How many instruments

How many instruments

Ive been asked how many instrumebts I play and I am unsure what counts as its own instrument. I dont count electric instruments as different from their acoustic versions. But should I count, say, soprano sax and tenor sax as 2 different instruments? Im just trying to get a solid number.

Posted by .

Re: How many instruments

As a multi-instrumentalist, I often get asked this. As a professional percussionist, the answer is really difficult. Do you count all of the little accessory instruments? Do xylophone and marimba count as two? What about electric instruments? Luckily, the answer is of little importance.

Re: How many instruments

Also, what does "play" mean? I can get a handful of tunes out of the piano, but I don’t consider that "playing" it.

Re: How many instruments

From Tubular Bells (in other words strummyfings/ keys and bit of vcl and shakyfings) Mike Oldfield – grand piano, glockenspiel, Farfisa organ, bass guitar, electric guitar (including "speed guitar", "fuzz guitar", "mandolin-like guitar" and "guitars sounding like bagpipes"), taped motor drive amplifier organ chord, assorted percussion, acoustic guitar, flageolet, honky tonk piano, Lowrey organ, tubular bells, concert tympani, Hammond organ, Spanish guitar, vocals ("Piltdown Man" and "Moribund chorus")

Re: How many instruments

You could give the total number, including all variants, registers etc., but offer the caveat that some of them share the more or less same playing technique.

Personally, I prefer to list them. Usually, before I have had the chance to complete the list, I have already been asked the next question - perhaps concerning details about a specific instrument, or about something else entirely. A person that is inclined to ask such a question is usually already sufficiently in awe by the 3rd or 4th one.

Also, as the previous poster says, it depends how you define ‘play’, not only in terms of competency, but in terms of context - if I were asked in an Irish music context what instruments I play, I wouldn’t bother mentioning piano, piano accordion or guitar, since I they are not the instruments I would generally be seen playing in a session.

Re: How many instruments

I comment that I play 9 instruments but if I include the voice 10 , generally when chatting with people that speak 5 languages , I’m good at 1 ; English and struggle with basic Spanish , sigh.
It’s all about what interests you and where you put your energy. I’ve been a dedicated practicing musician for 40 odd years , can’t drive a car, but I can play….
Probably a bit of an aspie , not diagnosed but certain family traits point in that direction. 8-)
Some instruments require constant hands on contact to maintain a level of skill, fiddle and pipes spring to mind there. Others are like riding a bike, bass , guitar , mandolin etc .
As a poster above mentioned, there is playing, and there is "playing" I have a few tunes on some instruments, hundreds on others. On some instruments, drums and percussion , it’s more about technical ability and improvisation , same with the bass, same with with backing it’s about listening and being one with the moment and experience , knowing the tunes, yet not knowing the tunes…. :-)
The important thing is to remember all we’re doing is playing an instrument, it’s not putting our lives at risk for others, it’s not saving lives, it’s not something to puff up the ego and get attached to , it’s ephemeral and transitory , just music .
Ok yes there is more to it but I think my point is clear.
Bismillah is a great phrase, it’s Arabic for " from god through me" used when giving alms , playing music, that kind of thing.
It’s good to remember that all we have is a gift from god ( not that I’m religious) and can be , will be taken away at some point….
It’s what we do with our gifts that matters…..
enjoy

Re: How many instruments

I don’t think anyone who asks that question is really looking for an answer, they were looking for a question and that’s the best they could come up with. so I would put away your maths book and go for an answer like "ah sure…… I play a few and yourself ?"

or if you really wanted to bore them to death, you could say "I play and I am unsure what counts as its own instrument. I dont count electric instruments as different from their acoustic versions. But should I count, say, soprano sax and tenor sax as 2 different instruments etc…"

Re: How many instruments

One at a time.

Re: How many instruments

I’m stumped, because in between the instruments greater families, and their specific families, things can get very complicated. I guess it depends on the overall role the instrument plays in music. For example, the standard acoustic guitar and the bass guitar. Same family, two very different instruments. Used for different roles, play in different registers, even have different numbers of strings and body shapes. But I wouldn’t specify piano and it’s electronic variant the keyboard. They play the same roles, and other than the keyboard allowing for different sounds and hacks, it structurally works the same way as piano.

So with that logic, I would consider the soprano sax very much different from the tenor sax. I played with a guy who played the soprano sax, and it sounded much smoother and sweeter than I expected it to. I don’t think it’s as "raspy" and "brassy" as the tenor sax. But I only know the difference in their sound. I don’t know their differences structurally.

Re: How many instruments

As David L said, if you play any percussion, the answer could be in 100s. But I find that people start to lose the plot after I’ve mentioned 3 or 4 - of the non-percussion variety! A bit like the other thread, "How long have you been playing…..?" - another conversation-opener.

Re: How many instruments

Seems that usually people who ask this question aren’t musicians and thus aren’t aware of the difficulties the question presents.

Posted by .

Re: How many instruments

Some don’t know about the similarities between certain instruments (e.g. pipes/flutes/whistles; mandolin/tenor banjo), others will never get why the top session guitarist doesn’t also play blues AND jazz AND classical AND heavy metal.

Re: How many instruments

It’s not how many instruments you play that is important, it is how many you play well.

Re: How many instruments

I think when people ask that question they are really asking about how many different skill sets you have. If you play piano and then take up the fiddle you have to learn another skill set, so then you play piano and fiddle. But there are goups of related instruments, where if you play one of them you can pick up another and play it fairly easily, without having to learn a new set of skills from scratch, so I wouldn’t count those as separate instruments - I wouldn’t say I play piano and organ and synth, I’d just say I play keyboards. Tenor and alto sax, you just play sax, acoustic, electric and classical guitar, you just play guitar, and in the precussion department, even if you can handle everything that makes a noise when you hit it you only have two skill sets - tuned and untuned percussion.

Re: How many instruments

Depends why they’re asking. If I were going for a job and I would be more likely to get that job by listing as many instruments as possible… then I would list as many instruments as possible!

Re: How many instruments

I think it’s academic. There are different ways of correctly answering the question, making it more or less meaningless.

So in ITM many players use a rather different technique for high whistles and low whistles, and I’ve seen it credited that way. But you could just say "whistles", or you could list every key of whistle. None of those three options are incorrect.

Going over to brass, I don’t think anyone would list trumpet and tuba as just "brass" though they share the same basic fingering and technique (yes there’s a fourth valve etc).

Usually I see the various saxophones listed separately too, though they share the same fingering and similar embouchure technique. The higher and lower saxes are possibly the best analogy for the high and low Irish whistles.

In orchestras the various members of the violin family always seem to be regarded as separate instruments.

But I’ve seen a person listed as "flute" when they play alto flute, C flute, and piccolo.

Re: How many instruments

Even when people ask "What instruments do you play?", things can get complicated.
Usually, I will just say something like "I started off on guitar but now play mostly mandolin or fiddle.."
Just done a rough count in my head and realise that I have something like 15 or 16 *different* instruments in the house and more than one of some of them…

Trish said "I find that people start to lose the plot after I’ve mentioned 3 or 4 "…. So, quite wisely, we don’t. :-)

It’s also an ordeal when people ask you what kind of music you play?
Many won’t have a clue if you say "Trad". they might think you are talking about Jazz. "Folk" is meaningless too and they’ll expect you to sing a song.
Scottish can mean anything from Scottish Country dance music to Thingummyjig/WHC for people of a certain age while Irish Music could be songs by The Dubliners , Clancys or even Thin Lizzy, Van Morrison.. Or The River Dance….The list goes on.

Re: How many instruments

There’s certainly lots of variables to consider.
On one hand, you could consider all saxophones as one instrument since the fingering does not vary. However, if you’re playing something like jazz that requires improv, you could group the soprano and tenor as one one skill set due to both requiring a need to transpose from Bb, and the alto and baritone as another skill set, transposing from Eb.
Some other thoughts, I use a special set of strings to tune my tenor ukulele in 5ths to CGDA. So can I say I actually play ukulele or not? Would it perhaps be better to say I play mandola, even though I have never even touched a mandola?
Once you get into alternate tunings, if you can play guitar in both standard tuning and in DADGAD, does that count as one or two instruments?
I tune my octave mandolin in GDAD and play it like a bouzouki. Do I say I play OM, bouzouki, or both? The only difference here is about 3 inches in scale length.
Ultimately there’s too many variables to come to a consensus on how to answer such questions. And like others have said, most people will quit really listening to your list after the 3rd or 4th one anyway.

Re: How many instruments

It’s not that complicated in my case, even though I’m in that multi-instrumentalist bag. Over the years, I’ve figured out how to do this.

If a civilian (non-muso stranger) asks me what I play, then I say mandolin, guitar, and flute. We can get deeper into that if the person is really interested, but usually they’re not. So that’s enough.

If a fellow Irish trad player asks me what I play, I say mandolin and Irish flute. That’s so I don’t scare them off by mentioning "guitar."

If a fellow guitar player asks me what I play, I say acoustic steel string for strummed Irish backup and nylon string guitar for a few fingerstyle arrangements, and I used to play bottleneck resonator and electric guitars, not so much any more.

If a fellow mandolin player asks me what I play, I might mention the octave mandolin, even though it’s really just a secondary or tertiary instrument these days.

That covers everything I’m actually semi-competent on, in my declining years as an Old who has dabbled in many things over the years. The list of what I’ve EVER played as a musical instrument goes back much longer, but it’s irrelevant now.

Re: How many instruments

BTW if you’re in the Union you get paid more.

There’s a "doubling card" to fill out. The more instruments you play at the Union gig, the more money you get.

Re: How many instruments

Just looked it up. In the AFM it’s 30% more for the first double, 20% for the second double, and 15% for each double after that. So YES every key of whistle, flute, or pipes is a different instrument!!

(They have a list of what instruments are considered doubles, and which aren’t. Drummers, forget about it: they consider more or less everything "percussion". )

Re: How many instruments

Yes personally I group them together in skill sets, so I play
bowed strings, violin viola and cello, but I view them all as fiddle, just big fiddles and small fiddles.
Plucked strings, mandolin banjo guitar bass ukes,
pipes ( uilleann ghb small pastoral ) yes there are many differences, but the similarities are fundamental.
Whistles , I don’t group them with pipes.
percussion includes the Tambourines and individual bits and pieces ,full kit, bodhran , Etc
and voice. But I never really think of voice as an instrument i play, though it’s one of my strongest in actuality. Do we "play " the voice? Certainly requires a lot of skill practice dedication etc etc

Were I to list all the instruments I could gig with its would be about 20 or so , that’s the result of a lifetime , full time.

I personally view electric instruments in a whole seperate category. Electric guitar and my choice of Spanish guitar are so different that I don’t really them to be the same instrument at all., they require a very different bunch of skill sets.

In the same manner I consider the microphone to be an ‘instrument’ , not one I play.
There are aspects that are the same in both acoustic and electric instruments but there is so much difference that require a totally different approach.
If I listed all the instruments I could gig with it would be in the 20s , that’s a lifetime full time , but what inactuallybplay daily these days is whistle, pastoral pipes and soprano uke tuned in 5ths andcwhen im at home, the fiddle and not the uke.

Re: How many instruments

"Electric guitar and my choice of Spanish guitar are so different that I don’t really them to be the same instrument at all., they require a very different bunch of skill sets. "

But you put Highland pipes and uilleann pipes in the same category?

Re: How many instruments

Yes, they are all reed instruments , powered by air, no contact with the reed….I’d put all bagpipes in the same category… that of bagpipes :-)
With the strings , I mentioned that I consider guitar and mandolin , banjo, uke bass in the same catogory. Plucked strings, resonator chamber , yet they are very different in some respects .
With strings… cello, violin, viola …. same catagory.
percussion… includes all sorts of instruments that have no similarity but still in one category.

The groups have skill sets that are transferable. Obviously not all!! But enough …..

Why do I put electric instruments into a different catagory? In my Experience.They require such a different set of skills that they deserve a seperate category.
Now fair enough they could legitimately be in both groups, like electric violin is in the strings and in the electric set.
Here’s a question .
Where would the Vpipes go in your opinion?
It’s not a bagpipe for sure, so to me it goes in the electric instrument group .
just as I put the microphone into the electric catagory, yes technically it’s not a musical instrument, yet it requires skill and experience and a lot of electric boxes with buttons , effects , amps etc etc etc to work well

Of course there are differences between say cello and violin but they are not as large as an external observer might think . Bow-strings- resonator chamber-fingerboard.

Anyhow, it’s a matter of opinion I guess , and that’s mine 8-)
Tricky ones to me would be keyboards and piano, but luckily I don’t play them so not my problem :-)

Re: How many instruments

Does using a bohdran as a frisbie constitute "playing with"

Re: How many instruments

I play fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, and recently got an octave mandolin- which I’m sheepishly calling a "bouzouki" to people who ask what it is. I figure it’s cooler to say: "oh yeah I play fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bouzouki" than "I play fiddle, guitar, mandolin and octave mandolin". Not entirely honest but I mean those instruments are very close.

But there are some queries I have. I don’t play viola, but if I picked up a viola I would be able to play it right away, because it’s played exactly the same as the violin, just with a longer body and neck. But I wouldn’t say that I play viola to someone who asks, even though I could potentially play it.

Posted by .

Re: How many instruments

The fingering on a viola is the same as a violin , but you’ll get completely different notes as the top string is A and the lowest is C - just like a cello, which is fingered completely differently, and an octave lower. Double bass is tuned in 4ths not fifths, same as a bass guitar.
I am a multi instrumentalist, but have never bothered to count. Everything I play (other than harp and tin whistle) is played to high orchestral standards. Trad, Music is different though. Much more feeling , personal interpretation and listening carefully to others, and you can’t rely on what others will do. This is the fun of it and joy of playing music from memory and the heart, and anyway oboe, bassoon and double bass are not really session instruments.
More important is to really enjoy all the instruments you play, and select them wisely in your sessions to help other players and the overall sound.

Re: How many instruments

Thing is, Highland pipes and uilleann pipes use different fingering systems.

To get the analogous thing with guitars you would have to have guitars with their frets placed differently where to get a Major scale you would have to put your fingers down in a different order.

So I would maintain that all guitars which allow you to use the same fingerings for scales and chords are more similar in technique than the various species of bagpipes, each of which have a unique fingering system.

Also Highland pipes are mouthblown and uilleann pipes are bellows blown. I suppose the guitar analogy would be using your fingers versus using a pick.

There are numerous other differences between the pipes- the approach to bag-pressure, the hand and finger posture, the position of the bag under the arm, the overall position of the instrument, legato v staccato and on and on.

Re: How many instruments

There are many different tuning systems for guitar, from dadgad to standard to out of the box tunings like my 7 string tuned EADgdae. 12 strings in doubles 11strings in single, 7 strings Russian style etc etc etc but they are all guitars, And I put them in with all plucked strings such as banjo etc

There are many different types of bagpipes, different tuning systems, keys, sizes and shapes from the binou to the GHB. They , just like guitars , require different fingerings.
Granted they could be classified in 2 bellows and blown bagpipes. But then things like SSP can be either, both….
there are many differences I agree, but the similarities are more fundamental and skill sets are transferable in many ways.

I acknowledge the major difference but for example I play pastoral pipes mainly. So effectively a cross between highland and uilleann, commonly acknowledged these days to be the predecessor to the uilleann pipes, so highland fingering , 2 octaves , bellows blown in the key of D. Take the foot joint off and it’s a uilleann chanter.
Also border pipes, highland fingering but bellows blown. ,
the commonalities are (mostly double) reeds, drones, chanter, bag . No direct contact to the reed.


Regarding viola cello and violin. The commonalities are far greater than the differences.

Re: How many instruments

I’ve the problem of always learning something new since as a youth, and I’ve never counted, for 1) it’s too great a number, and 2) never cared "how many." The only meaningful answer I offer is "Too many." If it’s a question pertaining to a functional purpose, then I reply that I play basically everything except brass (and pipes, for purposes here :) ).

I have, for purposes of internet discussions, sometimes made various distinctions among, say - those upon which I’ve gigged, and those I currently study at home..

For forum profiles, I usually say - "All things strings, woodwinds, free reeds…" Which doesn’t account for half of my semi-pro career on drums, but covers most of my current activities..

Over the years, I realized that I’m simply just a musician and I make music with whatever implement is at hand. Learning the technical elements is the easy part, then comes style, context, form, etc., which is lifetime study. Currently studying trad chinese..

I also discovered, rather late in life, that I’m wired different (diagnosed), which simply explained in ‘quantifiable’ terms my predilection for novelty, sensory stimuli, puer aeternus, etc.

Posted by .

Re: How many instruments

Which is to say, I can’t help meself wrt music :)

Posted by .

Re: How many instruments

Darn! I was hoping you could help me wrt music!

Posted by .

Re: How many instruments

D’oh!

Posted by .