The Most Important Instrument in a Rock Band

This link came in my Facebook feed, in which Brian May is quoted to tell guitarists that they are not the most important instrument in a rock band.

I agree.

And from the songwriting perspective, for songs with vocals/lyrics, obviously guitars are accompanying instruments to vocals.

But even from a band arrangement perspective, guitars are not the most important.

In a traditional band set up, actually the drums are the most important.  Because they have the biggest impact on how the whole band sounds.  A band with a mediocre drummer sounds mediocre even when the rest of the musicians are world-class.  A terrific drummer will make the band sound huge, groovy and tight, even when the rest of the musicians are mediocre.  A drummer makes or breaks the band.

After that, yes, lead vocal is the second most important element.  A band with a good drummer and vocalist has 80-90% of what it needs to come across well.  When the drums are the backbone of the music, vocal is the face.  People pay attention to it above all else.

In a third place is bass.  Bass is a strong, loud instrument — those low frequencies really carry.  If you’re listening to music from a distance, you’ll hear bass and kick drum the most.  Bass affects the groove of the song and anchors the harmony.  If the rhythm section of the band is tight, the rest of the band member can sloppily fool around and the music will hod up just fine.

So guitars don’t even come into the top 3, and there are only 4-5 instruments in a typical rock band.  Guitarists really shouldn’t inflate their egos and accept the reality that they are at the mercy of the others if they want to come across well.  It is curious that rock music is mostly composed on guitars, and guitars do make terrific accompaniments.  But when it comes to presenting songs with a full band, guitars don’t make nearly as much impact as other instruments.  Sure, keyboards, sax, fiddle, pedal steel et al are in the same boat as guitars.  After the drums, vocals and bass, anything else is just “the rest.”

Do you agree or disagree?  Let me know.