmy Castor with two types of saxophone

A multi-instrumentalist is a musician who plays two or more musical instruments[1] at a professional level of proficiency.

Also known as doubling, the practice allows greater ensemble flexibility and more efficient employment of musicians, where a particular instrument may be employed only briefly or sporadically during a performance. Doubling is not uncommon in orchestra (e.g., flutists who double on piccolo) and jazz (saxophone/flute players); double bass players might also perform on electric bass. In music theatre, a pit orchestra's reed players might be required to perform on multiple instruments. Church piano players are often expected to play the church's pipe organ or Hammond organ as well.

In popular music it is more common than in classical or jazz for performers to be proficient on instruments not from the same family, for instance to play both guitar and keyboards. Many bluegrass musicians are multi-instrumentalists. Some musicians' unions or associations specify a higher rate of pay for musicians who double on two or more instruments for a performance or recording.

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Early music

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]

Classical music

Some famous classical composer-performers could play multiple instruments at a high level, such as Mozart, who was a virtuoso on the keyboard and violin. 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 or alto flute 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. Organ players are also commonly expected to master the harpsichord as well. Doubling elsewhere in the orchestra is rare. With musical theatre pit orchestras, woodwind players are expected to play a large number of woodwind instruments.

Jazz, modern, and contemporary music

A multi-instrumentalist surrounded by his instruments.
A multi-instrumentalist surrounded by his instruments.

In the swing era of big band music, woodwind players were often expected to play multiple woodwind instruments; saxophonists might be offered gigs where they were also required to play clarinet, for example.

The different types of saxophone use 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 them to translate the skills into 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 also 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 also recorded on bass clarinet. In the early years of jazz, when the genre was still linked to the marching band genre, many double-bass players doubled on tuba.

From the 1950s onwards and particularly since the development of jazz-rock fusion in the late 1960s, many double-bass players doubled on electric bass, e.g. Stanley Clarke and John Patitucci.

Some jazz instrumentalists whose main instrument is a horn or bass also play jazz piano, because piano is an excellent instrument for composing and arranging, and for developing greater harmonic knowledge.

Many famous jazz musicians, including James Morrison, Don Burrows, and Brian Landrus, are multi-instrumentalists.

Rock and pop music

In popular music styles, many musicians and songwriters are multi-instrumentalists. Songwriters often play both piano, a key instrument for arranging and composing, and popular pop or rock instruments such as guitar. A backing band member who doubles will be instructed by the bandleader when to switch instruments (e.g., from bass to Hammond organ). 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.


One of the pioneers of multitrack recording of all of the instruments by one performer (one instrument at a time) was Mike Oldfield on his LP Tubular Bells, where he played organ, guitar, honky-tonk piano, bass, glockenspiel, the tubular bells, and more.

Some musicians have pushed the limits of human musical skill on different instruments. British entertainer Roy Castle once set a world record by playing the same tune on 43 different instruments in four minutes.[5] Anton Newcombe, frontman for The Brian Jonestown Massacre, has claimed to be able to play 80 different instruments.[6]

Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was one of the first well-known pop musicians to be a prolific multi-instrumentalist,[citation needed] popularizing diverse instrumentation in rock music and promoting an important influence on multi-instrumentalists, world music. Jones also played the majority of the instruments on the soundtrack to the 1967 West German film A Degree of Murder. John Lennon of The Beatles played guitar, bass and keyboards, while Paul McCartney could play guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. The band's guitarist, George Harrison could play the guitar, sitar, keyboards and bass, and their drummer, Ringo Starr played drums and other percussion instruments as well as keyboards. Stevie Wonder is known to be skilled in several instruments; on his 1972 hit "Superstition" he played all instruments except horns and guitar. 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 Prince. Paul McCartney performed the entire McCartney album by himself, all instruments and voices (except a few backing vocals done by his first wife Linda McCartney).

John Fogerty played all of the instruments on his first three solo albums: John Fogerty, Blue Ridge Rangers, and Centerfield. Dave Grohl did the same on Foo Fighters' debut album, as well as playing guitar and the vast majority of the drum parts for the Foo Fighters' second studio album, The Colour And The Shape.

Both halves of Scottish pop and folk-rock duo Gallagher and Lyle are accomplished multi-instrumentalists. Benny Gallagher is proficient on acoustic guitar, piano/keyboards, bass guitar, accordion, mandolin, ocarina and harmonica, sometimes using the latter instrument on a harness. Graham Lyle is a skilled lead, slide and acoustic guitarist, mandolinist and banjoist, and has also been known to play violin, harmonica and drums on disc.

Bassist Geddy Lee is one half of the songwriting team for the band Rush. He has stated that although he plays bass in the band, melodic instruments like the piano, synthesizer and keyboard are his preferred instruments when writing songs.

Some lesser known multi-instrumentalists include John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Jon Foreman of the rock band Switchfoot, singer/songwriter/producer Bruno Mars, Rick 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.

One of the most notorious examples of multi-instrumentalist members in a rock band is Gentle Giant. All musicians who participated in the group played at least three different instruments. The three Shulman brothers (the founders) played about 23 instruments, whilst Kerry Minnear alone handled about 13.


In bluegrass music, it is very common for musicians to be skilled on a number of different instruments, including guitar, banjo, fiddle and upright bass.

See also


  1. ^ "Multi-Instrumentalist". Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original on 2012-03-08. 
  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
  5. ^ Moreton, Nick (February 19, 2010). "Sign up for Race for Roy to raise funds for the Roy Castle Fund". Southport Visiter. Retrieved October 9, 2012. 
  6. ^ Power, Ian (March 26, 2009). "Best Comeback Ever?". Minnesota Daily. Retrieved October 9, 2012. 

External links

This page was last edited on 6 August 2018, at 15:35
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