When we think of the standard instrumentation we hear in bands and orchestras, we tend to stick to what we’re used to. I’m here to tell you times are a’changing, and whether you trade your viola for an electric violin or your guitar for a modular synthesizer, the world of opportunities can have a profound impact on your music, even when you return to your original instrument.
There are few things more depressing in music than seeing a great band go stale. Some bands release albums with the same old structure and sound over and over again. Often they deteriorate in quality, but more to the point, they never evolve, and most of us need some sort of evolution to keep us interested.
When George Harrison swapped Guitar for Sitar, or when Dylan swapped his Acoustic for an Electric, the possibilities suddenly changed, not just for our ears but for the musicians and their brains.
When we learn to play an instrument we learn things habits. Certain chords we go back to, ways we construct melodies, strumming and plucking and bowing techniques. After many years of this, it can be easy to find ourselves repeating the same old things, especially if once upon a time they worked for us.
For a guitarist to suddenly pick up a Ukulele for instance, we suddenly go back to being beginners, and the intrinsic character of the instrument shines out. A Ukulele makes it easy to play lots of seventh chords for instance, a Sitar uses different tonality and scales, and every instrument will both increase your understanding and alter the way you do things all at once. The extending of your comfort zone can change everything.
Bowie was the king of reinventing himself, both in sound and style. Neil Young switched his acoustic guitar for synths to make a techno album. Even if people go back to their original instrument, the broadened horizons keep the spark alive for musicians who want to test themselves. At the extreme end of the spectrum, bands such as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard experiment with microtones to experiment and ultimately carve their niche out in the world.
The experimentation you partake in as a musician doesn’t have to change your style. If you’re known for being a guitarist, this doesn’t have to change, but do yourself the favor of trying to play another instrument and see how it broadens your horizons.