What Instruments are Used for Disco Music?

Disco was "the" pop music sound of the mid to late 1970s. The songs were driven by a full, funky beat-driven sound that served as the soundtrack for a generation. Disco was influenced by several kinds of music, so many different instruments could lead a disco song. Regardless of the featured instrument, the main emphasis was on the beat that kept the dance floors busy.

Bass Guitar

Bass guitar gives structure to a disco song by providing the rhythm that other instruments follow. The Bee Gees had a prominent bass guitar line in its hit "Stayin' Alive" from "Saturday Night Fever." Heatwave's 1976 song "Boogie Nights" also features heavy bass guitar that is most noticeable when layered under the line "Got to keep on dancin'." Diana Ross's song "The Boss" is also moved along by the heavy plucks of the bass guitar.


Many different kinds of keyboards were popular in disco songs, including organ, piano, and especially synthesizers. Shrill keyboards feature prominently in disco music like the songs Earth Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland" and Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." Producers like Giorgio Moroder worked the then still new otherworldly sounds of the synthesizer into scores of disco anthems. One of his major hits was Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" from 1975.

Horns and Strings

Horns and strings often worked together in disco music. "The Sound of Philadelphia" is a classic disco song that features heavy horn, as does The Trammps' song "Disco Inferno." Horns and strings pop out in the background of Barry White songs like "You're the First, the Last, My Everything." In fact, White considered the strings so vital to the sound that his act was billed Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra.


The four-on-the-floor beat is frequently used in disco songs. It was made by hitting the bass kick drum at a steady beat. The tinny hi-hat drum is also recognisable in many disco songs like "Get Down Boy" by Paper Doll and "Star Love" by Cheryl Lynn. Drum machines programmed to provide perfect beats also became a constant force in disco. The precision and popularity of drum machines made disco records easier to make, but it also contributed to the anti-disco sentiment that rose in the late '70s.

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