The name of the modern musical game is EFFICIENCY. Everywhere we look, musical elements are being reduced in size for one reason or another.

Look at conga playing. Traditionally, each of the three drums of a standard setup were performed by an individual (three people playing simultaneously). However, this has become more efficient, consolidating down to one player with the responsibility of playing all three instruments. This does help make a production cheap (less money to pay out) and may add some musical elements which would otherwise be missing. For traditionalists, this “dumbing down” of parts is scandalous.

Efficiency is obvious in the orchestral and band worlds. Pieces in the 1850s were starting to call for a reduction in players. Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s Symphony No. 1: Night in the Tropics (1858) asks for players to performer an instrument, put it down during a rest while picking up a new instrument, and then play the new instrument. This seems so simple today because we are required to do it so much. But in 1858, this was groundbreaking stuff. Eventually, this idea manifested itself in the Stravinsky Solder’s Tale (1918). Going on the road and in need of a more cost efficient method of performing a piece with a handful of percussion instruments, Igor decided to write the parts for a single player. We know this piece to be largely considered the original multi percussion piece.

Electronics are quickly becoming a staple within the percussion inventory. Front ensembles are adopting trigger pads as efficient replacements for clunky timpani, chimes, and other large instruments. This adoption offers the ability for a single individual to have thousands of sounds at their fingertips. These sounds are quickly becoming foley art produced on the field to create an environment appropriate for the show. The use of electronics opens the flood gates for never-before-seen sonic possibilities. But at what cost?


Is musical efficiency a source of creativity or a hinderance?