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Do you need to play an instrument to write songs?

Posted by Elpipe 
Elpipe
Do you need to play an instrument to write songs?
April 05, 2012 01:36PM
Simple question, perhaps some not-so-simple answers? :)
Re: Do you need to play an instrument to write songs?
April 05, 2012 03:10PM
Simple answer: no. A lot of well-known composers didn't really play any instruments. Wagner started late and played some piano, but the stories are that he hated to play. He probably wasn't a very good pianist. Berlioz didn't really play an instrument either. (Berlioz described his lack of piano proficiency as both beneficial and detrimental.)

An instrumental background is helpful because it provides first-hand experience in the application of expressive and harmonic techniques that a composer might employ in his music. This experience is not essential, though, and the knowledge it imparts can be otherwise acquired.
Re: Do you need to play an instrument to write songs?
April 05, 2012 05:32PM
Well, "writing a song" tends to actually mean writing the LYRICS to a song. So by that definition, no, you do not have to play an instrument.

But if you're talking more broadly like "composing" a song, or writing the music, then there's no question that you have to play an instrument, at least in composing traditional music. There are types of modernistic experimental music where ability to play an instrument would not be necessary. For example, the composer credited with the invention of "Musique Concrete", Pierre Schaeffer, was not a musician but an audio engineer. His "tape collage" pieces didn't require any ability to play an instrument (note however that some people consider what he wrote to not be music, and others will say that the tape recorder is his instrument, etc.)

Sebastian is a bit incorrect: Berlioz played guitar and was supposedly quite good. The Wagner story is a well-known one, but it's probably overblown. He could play "passable" piano.

We should also remember that many composers were also either good singers or that voice was their primary instrument (especially in the Renaissance before instrumental music was as widespread as it became in the Baroque). You can compose with the "vocal instrument" - it's just less common nowadays as it was long ago.

Steve
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