Instruments used in disco

Written by nicholas pell
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Instruments used in disco
Disco was primarily a type of music for dancing. (disco image by Francis Lempérière from Fotolia.com)

Coming out of the urban discotheques of the 1970s, disco was primarily a type of music for dancing. An outgrowth of Latin, soul, salsa and funk music, the genre was originally popular with black and gay dancers in large American cities. Disco hits such as "Stayin' Alive" and "The Hustle" have become American popular music standards. For those interested in the history of American popular music, knowing what instruments are used in disco can be a topic of interest.

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Bass

Bass provides much of the driving rhythm of disco. Many disco songs are distinguished by heavy and memorable bass lines. Syncopation is also a feature of disco bass lines. Bass drives the rhythm forward in addition to supporting the melody of the song. Many disco songs, particularly extended ones, include a break where the bass is allowed to come forward and occupy the main focus of the song.

Percussion

The percussion in disco has a Latin flavour that distinguishes disco from other contemporary forms of dance music, such as funk. Conversely, more rock-oriented percussion separates disco from purely Latin dance music such as salsa. The standard drum set used in rock makes appearances in disco, with a heavy emphasis on the high hat. The high hat is often used in either an eight-beat or a 16-beat pattern. Bongos are also a popular form of percussion in disco music. Cowbells sometimes provide accents.

Strings

String sections are frequently used in disco music. A string section in disco music consists of instruments such as violins, cellos and violas. Additionally, disco music may utilise string synthesizers, a keyboard instrument that emulates the sound of strings.

Guitar is another string instrument used in disco music, but its use is quite separate from the use of orchestral instruments such as the cello. The guitar in disco is primarily used as a rhythm instrument. The distinctive sound of disco guitar is provided by liberal use of the wah-wah pedal.

Horns

Disco music utilises a wide variety of horns, including the saxophone, trombone and trumpet. Horns in disco frequently operate as a horn section, providing accents to songs. Horns may also be used to provide a hook to a song, but it is rare to hear a horn solo in disco. Even when prominently used in a song, horns tend to stick together, blending with one another to create a brassy, jazzy sound.

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