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A Musical ensemble is a group of two or more musicians who perform instrumental or vocal music. In each musical style different norms have developed for the sizes and composition of different ensembles, and for the repertoire of songs or musical works that these ensembles perform.

In classical music, trios or quartets either blend the sounds of instrument families (e.g., piano, strings, and winds) or group together instruments from the same instrument family, such as string ensembles or wind ensembles. In jazz ensembles, the instruments typically include wind instruments (one or more saxophones, trumpets, etc.) one or two chordal "comping" instruments (electric guitar, piano, or organ), a bass instrument (electric bass guitar or double bass), and a drummer or percussionist. In rock ensembles, usually called rock bands, there are usually guitars and keyboards (piano, electric piano, Hammond organ and synthesizers) and a rhythm section made up of a bass guitar and drum kit.

Classical chamber music

In Western Art music, commonly referred to as classical music, smaller ensembles are called chamber music ensembles. The terms duet, trio, quartet, quintet, sextet, septet, octet, and nonet are used to describe groups of two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine musicians, respectively; A solo is not because it only contains one musician.

Five parts

The string quintet is a common type of group. It is similar to the string quartet, but with two violas, two violoncellos, or more rarely, the addition of a double bass. Terms such as "piano quintet" or "clarinet quintet" frequently refer to a string quartet plus a fifth instrument. Thus, a piano quintet is usually a string quartet plus a piano. A Mozart's Clarinet Quintet is similarly a piece written for an ensemble consisting of 2 violins, a viola, a cello and a clarinet, the last being the exceptional addition to a "normal" string quartet.

Another common grouping in classical music is the wind quintet, usually consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn.

Six or more instruments

Classical chamber ensembles for more than six musicians are occasionally used, such as septets (seven musicians), octets (eight musicians), or nonets (nine musicians). However, in many cases a larger classical group is referred to as an orchestra of some type. A small orchestra with fifteen to thirty members (violins, violas, cellos, double basses, and several woodwind or brass instruments) is called a chamber orchestra In the American education system, sitting groups are known as wind ensembles or concert bands (to differentiate from marching bands. Music is similar to that of a pops orchestra, orchestrated for woodwinds, brass, and percussion. A sinfonietta usually denotes a somewhat smaller orchestra (though still not a chamber orchestra). Larger orchestras are called symphony orchestras or philharmonic orchestras.

A pops orchestra is an orchestra that mainly performs light classical music (often in abbreviated, simplified arrangements) and orchestral arrangements and medleys of popular jazz, music theater, or pop music songs. A string orchestra has only strings, i.e., violins, violas, violoncellos and basses.

A symphony orchestra is an ensemble usually comprising at least thirty musicians; the number of players is typically between seventy and ninety-five and may exceed one hundred. A symphony orchestra is divided into families of instruments. In the string family, there are sections of violins (I and II), violas, violoncellos, and basses. The winds consist of the woodwind family of instruments (flutes and piccolo, oboes and English horn, clarinets [made up of the Eb Clarinet, Clarinet, and Bass Clarinet], and bassoons [often including contrabassoon]) and the brass family (horns, trumpets, trombones, and tuba). The percussion family includes the timpani, bass drum, snare drum, and any other percussion instruments called for in a score (e.g., triangle, glockenspiel, chimes, cymbals, wood blocks).

When orchestras are performing baroque music (from the 1600s and early 1700s), they may also use a harpsichord or pipe organ. When orchestras are performing Romantic-era music (from the 1800s), they may also use harps or unusual instruments such as the wind machine. When orchestras are performing music from the 20th century or the 21st century, occasionally instruments such as electric guitar, theremin, or even an electronic synthesizer may be used.
See also: String trio, String sextet, string.

Jazz ensembles

Three parts

In jazz, there are several types of trios. One type of jazz trio is formed with a piano player, a bass player and a drummer. Another type of jazz trio that became popular in the 1950s and 1960s is the organ trio, which is composed of a Hammond organ player, a drummer, and a third instrumentalist (either a saxophone player or an electric jazz guitarist). In organ trios, the Hammond organ player performs the bass line on the organ bass pedals while simultaneously playing chords or lead lines on the keyboard manuals. Other types of trios include the "drummer-less" trio, which consists of a piano player, a double bassist, and a horn player (saxophone or trumpet); and the jazz trio with a horn player (saxophone or trumpet), double bass player, and a drummer. In the latter type of trio, the lack of a chordal instrument means that the horn player and the bassist have to imply the changing harmonies with their improvised lines.

Four parts

Jazz quartets typically add a horn (the generic jazz name for saxophones, trombones, trumpets, or any other wind instrument commonly associated with jazz) to one of the jazz trios described above. Slightly larger jazz ensembles, such as quintets (five instruments) or sextets (six instruments) typically add other soloing instruments to the basic quartet formation, such as different types of saxophones (e.g., alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, etc.) or an additional chordal instrument.

Larger ensembles

The lineup of larger jazz ensembles can vary considerably, depending on the style of jazz being performed. In a 1920s-style dixieland jazz band, a larger ensemble would be formed by adding a banjo player, woodwind instruments, as with the clarinet, or additional horns (saxophones, trumpets, trombones) to one of the smaller groups. In a 1940s-style Swing big band, a larger ensemble is formed by adding "sections" of like instruments, such as a saxophone section and a trumpet section, which perform arranged "horn lines" to accompany the ensemble. In a 1970s-style jazz fusion ensemble, a larger ensemble is often formed by adding additional percussionists or soloing instruments.

Rock and pop bands

Two parts

Two-member rock and pop bands are relatively rare, because of the difficulty in providing all of the musical elements which are part of the rock or pop sound (vocals, chords, bass lines, and percussion or drumming) with trios or quartets. Two-member rock and pop bands typically omit one of these musical elements. In many cases, two-member bands will omit a drummer, since guitars, bass guitars, and keyboards can all be used to provide a rhythmic pulse. Examples of two-member bands are Death From Above 1979, The White Stripes, The Ting Tings, Two Gallants, The Black Keys, Pet Shop Boys, Savage Garden, Tenacious D, and I Set My Friends on Fire.

When electronic sequencers became widely available in the 1980s, this made it easier for two-member bands to add in musical elements that the two band members were not able to perform. Sequencers allowed bands to pre-program some elements of their performance, such as an electronic drum part and a synth-bass line. Two-member pop music bands such as Soft Cell used pre-programmed sequencers. Other pop bands from the 1980s which were ostensibly fronted by two performers, such as Wham! and Tears for Fears, were not actually two-piece ensembles, because other instrumental musicians were used "behind the scenes" to fill out the sound.

Two-piece bands in rock music are rare. However, starting in the 2000s, blues-influenced rock bands such as The White Stripes and The Black Keys utilized a guitar and drums scheme. Death From Above 1979 featured a drummer and bass guitarist. Tenacious D is a two-guitar band; One Day as a Lion and The Dresden Dolls both feature a keyboardist and a drummer. The band Welk consists of a two-man psychedelic flute band, with the occasional synthesizer. Two-person bands have grown in popularity in experimental rock music. Providence-based Lightning Bolt is a two-member band. Bassist Brian Gibson augments his playing with delay pedals, pitch shifters, looping devices and other pedals, occasionally creating harmony. Local H, No Age, Warship, and Growing are other prominent two-person experimental rock bands.

Example line-up

Three parts

The smallest ensemble that is commonly used in rock music is the trio format. In a hard rock or blues-rock band, or heavy metal rock group, a "power trio" format is often used, which consists of an electric guitar player, an electric bass guitar player and a drummer, and typically one or more of these musicians also sing (sometimes all three members will sing, e.g. Bee Gees or Alkaline Trio). Some well-known power trios with the guitarist on lead vocals are: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Nirvana, Blink 182, Sublime, Vardis, The Jam, and Muse, and with the bassist on vocals Primus, Motörhead, The Police, Rush, and Cream.

An alternative to the power trio are organ trios formed with an electric guitarist, a drummer and a keyboardist. Although organ trios are most commonly associated with 1950s and 1960s jazz organ trio groups such as those led by organist Jimmy Smith, there are also organ trios in rock-oriented styles, such as jazz-rock fusion and Grateful Dead-influenced jam bands such as Medeski Martin & Wood. In organ trios, the keyboard player typically plays a Hammond organ or similar instrument, which permits the keyboard player to perform bass lines, chords, and lead lines. A variant of the organ trio are trios formed with an electric bassist, a drummer and an electronic keyboardist (playing synthesizers) such as the progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Example line-up



Four parts

The four-piece band is the most common configuration in rock and pop music. Before the development of the electronic keyboard, the configuration was typically two guitarists (one lead guitarist and one rhythm guitarist, with the latter on vocals), a bass player (typically the electric bass guitar) and a drummer (e.g.,Against Me!, McFly, KISS, Foo Fighters, Weezer, Metallica, The Clash, The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Kinks, The Fray, The Killers, The All-American Rejects, Nickelback and The Smashing Pumpkins).

Another common formation was a vocalist, electric guitarist, electric bassist and a drummer (e.g.The Who, Led Zeppelin, Tool, The Ramones, The Rasmus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queen, Rage Against the Machine, Black Sabbath, Pantera, No Doubt, Cheap Trick, Van Halen, The Stooges, Joy Division, U2, Coldplay, Jane's Addiction, Motley Crue, Blur and Creed). Instrumentally, these bands can be considered as trios. In some early rock bands, keyboardists were used, performing on piano (e.g., The Rolling Stones initially used Ian Stewart on piano), The Doors with a guitarist, singer, drummer and keyboardist. Some bands will have a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and keyboard player (for example, Small Faces, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Coldplay (during some of thier later work) and Blind Faith).

Some bands will have the bassist on lead vocals, such as Thin Lizzy, Pink Floyd, NOFX, +44, or even the lead guitarist, such as Dire Straits. Some bands, such as The Beatles, have a lead guitarist, a rhythm guitarist and a bassist that all sing lead and backing vocals regularly and play keyboards also regularly, as well as a drummer.

Example line-ups

Five parts

Five-part bands have existed in rock music since early times. The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Oasis, Pearl Jam, Guns N' Roses, Radiohead, Steely Dan,The Strokes, STYX, The Yardbirds, 311 and My Chemical Romance are examples of the common vocalist, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, and drums lineup. An alternative to the five-member lineup replaces the rhythm guitarist with a keyboard–synthesizer player (examples being the bands Dream Theater, Bon Jovi, Yes, Fleetwood Mac, Marilyn Manson, Gorillaz, Deep Purple and Kamelot, all of which consist of a vocalist, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, and a drummer) or with a turntablist such as Incubus or Limp Bizkit.

Other times, the vocalist will provide another musical voice to the table, most commonly a harmonica; Mick Jagger, for example, played harmonica and percussion instruments like maracas and tambourine. Ozzy Osbourne was also known to play the harmonica on some occasions (i.e. “The Wizard” by Black Sabbath).





or even

Larger rock ensembles

Larger bands have long been a part of rock and pop music, in part due to the influence of the "singer accompanied with orchestra" model inherited from popular big-band jazz and swing and popularized by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.To create larger ensembles, rock bands often add an additional guitarist (as in Iron Maiden); an additional keyboardist (as in Procol Harum); additional percussionists (as in Latin-rock bands, e.g. Santana); or second drummer (as in The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band), an entire horn section (Chicago), and even a flutist (Catharsis). Stevie Nicks has an extra guitarist, sometimes drummer and three backup singers in her band.

Nu metal band Linkin Park fits the rap rock genre with the inclusion of their turntablist & their emcee, who also plays rhythm guitar & keyboards. Slipknot has nine members, including a turntablist and two percussionists who match the drum beat. In other rock bands, particularly those influenced by other genres such as folk, classical, or country, the additional instrumentalists might include a mandolin player, a banjo player, a sitar player, a fiddler/acoustic violinist, an electric violinist, a timpanist, or a pedal steel guitarist. In some of these larger groups (such as The Band), instrumentalists could play multiple instruments, which enabled the ensemble to create a wider variety of instrument combinations. More rarely, rock or pop groups will be accompanied in concerts by a full or partial symphony orchestra, where lush string-orchestra arrangements are used to flesh out the sound of slow ballads. Third-Wave Ska bands may have six to eight pieces including vocals, guitarist(s), a bassist, a drummer, a trumpet, saxophone, and trombone.

Other situations occur depending on the genre the band prefers. For instance, the band Incubus has five members, one of them being a DJ. Also, the band Dare to Dream has five members, including Steven M. Cooper. Huey Lewis and the News also had a large rock ensemble, including the members of the News and the separate jazz band Tower of Power on many of their early hits.Another interesting example is Bang Camaro, who have three guitarists, one keyboardist, one bassist, one drummer, and ten to fifteen singers who sing simultaneously. Bluegrass and other music has roots in Irish folk, and some Irish punk bands such as Flogging Molly have multiple members, some of which play the fiddle, banjo, and the accordion. On the extreme, symphonic metal group Haggard at one time had 21 members, being numerous different types of instrumentalists and vocalists, approaching something more reminiscent of a small chamber orchestra, and the extreme gothic metal band Theatres des Vampires (usually with eight members: three vocalists, two guitarists, a drummer, a bassist and a keyboardist) reached 12 members in 2004, with Nightbreed of Macabria (Four vocalists, two guitarists, a drummer, a bassist, a keyboardist, a violinist, a violist, a cellist, an hornist and a flautist). Roger Waters during his The Dark Side of the Moon Live tour was observed with two drummers, three background singers, a lead, rhythm and alternating (lead, rhythm and bass) guitarist, sax player, keys/Moog/synth/effects man and himself playing bass.

Example line-up




Musical drama

Sung dramas such as operas and musicals usually have numbers where several of the principals are singing together, either on their own or with the chorus. Such numbers (duets, trios, etc) are also referred to as 'ensembles'.

Other western musical ensembles

In the 1900s, the Wind Symphony or Wind Ensemble became popular, especially in academic circles. A wind ensemble consists entirely of wind instruments and percussion instruments, but may also include a double bass. Schools from elementary level onward often have a school band program which is usually centered around its wind ensemble, often known as a concert band.

A choir is a group of voices. By analogy, sometimes a group of similar instruments in a symphony orchestra are referred to as a choir. For example, the woodwind instruments of a symphony orchestra could be called the woodwind choir.

A group that plays popular music or military music is usually called a band.A group that plays while marching on a football field, without being a marching band, is called a drum and bugle corps. These bands perform a wide range of music, ranging from arrangements of jazz orchestral, or popular music to military-style marches. Drum corps perform on brass and percussion instruments only. Some corps perform on bugles in the key of G, while others perform on brass instruments in multiple keys, depending on the group. Drum and Bugle Corps incorporate costumes, hats, and pageantry in their performances.

Other band types include:

See also


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