The guitar is a string instrument that has been around for hundreds of years. This instrument was in use while orchestras were still the main form of live music, and the guitar was widespread in many countries. This may lead many to wonder if guitars are used in orchestral music? Were guitars ever written into orchestras?
There are no guitars in traditional orchestras. The guitar was not considered for traditional orchestra as there were too few guitarists, it was loud enough, and it was not considered a high-class instrument. Modern guitar orchestras, however, prove that the guitar is worthy of orchestral use.
Guitars are very common in the modern world, and they are among the most popular instrument internationally, but are guitars ever used in orchestras? Other string instruments are used prevalently in these large ensembles, but the guitar is not often among them. Let’s explore the use of guitars in orchestras and find out why the guitar is so rarely seen in this context.
Are Guitars Used In Orchestras?
An orchestra is a very large ensemble of musicians and instruments that come together to play orchestral music scores written by great composers. Orchestras came about at a time when a large number of instruments were required to create a full musical sound, and string instruments were among the most important instruments in orchestras.
Orchestras are still around today, but there are fewer of them, and orchestral performances are less common as they made way for more modern musical styles and groups.
However, the orchestra remains the place where some of the best musicians in the world are found, and classical musicians are highly sought-after for this type of work. String instruments such as violins, cellos, violas, and the contrabass are commonly seen in these ensembles, but the guitar seems to be an instrument that is missing from the string section.
Guitars are not typically used in orchestras. Orchestral string instruments are very widely used, but the guitar is not counted among this type of instrument.
The guitar is never seen in standard orchestral scores, and this instrument was never written into any great orchestral compositions from the past.
This means that by most standards, the guitar is not used in orchestras. However, there are some instances where the guitar has been seen in this context, but only in very specialized situations and with unconventional orchestral ensembles.
Are Guitars Orchestral instruments?
Orchestras make use of several different varieties of instruments, each with different functions and used in different ways. Orchestras typically consist of string instruments, brass instruments, woodwind instruments, and percussion instruments.
The guitar is a string instrument that would fit in well with orchestral strings, so is this instrument considered an orchestral instrument?
The truth is that guitars are not orchestral instruments. The guitar came about a little too late to be drafted into major orchestral scores, which means that there were no guitarists skilled enough to play in orchestras yet when the major orchestral compositions were written.
Guitars were never used in orchestras for several other reasons as well, but the truth remains that for an instrument to be considered an orchestra instrument, it must be used in orchestras.
The guitar is not used in an orchestral setting and therefore cannot be considered an orchestral instrument, even though it could easily be used in such an ensemble.
Why Are Guitars Not Used In Orchestras?
The guitar was never written into major orchestral scores, and it is still left out of orchestras today, while other string instruments are commonplace in these ensembles.
Many guitar players find themselves wondering why such a prolific instrument was left out of the orchestra and why the guitar is still not considered for orchestras today?
Well, there are several reasons why the guitar is not considered an orchestral instrument and is not used in any orchestral scores. Let’s explore these reasons to understand why such a prominent instrument is not featured in this illustrious musical context.
Among the most significant reasons why guitars are not used in orchestras or were not written into orchestral scores is tradition. Orchestral music is highly traditional, and any instrument that is not considered to be a traditional orchestral instrument is not considered for use in this context.
The guitar is a very prolific instrument now, but when the original major orchestral scores were written, it was a very young instrument and not used in the high-class and high-societal world of orchestral music.
Tradition is the biggest reason why guitars are still not used in orchestras today, even though the guitar is capable of playing orchestral scores.
Lack Of Amplification
Another important reason why guitars were not originally used in orchestras is that the guitars of the time were not loud enough to be used in this context.
The guitars that were used when major orchestral scores were written were small-bodied, gut-string, classical-style acoustic guitars, and there was no way to amplify the instrument at all.
Instruments such as the violin, viola, or cello are naturally very loud and are therefore well-suited for use in an orchestra. The string section of an orchestra consists of multiple of each instrument to make the string parts of the score loud enough to be heard clearly.
If even the very loud string instruments require multiple instruments to be loud enough, the original guitars would be nowhere near loud enough to be used in orchestras.
Modern guitar amplification can make guitars louder, but tradition still prevents the use of guitars in orchestras.
Guitar Social Stigma
While the guitar was around when original orchestral scores were composed, it had not been commonly used for as long as other string instruments were.
The guitar is younger than orchestral string instruments, which means that this instrument was not as well-practiced as other string instruments. By extension, the guitar was used commonly by common people rather than by the high-class, highly-trained musicians that performed in orchestras.
The guitar then developed a reputation as a low-class instrument, and this stigma remained for many years. No orchestral composer would write parts for an instrument that was seen to be low-class, as the orchestra is meant to be high-class and was viewed by royalty and the elite of society.
The Difficulty Of Original Orchestral Scores
As we have already mentioned, the guitar is a relatively young instrument when compared to orchestral string instruments, which means that when major orchestral scores were written, there were few guitar players that possessed the level of skill required to perform in an orchestra.
Orchestral musicians are some of the best musicians in the world, and they are some of the most well-practiced, well-studied, well-learned musicians in any musical faculty.
These musicians are very hard working, and more is required from orchestral musicians than any other musicians. Orchestral performers are required to perform at an exceedingly high level with extreme consistency, and they must have the skills to do so.
The music written for orchestras is highly challenging, which also requires the musicians to read music at a high level and perform immensely complicated music with ease.
When these highly complicated, intensely difficult-to-play orchestral scores were written, there were very few guitar players at the time who was capable of playing them. The guitar players that were good enough were scattered in various places, and there were not enough of them to form a significant enough part of the string section to be heard amongst the ensemble.
This means that there were simply not enough guitar players who were at the standard required for playing orchestral music. There are plenty of these guitar players around now, but the fate of the guitar was already solidified in other areas of the musical world before this happened.
There Are No Orchestral Guitar Parts
The fact that guitars were not used in the original major orchestral scores means that these major scores have no parts written for the guitar.
Every part in an orchestral score is written specifically to be played by a particular instrument. When every part comes together to play the full piece, the music flows together seamlessly.
As the guitar is not used in this context, even if a guitar player were to join an orchestra, the major scores have no parts for the guitarist to play, which makes incorporating the guitar into an orchestra now is somewhat pointless.,
Have Guitars Even Been Used In Orchestras?
We have established that the guitar is an instrument that has never been a part of the orchestral music world, but has there ever been any instance of the guitar used in an orchestral context? Has anyone ever experimented with this idea?
The truth is that the guitar has been used very rarely in some more modern orchestral compositions, and this instrument has been used when virtuosic guitarists compose orchestral-style pieces with the guitar at its center.
Guitars have been incorporated into some modern orchestral scores, but these scores are considered to be modern or contemporary pieces and not counted with true orchestral scores.
The role of the guitar in these compositions is unusual, but it can function well. When a guitar is used in combination with an orchestra, the instrument can be used for a wide variety of functions within the ensemble due to its wide range of pitch and not capabilities, as well as its unique tonality.
Using the guitar in an orchestral setting has proven to produce beautiful music, but this instrument will never be a permanent feature in most orchestras.
Virtuosic electric guitar players have been known to write guitar parts for existing orchestral scores, perform alongside orchestras as a musical display, or even compose orchestral-style music for themselves and highlight the use of the electric guitar in the music.
The occurrences are very rare and have only been done by a handful of world-class guitar players who have the ability and reach to perform like this.
These performances are breathtaking and are among the very best guitar performances ever recorded. Every electric guitarist who encounters these musical showcases finds them inspiring and beautiful, but they are yet stand-alone performances, keeping the guitar at arms-length from performing in a true orchestral context.
With all of that being said, a marvelous new type of orchestra has been formed in the modern age, and it is becoming more widely known as the years go by.
Guitar players have become incredible musicians in their own right, and many composers have recognized the true potential and range of this instrument and have embraced its capabilities.
The modern world of orchestral music has seen the rise of guitar orchestras and orchestras that have entire guitar sections. These orchestras are becoming more widely known as the world begins to recognize their skill and incredible musical ability.
The guitar is an instrument that can do what few other instruments can, and when orchestral-style music is written for this instrument, it can truly shine as the musical marvel that it is.
There are now entire orchestras comprised of only guitars, such as the New York Guitar Orchestra, the Cambridge Guitar Orchestra, and the Barcelona Guitar Orchestra.
These guitar orchestras play major orchestral scores that have been re-written for the guitar, and they perform original guitar orchestral scores that are written specifically for this type of orchestra.
There are scores written for guitar and orchestra that are performed by a small orchestra and a small guitar orchestra in tandem, such as Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra by Rodrigo.
Guitar orchestras have become world-renown for their musical ability, and they have proven once and for all that the guitar is an instrument worthy of being recognized in an orchestral context.
There is no instrument with the same range of capabilities as the guitar, and this instrument is proving to the musical world that it is to be taken seriously rather than remaining in the shadow of other great orchestral string instruments.
The guitar is not a traditional orchestral instrument and is therefore not typically used in orchestral ensembles. However, modern composers have written scores for guitar orchestras that prove that this instrument should have never been left out of the string section.
If you want to see the guitar used in this type of musical context, take the time to explore the world of guitar orchestras and experience the beauty of it for yourself. If you live in a major city, there is a chance that there is a guitar orchestra near you that you can enjoy in person!