Instrumental Solo
Letting one musician take the spotlight


(permanent link) added: 2011-04-22 18:39:59 sponsor: jaytee (last reply: 2011-09-11 00:29:57)

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An Omnipresent Trope in Music. Any time a single musician or instrument is allowed to take the focus while the others accompany or stay altogether quiet... that's an Instrumental Solo.

Found in pretty much every type of music there is. Older Than Steam, given that some of the earliest known sheet music is for monophonic vocal chants.

In the western classical music tradition, the Concerto was designed as a vehicle for a single instrumentalist -- or on rare occasions, a small group -- to showcase his abilities. The piece would have at least one cadenza where the accompanying orchestra would go quiet and let the soloist riff for a few minutes on melodic ideas presented earlier in the piece. Initially, these were true improvisations where the only notation would be the final note that lets the orchestra know when to come back in. Later on, the composer would write out the desired cadenza, but even today some soloists will put together their own versions to replace these.

For modern western pop music, while the context has changed, the instrumental solo often fills a role similar to that of the classical cadenza. Namely, the performer is often taking an opportunity to show their expertise. Like the cadenza, it is often improvised (though not always), but unlike classical music, solos in pop music are often accompanied, giving a rhythmic and tonal pallette to play off of. (Drum solos are a common exception, most often played unaccompanied.)

Solos can become an Apple of Discord in a group and a Berserk Button for particular members, especially when large egos are involved. Given that the solo is often the best place in a song to demonstrate one's technical mastery, some musicians get upset if they feel they're not getting as many solos as their skill deserves. On the other hand, some musicians welcome solos from their bandmates, as it can give them a chance to catch their breath or, if they can be sneaky about it, tune up their instrument.

Guitar Solo, Drum Solo and Strange Instrument Solo are subtropes. (Please only list examples if they do not fall into one of the subtropes). It is important to remember than the human body is a musical instrument too - vocal solos, tap dance solos, clapping solos... they all count.

Examples

  • The Who's "My Generation" contains an early example of a bass solo in rock music.
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