Who were the first to utilise classical instruments as integral parts of rock bands?

  • Numerous bands of the first prog era utilised rock violin or rock flute as part of their standard setting. One can hear the rock violin, for instance, in Kansas’ ‘Miracle Out of Nowhere’ (particularly at the very end, where it plays an aggressive tremolo chord); the rock flute is very much a prominent part of Jethro Tull’s Thick As a Brick, e.g. in ‘Really Don’t Mind / See There a Son Is Born’. Today, bands such as Nightwish have pipes as part of their sound, the piper the past years having been a full-born member of the band

    Who were the first bands/artists utilising such classical instruments in a rock setting? Specifically I am asking for those that consciously added a fourth/fifth/n-th member to their band or for single tracks, using that new instrument in a new context. Further, are there any other classical instruments that have become integral parts of art and/or prog rock?

    To specify, I am not asking for those who included strings or horns overlays to their music, nor am I considering those early rock ’n’ roll bands that included the double bass or piano; those were mainly an inheritance from jazz and blues and were already well established as not just classical instruments. Classical instruments are—in this context—instruments that could be considered part of a classical-music (as per the label) performance.

    Though I am not sure of this, the piano and double-bass could perhaps be excluded in this discussion, since—as written above—they were part of the standard rock ’n’ roll bands from the get-go. However, for both of these, this might be problematic: They were both used as supporting instruments initially; the double-bass was, after all, soon replaced by first the (half-)acoustic and the electric bass guitar. It could very well be that the double-bass returned, not as a supporting accompaniment, but as a solo rock instrument much the same way as the rock violin; if so, that would be very interesting indeed. The same applies to the piano. Did it, with this art-rock and prog-rock groups find a renaissance? I do not know, and am very curious to learn.

    Of course, I would welcome any suggestions towards improving this question.

    Do you count double bass and piano as classical instrument?

    Rockabilly bass players, in the 50s, actually used double bass, not bass guitars.

    As the double bass was used as a bass guitar, the same way as in jazz bands, I do not consider that as such. The same goes for the piano. What I am asking for (please advice if I were unclear), is the *inclusion* of classical instruments in rock band music, *after* the standard rock group and sound had been established; in other words, after the group consisting of guitar, bass, drums, and (usually) vocals and sometimes piano, who were the first bands/artists experimenting with adding traditionally classical instruments to the rock bands themselves.

    @Could you add these precisions to your initial question? Also explain what instruments are excluded.

    Does the violin count as a classical instrument? It was oftenly used in gipsy jazz bands.

    Good question. Whether they recruited fiddlers (folk violin) or violinists (classical violin), I do not know. Hopefully the answers could shed some light on that. Did I include the details in a good way (ref. your previous comment)?

    Adding a member & not 'overlays'? Wish I'd not wasted my time compiling an answer before your late addendum :/ How the hell was anyone to guess that from your original wording? Saxophone was a classical instrument long before it was used in jazz. Your question is being honed into a ridiculous corner. Guitar itself was a classical instrument long before it was used in rock.... & what about drums?

    @CannedMan, please tell us the list of what you are considering a classical instrument once for all so people don't work for nothing :-) we can't read your mind.

    It is not fair to edit a question after people answered to disqualify their answer...

    I am very sorry; that was not my intention at all. What I did try, rather, was to try to address the comments posted by you, @Bebs. Considering the wording in my first paragraph, what was added, merely specified what I was asking, that is ‘bands [that] utilise[d] classical instruments as _integral parts of rock bands_’; it logically follows that orchestration (adding strings and horns, etc.) to create a richer sound, should _not_ be considered part of what the question was asking. I also exemplified this by referencing Jethro Tull and Kansas.

    Again, I apologise for causing misunderstandings, but I do not believe I changed the context of my question by adding those specifications of instruments as requested. I merely made clear that my question was exactly what it asked for. Please note, also, that the question was labelled `prog-rock`. I have added a short note on what are considered classical instruments.

    I missed the prog-rock tag, as your title only says rock and not prog rock. So you confirm you only want prog-rock bands?

    I have now done my best to improve the question as per your replies. I hope I have not insulted anyone; I merely tried to improve the question as instructed by you in your comments. As to the saxophone (@Tetsujin), my classical training never taught me that the sax was considered part of a classical ensemble before entering marching bands and jazz orchestras; I apologise for my lack of knowledge.

    I would also like to stress the following, that was part of the question from the beginning: ‘Specifically I am asking for those that consciously added a fourth/fifth/n-th member to their band or for single tracks, _using that new instrument in a new context._’ The question never asked for the first rock ’n’ roll bands.

    @Bebs If that is correct, then yes. I always asked for bands/musicians after the rock ’n’ roll band was established. It could be that there are bands/musicians that did this before the era of prog; The Beatles were surely very progressive, though I am not sure I’ve ever heard them labelled as early proggers.

  • Pat Dobson

    Pat Dobson Correct answer

    5 years ago

    It looks very much like the Moody Blues were the first according to this article:

    A brief history of progressive rock

    Prog Rock finds its sources in the latter half of the 60’s. In 1966, the Moody Blues came out with their third album, the first with Justin Hayward and John Lodge, entitled “Days of Future Passed”, the first Pop or Rock album to be recorded in stereo and the first one to make use of a full orchestra.

    That is interesting. On Tidal, Bruce Eder describes it as ‘a lot bolder and ambitious’. I’m looking forward to listening through it and hear how they use the orchestral instruments to express rock music. As he says a bit further down, ‘audiences found their way to it as one of the first pieces of heavily orchestrated, album-length psychedelic rock …’, and ‘… it was refreshingly original, rather than an attempt to mimic the Beatles’, and ‘… songs like “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Twilight Time” … were pounding rockers …’. Thank you!

    I find that particularly the last track uses the orchestra in an exciting and untraditional way, in the way they answer his cries around 1′05″–1′19″. I didn’t notice any explicit use of instruments throughout the album in the way that Jethro Tull uses the flute, or Blind Faith the violin (‘Sea of Joy’), so I would consider this a good answer for covering the breadth of the question, which of course should look also for rock orchestrations.

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution

Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM

Tags used