The country music genre continues to expand, and the instruments that are used in this genre are as varied as the voices of the musicians that propagate the genre. Although there are several instruments used in making country music, some are more popular and iconic than others.
In this post, we will consider some of the instruments that have become part of the genre. They appear in many of the most successful and beautiful country songs. We will explore some of them and see how they make country music different from other music styles.
Country Music Instruments
The first instrument that we will explore is the accordion. The accordion is a reed instrument that boasts of origins in Europe. It is widely believed to have been developed in the early 19th century. It is a unique type of instrument that is worn specially before playing. It is worn like a vest and the keys are similar to what you would find on a piano. There is a pair of keyboards on either hand and these are connected by a bellows.
Producing sound through the accordion is easy and is done by using the bellows to push air through valves controlled by the aforementioned keyboard.
In country music, the accordion finds a major role in cowboy music. There have been several popular and iconic figures in country music that have used the accordion in their music. For example, Clifton Chenier was a pioneer of the instrument and paved the way for many of the modern accordion players. Today, Flaco Jimenez is the most renowned player of the accordion.
The autoharp is an instrument that isn't found very often in other genres of music. In fact, at first glance, you might not even recognize it. The instrument is from the zither family and is played in a somewhat similar way.
To play the autoharp, you will strum the strings with a hand and use the second hand to control the bar that damps the strings that are not being played.
The autoharp was not always a fixture in country music. It was introduced to the genre in the 1920s by Pop Stoneman. While that was the introduction of the instrument to the country music scene, the autoharp did not catch on until when Sara Carter started using it in performances of the Carter Family.
Today, the autoharp is famously played by Bryan Bowers and some other musicians in the country music scene.
The banjo is the definitive country music instrument. It evokes the country feeling with its thin-necked appearance. This instrument is either plucked or strummed. The sounds from a banjo are unique and can be identified anywhere.
The banjo of today comes from a family of lutes that originate in West Africa. It came to the West via the slave trade as the slaves brought memories of the instruments with them.
With mass manufacture and the other forces in play, banjos changed the scene of country music and have defined country music right from its inception. Today, the banjo has evolved to include four-string tenors, plectrums, and six-string guitar-banjos. Either way, each of these produces a unique sound and elevates country music. For most singers and players, the five-string banjo is the most popular type of banjo right now. Five-string banjos are also available in different styles. You might have it as open-back folk, or old-time types. Depending on the style, the strings might be made of gut or steel. Modern banjos are available as resonator-backed options, and these usually favor steel strings.
The banjo is a unique instrument that comes in so many styles. For example, it might be factory-made or handcrafted. There are also electric banjos, fretless banjos, and acoustic banjos.
Right from the first glance, it is easy to identify the banjo, and if you were to engage in a random poll, most folks would agree that the banjo is the definitive country music instrument. The banjo has always played an important part in country music. In its early beginnings, the banjo was used in minstrel shows and country music shows.
Starting in the 1940s, the banjo was made even more popular by Pete Seeger. His five-string banjo was known by all music lovers of the time and this introduced the instrument to folk music and urban listeners. Around that time, bluegrass music started to have a large following, and one of the pioneers of the movement at that time, Earl Scruggs, played the three-string banjo.
In modern times, this instrument is one of the most popular in the world.
The bass is another instrument that is often used in country music. Like some of the most popular country music instruments, the bass comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. These range from one-string washtub bass to electric bass, and down to the four-string acoustic bass.
This instrument gives a nice bottom to the melody line of the composition. It is used in most contemporary country music today.
The dobro might not be as common as some of the others that we have discussed so far, but it plays an important role in the history of country music. This is one of the ‘youngest' music instruments on this list. The instrument was created by the Dopyera Brothers at the turn of the 20th century. The instrument is inspired by the resonator guitar. It is played with fingerpicks and a metal bar for fretting.
The Dobro is the inspiration for the modern-day steel guitar.
This unique instrument was first made popular by Brother Oswald of the Grand Ole Opry. After this, it later became a major part of the bluegrass music scene. Some of the artists credited for their mastery of the Dobro include Jerry Douglas and Josh Graves. By using this instrument in their music, these musicians have made the Dobro more popular to the country music audience.
Believe it or not, drums were not always part of country music. The Grand Ole Opry banned the use of drums in their performances. Many of the early country artists refused to use drums in their music for a variety of reasons. Some thought that drums were simply too loud and disruptive to be used in country music. Others felt it added impurity to the music.
So opposed to the instrument were members of the country music community that even when the Grand Ole Opry allowed the use of drums in performances, the drummer had to be behind curtains. The rise of Rock & Roll and its drums made it even harder to have anyone accept drums into country music.
Fortunately, in the 1960s and beyond, drums were finally accepted into the country music community.
The piano is certainly one of the most popular musical instruments in the world. It is found all over the world and is a fixture in the country music genre. The piano comprises of several levers that hammer strings when you play the keys.
Right from the start of country music, this instrument has played quite an integral role. It especially hit its peak as Western music came along the way in the 1930s. It was played by some of the most popular names of the time. For example, it was played by Moon Mullican. After the fading of that aspect of country music at that time, the piano evolved to become yet an important part of other music genres. For example, it was a fixture in R&B music and other genres. You will find the piano as the lead instrument in many of the best records of the age.
As country music made a return, particularly with the Nashville Sound, the piano also came back as one of the most important musical instruments. Many of the best artists of that wave played the piano on most of their hits.
Even today, the piano plays an important part in modern country music. It is not uncommon to find an electric piano or an acoustic piano on the latest country music songs.
It might be a small instrument, at least when compared with the others used in country music, but there is no denying the incredible role played by the harmonica in country music. This is one of the oldest instruments in country music as it has been around since the 18th century. The harmonica is played with the mouth and features chambers that have reeds. As the player blows, inhales, and exhales, the reeds vibrate and will give their sound. Most of the harmonicas come with just one key, but skillful performers can produce a variety of sounds on just one harmonica.
The harmonica has had a rich history in country music, and the first appearance of a harmonica on a record was by DeFord Bailey. He popularized the use of this instrument in country music. The harmonica was also a favorite instrument of country music legend, Bob Dylan.
Today, the harmonica continues to find a place in country music as musicians like Charlie McCoy use it in their musician.
Yes, the electric guitar is also an instrument used in country music. The acoustic guitar was more popular and iconic, but the electric guitar also has its place among the best instruments for country music.
The first of this instrument was created in 1932 and many musicians loved the fact that it gave them the chance to use a guitar for large stages and in big bands. The instrument evolved in 1950 when a body of solid wood was used in making an electric guitar. This gave it even better performance as the wood enhanced sustain and sharpened the tone.
This sound was adopted by many country musicians of the age, including Bill Carson, Don Rich, and Jimmy Bryant.
After the banjo, this is arguably the most iconic instrument used in country music. If you picture a country singer, aside from the Stetson hat and twangy voice, the acoustic guitar is another fixture in the mind. Country music was the primary music genre that based itself around the guitar, and an early recording of country music shows that it was the preferred instrument of icons in country music.
In the 1930s, the guitar was made even more popular when it became the instrument of choice for legends like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. Since then, this instrument has never waned as the instrument of choice for country musicians. Up until now, it is the primary instrument in country music.
Before its popularity, the guitar was overshadowed by other instruments like the banjo, mandolin, and lute. However, as the 1920s drew to a close, more musicians found that the guitar offered more versatility and was particularly suited for the new wave of country music.
As with the guitar and banjo, the fiddle is arguably the definitive country music instrument. This instrument lies at the heart of several of the biggest and memorable hits in country music. It was introduced to America from the British Isles.
The fiddle is older than country music and has been in the West for up to 300 years before country music became a commercial venture.
Right from the commercialization of country music, this instrument has played a big role. Starting from 1922, the fiddle was used in country recordings. Many of the pioneers of country music played the fiddle in their successful recordings.
It also played a big role in the bluegrass sound. Mainstream country musicians have also played the fiddle.
The mandolin comes from the lutes of Italy and has endured as one of the most iconic instruments in music. Many of the legendary composers like Mozart used the mandolin.
The mandolin also found its way to the West and into country music. This instrument was brought into prominence in country music when it was used by Bill Monroe in 1939. It was the introduction of the instrument and the vocal blend of the group that birthed the bluegrass part of country music.
Common Instruments Used in Country Music, Final Thoughts
Country music has a rich history, and these 12 instruments are some of the most common instruments used in country music.