As the name suggests, when we talk about instrumentation we are looking primarily at the instruments or voices that the composer has written for. But there is more to instrumentation than just this. Additionally, the composer will have made decisions around combinations of instruments and ways instruments are to be played, and will have needed to consider the suitability of the music to the chosen instruments – for example, whether the instruments chosen have the range required to play the notes. Composers need to know the instruments they are writing for very well.
It wasn’t always like this. In Medieval and Renaissance time instruments were not as important as voices and music for instruments tended to be dance music or other secular forms. Moreover, composers didn’t normally specify which instruments should play their music, and musicians used whatever was available. That all changed in the late 16th century when instruments other than the organ found their way into church music and started to become more equal with voices. By the height of the Baroque period all kinds of instrumental genres were established and the technological development of instruments gathered momentum.
We will start by looking at the most common musical instruments found in Western music, and their various designs and capabilities. We will also look at the variety of playing techniques employed with these instruments. Then we will examine the voice, one of the most versatile instruments known to mankind.
After that we will look at the most common ways in which instruments and voices are combined before exploring some of the instruments found in other musical cultures, and finally we will poke our nose into the murky world of music technology.