Here’s Why There Aren’t Guitars In Orchestra

So you’re a guitarist, but you also like classical music? That’s great. But have you ever wondered why there aren’t guitars in orchestra?

At least when we talk about big, symphony orchestra. Is there some particular reason behind this?

Guitars are not included in orchestra due to many reasons. First one, the tradition. That’s just the way it was, and it is today still. Second, guitars don’t blend particularly well with the rest of the orchestra, due to sound characteristics.

I’m going to try to explain why do guitars don’t blend well with the orchestra.

Let’s go!

Why Are Guitars Not Suitable For Orchestra?

Guitars are not suitable for orchestra. There are a few reasons for that.

  • smoothness of sound (attack)

Guitars have very strong attack, at least in comparison with other orchestra sections. Like brass, woodwinds or strings (violins, cellos etc).

What is attack? In case you don’t know; Attack in sound refers to buildup of a note. In other words, attack is the measure of how quickly the instrument expresses all of its frequency spectrum.

Compare two different instruments. Let’s say guitar and a trombone. Which instrument expresses its tone faster once it’s played? Which instrument has its tone somehow sharper?

Of course, the answer is guitar. Guitar has a strong attack. Once you pluck the string you hear it at the same moment you pluck it. That’s not the case with brass instrument, or woodwinds.

String instruments, like violins, cellos, violas and basses also take their time to build up their tone.

Anyway, the guitar section would hardly blend into the orchestra. Imagine having section of guitars playing the same. It would sound weird, and it would not blend well.

That’s because guitars have strong attack. The sound of the guitar section would be too sharp to blend it with the other sections.

That’s why you can only see a solo guitar playing in some orchestral pieces.

  • loudness

Guitar is not a loud instrument. At least when it’s compared to orchestra instrument. And especially if it’s played fingerstyle. (Read more about fingerstyle on this page, here.)

So, to put the guitar in the orchestra, you’d have to use amplifier. Otherwise you wouldn’t hear it.

Connecting the amplifier for every guitar in the section would be technically tedious job. Also, it would produce bad results, for the reasons mentioned above.

  • sophistication

Guitar is not sophisticated enough to be in the orchestra. If you look at the other instruments in the orchestra, you’ll feel that there’s a difference.

Violin, for example, is simply more sophisticated than guitar. Guitar is an instrument that’s more enthusiastic.

That brings us to the next reason.

  • individuality

Guitar is the instrument that by its nature does not belong to the collective. It is more of an individual instrument.

You can play guitar alone without any problems. On the other hand, can you play a trumpet alone, other than for exercising purpose? Or a violin?

No one would listen to the concert with just a violin. Or just a trumpet. Those classical instruments achieve their full potential only with the orchestra.

Guitar, on the other hand, can achieve its full potential alone, by itself. It doesn’t necessarily need any accompaniment of other instruments.

That’s not the case with classical instruments. They sound the best together.

  • sheet music

While classical instruments have their sheet music, guitars don’t. Most of the guitar players don’t know how to read sheet music. Or they do not use sheet music for playing guitar.

Guitars use special notation system. It’s called tablature. Tablatures don’t have five lines, as sheet notation has. Guitar tabs resemble the neck of the guitar, with six lines. Each line represents a string.

Anyway, there are many softwares for guitar tablatures, such as Guitar Pro. If you’re interested, check out the article from this site about it.

Chamber Orchestras

Guitar can sound very nice as a part of a smaller, chamber orchestra. There are many chamber orchestra arrangements that include guitar as their part.

If you like to compose music, you can easily adapt a chamber orchestra with one classical guitar.

You can see some examples, here.

As you can see, there are, in fact a lot of chamber orchestra compositions that include classical guitar.

Of course, that wouldn’t work with brass, woodwinds, and percussive instruments all together. It would be too noisy.

These compositions of chamber orchestra are very relaxed and, of course, not as loud as symphony orchestra compositions.

Guitar Orchestras

Aside from symphonic and chamber orchestras, there are guitar orchestras, also.

What is guitar orchestra?

It’s the orchestra combined of guitars only. You can see how it sounds in the following example, here.

However, guitar orchestras are not that popular. There are not any popular, original compositions made intentionally for guitar orchestras.

Usually, guitar orchestras play arrangements of popular pop songs. That doesn’t make them that “classical”, after all.

Cultural Differences

One of the big reasons why guitars do not get associated with orchestra, in general, is cultural difference between the two.

When you see a guitar, you certainly don’t think about orchestra. On the other hand, whenever you see a violin, or a flute, you immediately think of one.

As it’s been said in the beginning, it’s just the tradition thing. It was like that, and it is like that up until today.

Guitar is not just a guitar, an instrument. It is also a cultural symbol of individuality and attitude. Orchestra instruments are beautiful, but they are different when it comes to this.

They are more “collective”, while guitar is more “individual”.ž

Anyway, since we analyzed orchestra and guitar, you may check out this interesting article I wrote.

Final Words

I hope this article gave you some valuable information about this subject. If you enjoyed reading it, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, I’m more than happy about it.

Don’t forget to check out other interesting articles on this site about various guitar topics and issues!

Cheers, and rock on!

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