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Numerous bands of the first prog era utilised rock violin or rock flute as part of their standard setting. One can hear the rock violin, for instance, in Kansas’ ‘Miracle Out of Nowhere’ (particularly at the very end, where it plays an aggressive tremolo chord); the rock flute is very much a prominent part of Jethro Tull’s Thick As a Brick, e.g. in ‘Really Don’t Mind / See There a Son Is Born’. Today, bands such as Nightwish have pipes as part of their sound, the piper the past years having been a full-born member of the band

Who were the first bands/artists utilising such classical instruments in a rock setting? Specifically I am asking for those that consciously added a fourth/fifth/n-th member to their band or for single tracks, using that new instrument in a new context. Further, are there any other classical instruments that have become integral parts of art and/or prog rock?

To specify, I am not asking for those who included strings or horns overlays to their music, nor am I considering those early rock ’n’ roll bands that included the double bass or piano; those were mainly an inheritance from jazz and blues and were already well established as not just classical instruments. Classical instruments are—in this context—instruments that could be considered part of a classical-music (as per the label) performance.

Though I am not sure of this, the piano and double-bass could perhaps be excluded in this discussion, since—as written above—they were part of the standard rock ’n’ roll bands from the get-go. However, for both of these, this might be problematic: They were both used as supporting instruments initially; the double-bass was, after all, soon replaced by first the (half-)acoustic and the electric bass guitar. It could very well be that the double-bass returned, not as a supporting accompaniment, but as a solo rock instrument much the same way as the rock violin; if so, that would be very interesting indeed. The same applies to the piano. Did it, with this art-rock and prog-rock groups find a renaissance? I do not know, and am very curious to learn.

Of course, I would welcome any suggestions towards improving this question.

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  • Do you count double bass and piano as classical instrument?
    – Bebs
    Mar 7, 2017 at 10:09
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    Rockabilly bass players, in the 50s, actually used double bass, not bass guitars.
    – Bebs
    Mar 7, 2017 at 11:51
  • As the double bass was used as a bass guitar, the same way as in jazz bands, I do not consider that as such. The same goes for the piano. What I am asking for (please advice if I were unclear), is the inclusion of classical instruments in rock band music, after the standard rock group and sound had been established; in other words, after the group consisting of guitar, bass, drums, and (usually) vocals and sometimes piano, who were the first bands/artists experimenting with adding traditionally classical instruments to the rock bands themselves.
    – Canned Man
    Mar 7, 2017 at 12:11
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    Adding a member & not 'overlays'? Wish I'd not wasted my time compiling an answer before your late addendum :/ How the hell was anyone to guess that from your original wording? Saxophone was a classical instrument long before it was used in jazz. Your question is being honed into a ridiculous corner. Guitar itself was a classical instrument long before it was used in rock.... & what about drums?
    – Tetsujin
    Mar 7, 2017 at 19:51
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    Although quite late, I'd like to add: speaking of violin, you added a veeeeeery late reference to it — Kansas, 1976, when Premiata Forneria Marconi had used the violin as its most prominent instrument since 1971. Where would you place Chicago? Their original lineup (1969) includes a trio of horns that at times sounds jazzy, but at times sounds like a classical brass section. You didn't mention Renaissance. Although the Moody Blues predates Reanaissance in the use of full orchestra (1973, in Ashes are Burning), Renaissance is a much more prominent/obvious protagonist of the prog-rock scene.
    – Cal-linux
    Feb 12, 2022 at 23:42

3 Answers 3

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It looks very much like the Moody Blues were the first according to this article:

A brief history of progressive rock

Prog Rock finds its sources in the latter half of the 60’s. In 1966, the Moody Blues came out with their third album, the first with Justin Hayward and John Lodge, entitled “Days of Future Passed”, the first Pop or Rock album to be recorded in stereo and the first one to make use of a full orchestra.

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  • That is interesting. On Tidal, Bruce Eder describes it as ‘a lot bolder and ambitious’. I’m looking forward to listening through it and hear how they use the orchestral instruments to express rock music. As he says a bit further down, ‘audiences found their way to it as one of the first pieces of heavily orchestrated, album-length psychedelic rock …’, and ‘… it was refreshingly original, rather than an attempt to mimic the Beatles’, and ‘… songs like “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Twilight Time” … were pounding rockers …’. Thank you!
    – Canned Man
    Mar 8, 2017 at 12:47
  • I find that particularly the last track uses the orchestra in an exciting and untraditional way, in the way they answer his cries around 1′05″–1′19″. I didn’t notice any explicit use of instruments throughout the album in the way that Jethro Tull uses the flute, or Blind Faith the violin (‘Sea of Joy’), so I would consider this a good answer for covering the breadth of the question, which of course should look also for rock orchestrations.
    – Canned Man
    Mar 8, 2017 at 13:25
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No traditionally Rock instruments were used in Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles in '66. Violins, cellos and violas. I think this was the first R&R #1 hit (UK charts) that was 100% Classical instruments.

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    But is it rock ’n’ roll? I would claim that it is not R&R, but a different-genre song that appears on an R&R album.
    – Canned Man
    Oct 28, 2022 at 13:51
  • Eleanor Rigby might just be as far from rock as the Beatles ever went...? I'm not sure what genre to place it in, choral music?
    – Amarth
    Nov 24, 2022 at 20:18
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But these answers do not fulfill the question. A full orchestra is not a few orchestra instruments. If that were the case, then old southern r&b and rock bands from the 30's and up using a fiddle player and cello player would be considered first bands to integrate with an orchestra. Jon Lord of Deep purple is claimed to be the first to record with an actual symphony orchestra in 1969, however I am always willing to be corrected with proof. Meanwhile, here's mine... Jon Lord of Deep Purple was inspired to write Concerto for Group and Orchestra in 1969 after hearing the Dave Brubeck Quartet perform with the New York Philharmonic. With lyrics by Ian Gillan, the concerto would be the first that featured a rock band performing in concert with a full orchestra. Recorded at London’s Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Arnold, the concert combined three Deep Purple tunes – "Hush," "Wring That Neck" and "Child in Time" – with orchestral passages

Read More: Top 10 Orchestral Rock Albums | https://ultimateclassicrock.com/orchestral-rock-albums/?utm_source=tsmclip&utm_medium=referral

Lord wrote songs that used a full symphonic orchestra, not synthesizers and such like many others, a few orchestra instruments. So I'm sticking with that for now.

I found I am both, right and wrong. Lol. Jon Lord is first to write melody for orchestra but... The Moody Blues is first to record with a full symphony orchestra per this article... Released in 1967, Days of Future Passed was one of the earliest collaborations between a rock band and an orchestra. The Moody Blues were a trifle ahead of their time. “Everyone thought we were crazy,” Hayward laughed.

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    The question is about individual instruments, not a full orchestra.
    – Aaron
    Sep 5, 2022 at 4:04
  • @Aaron Well, does hammond organ count as a classical instrument? If so, did Deep Purple use a classical instrument before or after Jethro Tull... the bands formed around the same time.
    – Amarth
    Nov 24, 2022 at 20:24

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