How classical instruments are used in modern music

The modern era of music has brought changes in musical style and taste. Modern composers and musicians explored new non-traditional sounds and based their music on the rhythm, tone, and texture instead of traditional aspects like melody and harmony.

But the classical instruments still have a huge space in modern music. It’s still widely used in many genres like jazz, pop, country, and rock.

Most popular classical instruments

Strings

In the strings family, the most common instruments are the violin and the cello. These instruments are usually seen in huge concert halls and in orchestras. However, there are a total of four instruments in the strings family, which include violas and double basses. These instruments work through transmitting vibrations through the body of the instrument. The body then vibrates with the air, creating a sound. 

Violins and cellos originated in Italy and the western classical music scene. Modern music adopted them in many music genres; including bluegrass, fiddle, folk, jazz, country/Western, and Celtic music.

In more recent music, musicians use violins and cellos to either create covers of songs in different genres such as pop or to create layers and add different elements to songs. For example, the pop song “Untouched” by Australian duo The Veronicas features strings in the opening section, in an upbeat song of 176 bpm. Covers are also popular and often featured on Youtube, with musicians creating new variations of popular songs. 

Woodwinds

Woodwind instruments received their name from traditionally having wooden bodies which would have air (or wind) blown through them to produce sound. Nowadays, woodwind instruments can be made of a combination of wood, plastic and metal materials. These instruments of the orchestra are tubes that have an opening on one end, and a mouthpiece on the other. The most popular woodwind instrument that’s still being used in modern music is the flute.

Various songs and anthems contain flute chords. Titanic’s OST, My Heart Will Go On is recognizable worldwide with its flute notes. However, possibly one of the most well known modern artists featuring the flute is American singer/songwriter and rapper Lizzo. Lizzo is known for topping billboard charts in the past 5 years and is also known to showcase her flute in many of her pop songs. The artist was first recognized for her flute skills in her song released in 2016, “Coconut Oil”. Since then, the popularity of her flute playing has grown, and Lizzo includes flute solos during her songs in her live performances.

Percussion

Percussion instruments are those instruments that create a sound through hitting, shaking, or scraping. These instruments can either be tuned or untuned which affects the notes generated. Percussion instruments were thought to be one of the oldest instruments, aside from the human voice. Some common percussion instruments include snare drums, bass drums, timpanis, cymbals, the triangle, and the tambourine. Pianos can also come under the family of percussion instruments, as the piano uses hammers to hit the strings, rather than using a bow or plucking the strings.

More than any other classical instrument, the piano is the most commonly used in any genre, in so many songs. It bridged the societal classes, with the grand piano no longer just for the wealthy. It evolved into its many forms, like the organ and then the electric piano. Pianos with their popularity for being a beginner instrument can be found in almost every music instrument shop.

Elton John and Adele are famous for piano music in their most beloved songs. Elton John features the piano in his platinum song “Rocket Man”. Adele also heavily features the piano in her songs, including in her piano ballad “Hello”, which reached the number one rank in 36 countries. “Someone Like You”, written by Adele, also exclusively features the piano, and was her second number one song in the US. Piano in modern music spans across other genres too, with Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” song reaching the charts for ‘Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs’ for six weeks in a row in 2003. 

Brass

The instruments in a brass family consist of long tubes widened towards the end to form like a bell. The curves and twists of the pipes are molded into a unique shape to ensure they’re easy to hold and play. The trumpet is the most commonly used brass instrument in today’s jazz, pop, rock, and ska music.

The Cat Empire is a modern Australian rock/ska band that features the sounds of brass in their music. The band is heavily influenced by the combined sounds of ska, Latin, jazz, and rock, with their brass musicians playing trumpet, trombone, cornet, and flugelhorn. Their song “Hello” from their self titled album “The Cat Empire” ranked number 6 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 in 2003. 

Pop music with classical instruments

The rise of the talkies was the birth of movie soundtracks.  Classically inspired songs began to charm everyone from the early movies in the 30s to the present. Aside from these, here are some pop songs which use, or are covered by other artists, with classical instruments.

Uptown Funk – Bruno Mars

Mark Ronson and the Electric Colour Orchestra used violins, drums and a piano to create a new version of the song.

Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen

Aside from the song covers, who would’ve forgotten about Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody? The band used piano, drums and electric guitar, dominating the hard rock and progressive pop genres.

Smooth Criminal – Michael Jackson

One of Michael Jackson’s top pop hits also used classical instruments like piano, bass and guitar.

Untouched – The Veronicas

This song by the Australian duo The Veronicas features a violin riff throughout their ARIA certified platinum song.

Bring Me to Life – Evanescence

This song was the first single released from Evanescence’s album “Fallen”, and won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in the 46th Grammy Awards.

Modern musicians continue using classical instruments in their songs. Whether it’s cover versions or original compositions, classical instruments will continue to be a prominent feature of modern music and will cease to go out of style.

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