How do musicians play, with one instrument, songs written for a band with 5 members?

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Sometimes I hear covers or acoustic versions of songs that are normally played by:

* Rhythm guitarist
* Guitarist
* Bassist
* Drummer
* Keyboard person (pianist?)

And usually the the singer is the rhythm guitarist (in the bands I’m familiar with).

When one of these songs is played by just one person with one instrument– like a piano cover for example, I am not music-savvy enough to know what parts of the original song would be included, excluded, or changed in some way.

In: 3

The harmony and the melody of the song are kept the same, but they will be transposed into 4 parts of harmony, soprano, alto, tenor, bass, then applied to the keyboard/piano. Once this is done, it can be transposed into a different key to suite the singer. Although different notes will be played, the intervals between the notes will be the same. The bass and tenor lines usually played with left hand, soprano alto usually played with the right.

I don’t want to get too theoretical, but a soloist who is adapting an arrangement from a full band or ensemble piece would learn the melody and chords of the song by listening carefully or reading the sheet music. ‘Ear training’ allows musicians to pick up the harmonic nuances and the rhythms that hold the song together. Arrangement is the practice of adapting an existing piece of music to suit a particular style and ability, or thematics.

There aren’t many “rules” which outline how to arrange songs in a particular way. It’s a whole lot of creative decisions going on at once. Music Theory is what opens those doors to playing, for example, pop hits as a piano instrumental.

Once you put the melody and the chords together on your instrument, the rest is performance and planning.

First of all, with most instruments you can play multiple notes at once (chords). So if the original song at, say, 1:00 features a guitar playing a G and a piano playing a D, you can achieve the same thing (at least, the same pitch) by having a single instrument play simultaneously D and G.

Now, of course, this is not always 100% practical. Specific chords (multiple notes played together) may be really hard to play with only two human hands, because of how musical instruments are physically built, and some chords may be easy to play in one instrument but almost impossible in another, but it’s a good starting point.

Drums can be “emulated” by playing some notes in a rythmic way and/or by playing shorter or longer notes. It’s kind of hard to explain without doing it, but you can get an idea of what I’m talking about [here from 1:44 to 1:50](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-uwG2zGvT8&t=99s). It’s piano only, but it does give a feeling of rhythm, right?

Also, modern (digital) pianos, synths,… allow to play notes using the actual sound another instrument makes. [Listen to this awesome “challenge” between a synth/piano and an electric guitar: they really sound almost identical](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSko8vHOf8g). So, if you have a synth, you can play the first part as a piano, the second part as an acoustic or electric guitar, and so on.

On top of that, there are some specific “tricks” to emulate how different instruments sound, but they’re kinda hard to explain.

The pianist have two hands with five fingers each. Even the feet is used on the pedals to mute or unmute strings. So he is able to play all the same notes as all the guitarists and bassists play at the same time, at least the most important notes. The drummers part however is to be dropped although some of this can be included in the rhythmic piano section. A piano cover will usually sound weaker then a full band, not only because of the missing percussion but also because a single pianist is not able to play all the notes that a full band will be able to. This does however create a nice calm version of the song which in some circumstances can sound better then the original.

Typically three parts are included:

a) The melody line – that is, the general tune of the song, or what you would whistle if you were walking down the street.

b) The chords structure – typically played lower either as arpeggios or straight chords.

b.5) If the musician is sufficiently capable, they might also play a bass line by inverting the chords/arpeggios so the lowest not follows the originals bas line. To explain, imagine a C chord has the notes C E & G, but at the point in the song the bassist would be playing a G. The chord played would then be G (on the lowest string) followed but a C and an E. That’s called an inversion.

c) The musician can also include percussive elements. At it’s most obvious, this might be tapping their instrument. However, even a bass line can be percussive. What you’re really looking for is a musician who emphasizes notes to a certain rhythm.

If they sing, that typically brings in another element.

A good example it Tommy Emmanuel because his playing makes it obvious. His treble notes play the melody. His thumb typically plays lower diatonic chords. Additionally, his thumb plays a very percussive role emphasising the beat. Often he will also tap the guitar. (Tommy – if you’re reading this, sorry for dumbing it down).

You will see all this in most moderately talented musos who play an instrument that lets you hit multiple notes at once (like guitar or piano), Specifically, look at classical guitarists and pianists who are about grade 5 or above. This comes pretty naturally at that that level.

Incidentally, also look at instruments like piano accordion and bagpipes that, because of their drone, disallow percussive to blend easily with sustained notes.