Pop music is a broad term used to describe a wide range of musical styles that are generally easy to listen to, and appeal to a wide audience. If you’d like to create a pop hit, you’ll need to know the tried and tested formulas that must be followed.
What instruments are used in pop music?
Most pop songs include drums, either in the form of a real kit or drum samples. Then there’s the bass, which could be a bass guitar or electronic synth bass. Next, there are melody instruments, such as guitars and keys, Finally, there is a lead vocal accompanied by backing harmonies.
The rise of digital music technology has revolutionized the way that pop music is made. Now, musicians and producers can access an endless number of sounds and instruments through their Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
In this guide, we’ll explain which instruments are most commonly used in today’s pop hits, and how you can use them to produce your music.
Which Instruments Are Used in Pop Music?
Pop music is constantly changing, but the general qualities that characterize it have remained the same for decades. Catchy melodies, ear-friendly chord progressions, and strong rhythms are all staples of pop music hits.
The instrumentation used in modern pop music can be broken down into three different categories, which are:
- Rhythm instruments
- Chord instruments
- Melody instruments
Most pop songs, unless they’re intentionally stripped back, will include a rhythm section that consists of drums and bass. The drums could either be played conventionally with an acoustic kit that is recorded using microphones and a live drummer, or using pre-recorded drum samples.
Using drum samples rather than acoustic kits for pop compositions has become increasingly common in recent years. This is largely down to the convenience of being able to input drum samples into a song using only a keyboard, rather than requiring enough space to record a real drum kit.
Similarly, pop music can include a real bass guitar that is recorded as part of the song, or you can use a VST instrument to provide the low-end sounds. As long as you fill the space of the low-end frequencies, it doesn’t matter too much which sound you choose for your bass lines.
The drums and bass combine to create what is commonly known as the “rhythm section”. Pop songs also commonly include chord sequences, which means a series of notes played together simultaneously that move within a certain key.
Instruments used for chord sequences must be polyphonic – which means they can play several notes at once. The most common instruments used for this purpose in pop music are:
These instruments are also commonly used for the melody of a pop song. Again, they may be recorded using genuine instruments, or using VST instruments and played with a MIDI keyboard.
The instrumentation we’ve covered forms the basic foundation of most modern pop songs, and then the vocals are recorded to finalize the piece.
How Many Instruments on Average are in a Pop Song?
The average pop song contains around 4-5 instruments and a vocal track. However, this number can be higher or lower depending on the specific style of the song, and the way it is produced.
There have been many pop songs that have been hugely successful with minimalistic instrumentation of just vocals and a piano, or vocals and an acoustic guitar. Likewise, some pop hits feature drums, bass, guitars, strings, keys, horns, and backing vocals.
In the modern era of pop music, producers have turned to a more digital approach than in previous decades. This has led to the rise of drum samples, VST instruments, and digital effects.
It’s common for pop songs to include 808 bass sounds rather than conventional bass guitars, which sound less natural, and have a deeper, more powerful tone. Despite the differences, whichever bass sound you choose is there to do the same thing – beef up the low end.
The goal of many pop producers these days is to create a beat that sounds like one cohesive block of sound, rather than drawing the listener’s attention to one specific instrument or part.
This can be achieved by using VST plugins and MIDI instruments, which generally afford more freedom for experimentation than playing a real acoustic instrument into a microphone.
Minimum Instruments Needed to Produce Pop Music
In theory, you can make great-sounding pop music with only one instrument – a MIDI keyboard. Providing you have a laptop or desktop, a DAW, and a set of speakers or headphones, you can start producing pop music right away.
This wouldn’t have been possible in previous decades, but the advancements in digital recording technology have made it possible to create a music-production hub at home, with a minimalistic setup. You don’t even need any acoustic instruments to make pop songs these days!
Although some purists may argue that this has devalued the process of producing pop music, I believe it’s simply evened the playing field and given everyone the chance to create a hit.
If you have a MIDI keyboard that is connected to a DAW, you can access a wide range of MIDI instruments and VST plugins, which allow you to play in parts for almost any instrument or sound that you can think of.
DAWs include MIDI pianos, guitars, synthesizers, basses, drum kits, and everything else you can think of. This makes it possible to compose songs and test out different sounds and instruments to see if they suit the style you’re going for.
Another great thing about producing pop music using a MIDI keyboard is that if you stumble across an instrument that you think fits the song perfectly, you can then arrange food it to be recorded physically if you feel that this would suit the overall sound more appropriately.
Many great pop songs have been composed with nothing but a MIDI controller, a microphone, a set of studio monitors, and a computer or laptop. If you’re considering which DAW you should choose, here are some that I would recommend checking out:
- Ableton Live
- Logic Pro
- FL Studio
Can I Record Pop Music from Home?
There’s absolutely no reason that you can’t produce and record high-quality pop music from your home. All you’ll need to do is invest in some good equipment, and learn how to record, mix and master.
There is so much great content on how to create music in a home studio out there, that you can learn all of the skills you need in a relatively short time. You don’t even need a lot of space – just enough room for a desk, a set of studio monitors, and space to play any instruments that you want to include.
The majority of modern pop music uses drum samples rather than live acoustic drums, so you don’t need to worry about getting noise complaints from the neighbors. You can produce your pop songs predominantly in headphones to avoid disturbing anyone, then mix them on your monitors at a later date.
One of the great things about making music at home is that you can be relaxed in your environment, and there are no time constraints placed on you to make you rush the process. You can take your time and make sure that every step is thought out so you come up with the best possible pop songs.
Many best-selling songs these days are recorded in someone’s home studio. the days of having to rent out a professional recording studio to make a hit are gone, and we’ve now moved firmly into the D.I.Y digital age of music making.
How do you choose which key to write a pop song in?
Choosing the key should be a natural process when you write a song. Begin by choosing a few chords or notes that sound nice together, then you can figure out which key they are in and use that as the foundation for the song.
Do you need an audio interface to record pop songs?
If you want to record with a microphone, listen to music through your studio monitors and record directly into your DAW, you’ll need an audio interface. This will act as the central hub of your recording setup, and make the process much more simple.
How many bars should a pop verse be?
The verses of pop songs are generally not longer than 16 bars. They’re kept short and have a catchy vocal melody that leads into the bridge or the chorus, which is the main hook of the composition.