Multi-Instrumentalism: The Double Edged Sword Of Musical Progression

SSeeing life in only 2 dimensions is the direct equal of playing just one musical instrument. Possessing the skill to play just one instrument is a great feat of its own, but it is dwarfed by the prowess of mastering more than one instrument. Following suit with the 2 dimensional view statement, playing and understanding the dynamics of more than one musical instrument is like being able to hear music in 3 dimensions. Listening and understanding the other pieces of the puzzle in a musical ensemble provides an awareness unsurpassed by the single-instrumentalist. It gives you the feeling of having musical superpowers that allow you to see beyond the layer of sound that you are producing at any moment in time with the instrument you have in your hands.

Achieving the special skill of mastering more than one musical instrument does not come without the risk of huge pitfalls however.

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Image credit: ber (9000 vues !) on Flickr

You only have a finite number of hours in a day. By the same token, you only have a finite range of mental energy in one day. After a regular day’s responsibilities, dedicating 100% of that mental energy and motivation to a single instrument will obviously yield the biggest results. Splitting that energy, and of course, your time in half, between two instruments might stump you. It might very well slow down your ability to master either of them. Of course, this varies from person to person. Some people just posses heaps of raw talent and are able to absorb and make sense of things in ways that defy sense. Unless you are one of those boxed-virtuosos, it’s up to you to decide if you are able to fraction your time.

Distraction is the other big problem. It’s much easier and much more productive to focus only on guitar while learning all the nuances that go with it. You’ll fall in love with your guitar even more when you play it, and only it, instead of cheating on it with a set of drums. You can easily learn who all you guitar heroes are. You can learn what the absolute best guitar songs of all time are. But, stick a drum set into the equation and things gets a little more dicey. The down time you were going to dedicate to building the guitar pedal board for your dream rig, is now cluttered by learning snare rudiments and bass drum patterns. Just means you’ll have to go to bed a little later every day. Can you do that? Many musicians think they can, only to find out they got into something that’s way over their heads.

It also depends on what you want to do and what your musical intentions are. If you want to be a specialist that commands his guitar to your every whim, by all means stick to it only. If you want to learn and master every available drum rudiment conceived during the entire existence of percussion studies, stick solely to drums. But, if your dream is to imagine, conceive and blend together numerous parts of magic, all layered in a single piece a musical genius, your best bet is to learn more than one instrument. If you want to be a keyboard strategist able to master all those sounds in your keyboard workstation that defy what a standard piano could ever do – learn what makes those other instruments tick. If you want to program drums and guitars on your keyword, it’s not enough to just know the notes… You have to understand the dynamics of those other instruments. That’s what can separate a good keyboardist from a great one.


Image credit: RayMorris1 on Flickr

You may already be in love with a guitar and possibly a violin as well. You may already be a bass player looking over at the drums to help you understand how to best merge with that beat you’re feeling. On the other hand, you might know that you want to be a multi-instrumentalist, but are on the fence on what 2 instruments to tackle. Well, the best suggestion would be to break the music spectrum into the obvious 3 main parts that resemble a human body: the backbone beat, the muscled bass and the skin melody that covers it all. If it’s 2 instruments you are after, just choose the second instrument outside of the part your current one is in. For example, if you are a guitar player, maybe pick up the bass to help you better understand the low section of what you do. If you are a bass player, then learning what makes the percussion section so important will help you better play for the song. If you are superhuman and want to do 3 instruments, then why not choose a percussion instrument, a melodic instrument and a bass? You get the picture – Perfect musical trilogy.

Of course, those are only suggestions. If your love lies between two different wind instruments, by all means stick to that. There are plenty of saxophone players that find satisfaction in also playing clarinet. After all, it’s easier to learn something that is closely related to what you already do.

About the author: Danny Cruz runs, a guitar website, in his spare time. He is however also a very proficient drummer. When not playing music, he regains his inspiration designing art, surfing and messing about with super cars.