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Thread: The Most Expressive Instruments

  1. #1
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    The Most Expressive Instruments

    What do you feel are the most expressive or ultimate instruments? Instruments that can communicate with the most subtlety, versatility and control and thereby convey the most color and emotion to the listener? I thought it would be fun to get the take from the PE gang since there are so many musicians, producers/engineer types and knowledgable critical listeners. Of course, no such list can be truly objective which is why it is interesting (to me anyway).

    Note: Not a rule, but I feel that electronics should be largely disqualified. Why? An electric guitar includes effects, amps etc. as part of it's sound which could transform into almost anything imaginable. The electric guitar alone is nothing much at all. Same with syths, electronic keyboards and the like, esp. in the digital realm are not instruments in the traditional sense: not dependent on the organic nature of a crafted object but rather sets of programmed algorithms or engineered circuits etc. I made an exception for the Thermin because of it's unique nature of expression and simple construction - not really a synth since it has only a couple of oscillators, but also because it's my f**king list damn it! :-) Put what you wish on yours should you decide to chime in. Another caveat is that a selction might represent a group or family of similar instruments so I will not pick both a violin or chello, sitar and surbahar, guitar and lute on my list for example - not a rule (it gets blury quickly and maybe its cheating to have an instrument represent a family like "drums") but makes sense to me so that's what I did.

    OK enough rambling. My top 1:

    1. The Human Voice!
    2. Violin
    3. Guitar
    4. Sitar
    5. Piano
    6. Saxophone
    7. Flute
    8. Theremin
    9. Trumpet
    10. Drums

    The first three I feel are pretty solid, but I had a hard time with the rest and might change my mind tomorrow. I could, of course, expound on my rationale for this ranking of course, but I'll leave that to the discussion, should one ensue.
    Last edited by Buddhabreath; 03-26-2019 at 10:57 PM.

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    Outraged bystander markwoll's Avatar
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    The human mind
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    Member since March 2004 mozo-pg's Avatar
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    Violin and Cello for me. Cello with After Crying and ELO. Violin - countless - Ponty, Mahavishnu Orchestra, PFM, Curved Air, KBB, etc.

  4. #4
    Synthesizer (especially a big modular one with modulation-wheels, a touch-sensitive weighted keyboard, with aftertouch and probably also the posibility to use other movements of the keys.)

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    Highly Evolved Orangutan JKL2000's Avatar
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    For me, electric guitar and saxophone. (Sure, the human voice comes in first, but...)

    I remember being told long ago that the sax was the only instrument that could emulate the human voice, but I think the electric guitar can come close. Maybe it can emulate human thought or something.

    But "expressive" can include a wide range of instruments. Roy Harper, for example, can be extremely expressive on either an acoustic guitar, or a treated electric guitar. And how about Fripp? He can wail, for sure.

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    Member Steve F.'s Avatar
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    Member jake's Avatar
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    I can think of only one instrument, other than the human voice, which can be so personalized that it makes the player unmistakeable, and that is the tenor saxophone.

  8. #8
    I agree with voice as #1, but I'd put piano at #2. It's advantage to me over violin, sax, and even guitar is the incredible polyphony and virtually endless range of voicings, combined with an almost infinite sensitivity, from the very softest to the very loudest. This gives the piano a versatility of expression that to my ears only the human voice can exceed.

    I also personally would add the fretless electric bass to the list of expressive instruments. Perhaps not at the tip-pity-top, but up there - at least in my estimation.

    Bill

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    I think there’s a good argument to move sax up the list but not piano: you can get a rainbow of sounds and color out of a sax, even more so violin and guitar with a range of techniques. With piano you only really have dynamics and dampening. Vibrato, bends, slides, all the techniques you can use to get sounds from sweet to harsh, pure to distorted, warm to thin to percussive is really endless. Unless you play the strings with your fingers, the piano is fundamentally a percussion instrument and less expressive than drums in that the strings must be struck mechanically with hammers. I put it higher on the list because of the range and polyphony but that does make up for the lack of expression in my view. It is further from being able to approach the voice than any instrument on my list including drums. That isn’t to say that it is inferior. It is a reference instrument for musicians and has been called the king of instruments, but so has the organ and the violin. Of course YMMV.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve F. View Post
    Jaw Harp
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    You forgot about blowing on a blade of grass between your thumbs and the most expressive instrument of all (next to the human anus) letting the air out of a balloon while stretching the stem.
    Last edited by Buddhabreath; 03-26-2019 at 11:36 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bartellb View Post
    I put piano on my list because it's the only instrument I can listen to solo for hours and never tire of it. I'm not interested in hearing a whole album or going to a recital or concert of any other solo instrument, with the possible exception being the organ.
    Fair enough, for me that would more be acoustic guitar, but I am happy to listen to solo piano. Horowitz in Moscow is one of my favorite concert DVDs.

  12. #12
    Tenor Sax and Cello for their rich texture and second choices Baryton Guitar and Flügelhorn

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    Member Jerjo's Avatar
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    Cello makes such a lovely, mournful sound.
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  14. #14
    I will agree with you about the human voice. Not everybody is talented, and not everyone can sing. Still, there are people with angelic voices.
    Speaking about musical instruments, I would include mandolin in my list.
    The mandolin is a stringed musical instrument that is plucked with a plectrum and belongs to the lute family.
    It usually has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in unison, giving it a total of eight strings, though there are also five and six-course variations. Check https://mandolinexpert.com/5-mandolin-brands-to-avoid/ to find more info about this splendid instrument.

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    While I started as a flautist, I am enchanted by the tones of an oboe and always seem to stop what I'm doing when I hear a solo one in a piece...

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    Member clivey's Avatar
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    As a wind player. I don't think anything is capable of emulating the human voice for expression. I do think that a midi wind controller hooked into a DAW rack of nice VSTI'S can do amazing things though.
    What I'd love is software that inputs my flutes,whistles and other stuff and outputs midi, well all enough to convert it to Vocal samples blah.
    Nothing I have ever tried works well enough. I usually simply apply various FX instead.
    The Midi controllers with onboard sounds are expressive, but are as cheeeezy as it could possibly get.

  17. #17
    Member Digital_Man's Avatar
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    Violin
    Mellotron
    Saxophone
    Piano
    Flute

    Not necessarily in that order though.
    Last edited by Digital_Man; 10-26-2021 at 04:22 PM.
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    Member BobM's Avatar
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    Every instrument is just vibrations and noise through a tube or a string. It's the player that makes it expressive ... or not.
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    Member chalkpie's Avatar
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    All instruments and voices can be extremely expressive if played well and with emotion imo. Having said that, as a string teacher/musician I have a soft spot for orchestral string instruments.

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    Member StarThrower's Avatar
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    The acoustic guitar is quite limited as far as dynamic range so it would fall below any wind instruments on my list.

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    Man of repute progmatist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chalkpie View Post
    All instruments and voices can be extremely expressive if played well and with emotion imo. Having said that, as a string teacher/musician I have a soft spot for orchestral string instruments.
    Not quite so much double reed wind instruments, like the oboe and english horn. It's extremely difficult, if not impossible to bend notes. But then, that's what makes the oboe so ideal for tuning the orchestra.
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  24. #24
    Member chalkpie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by progmatist View Post
    Not quite so much double reed wind instruments, like the oboe and english horn. It's extremely difficult, if not impossible to bend notes. But then, that's what makes the oboe so ideal for tuning the orchestra.
    The Swan of Tuonela one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces I've ever heard, and played on English horn. For me its incredibly expressive. Glissando or portamento isn't required to my ears. Imo.

  25. #25
    The most expressive instrument is the human voice. Music has so many different forms and styles, but it all comes down to the human voice. A song's range of pitch and tone can be expressed through lyrics, melody, and harmony. This makes music so powerful and allows us to express our feelings through music. The ultimate instrument would have to be drums. I found the most expensive ones at https://www.evergreenviolin.com/. Drums are the backbone of all music genres, and they're very versatile, allowing many different sounds to be created. Drums are also great for setting a mood or creating suspense for a song.
    Last edited by keithmaclroz; 1 Week Ago at 03:05 AM.

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