The Power of a Trio

In this article, I want to present to you some ideas and theories behind trios and their niche role in music.

Ultimate Guitar

Hello There,

My name is Jay. I play in a Modern Blues trio. I am the guitarist and singer. A lot of times, we'd play shows, and I'll hear a few fans, and even some musicians ask me, why just the three of us? Would it not be better for another guitarist, or perhaps a keyboard to add flavor? Most of the time I would give an excuse... We couldn't find one, etc. But over the course of our time together, I started to learn why I kept it "simple".

The top trio bands out there, Jimi Hendrix Experience, SRV & Double Trouble, Cream, all have a common thing. Their guitarists are PHENOMENAL. True. But one thing people don't see, is that the bassists, and the drummers, are also quite top notch themselves. The reason is a simple factor. Each person is essentially playing a dual-role. When everyone has to be at the top of their game, you can hear it. In a lot of bands, the more members you have, the looser things get. Obviously, it's not too noticeable, though it does happen. Another thing is your overall sound gets muddied. If you have a 5 piece band, two guitars, keys, etc. When they are all playing, who do you hear? Usually the singer... But do you know why? Because a wall of sound is behind them. Now this can be a great thing when done well. But with a trio, that wall becomes more like a window. You hear all elements, but on another level you hear more then what you would from a "full" band.

The reason behind this is purely psychology. Less is more, and in music, a lot of what people play isn't what you play, but what you don't. That can literally speak more volumes than the loudest screams, the blistering solos. Take for example solos. When you hear a solo on an album, you usually hear the rhythm guitar filling the role. But when you hear it live, unless they loop it, it's usually just straight solo, with the bass and drum keeping time. Notice then, that right there is when the magic happens. Why are Hexndrix, Vaughan, Mayer so good? Well, because they are, but they had the unique ability to harness "silence", which made their solos all the more epic.

Now don't think the trio has it easy. Without another guitarist, a missed note can really stand out. This is where the trio really starts to gain ground. The bassist and drummer form an almost singular sound. The drums will usually have a tight but driving beat, the bass won't just play what the guitarist does, but will add occasional trills and runs, eventually playing a song within itself. While all of this is happening you get the delivery of the vocals, and you have unision. All bands have that, but only Trios excel at it. Without it, the band just cannot work. Period. This brings in a comfort factor a lot of other bands don't have. You have to truly trust your band behind you. Do you think that Hendrix just chose Redding? No, it's because when he picked up bass, he had the ability to play rhythm guitar AND bass... On a bass! And Mitch Mitchell... The power, mixed with his off time fills, and the ability to play what the guitar does... On drums, is what gave him his sound.

I do not want to downplay anyone, but the story is this. The trio is an uncommon but powerful and intuitive group. Not just for blues. Green Day, Blink-182, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, all of them had the bare essentials. And they stood out. With a mix of psychology, some good playing, and a comfort factor that cannot be matched, you can see why the Trio, while "odd," are one of the best musical decisions you can make.

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    You forgot to add "less people = less problems"!! Sometimes it can be the most important factor
    Sometimes is an understatement - unless everyone in your band is closer than siblings ("closer" added in because, Gallaghers) and everyone shares the exact same creative vision, more people will make things rocky.
    A few good points, a host of nonsense.
    I agree. I get the author is trying to say "You should have a trio", but frankly he's assuming that will work for everyone. I write a lot of Prog, and it certainly would NOT work to have a performance band with just 3 members. Other than myself (on guitar and vocals), I would need (at minimum) a drummer, a 2nd guitar player, a bass player, and a keyboard player. Fortunately, because I can program the drums and keyboard and play both guitar and bass, I basically can record a full band sound with just me.
    Common sense helps. If a trio is applicable to your chosen genre, go for it - it'll cut down on problems and tighten up the group; however, if it is not applicable to your chosen genre, then obviously you shouldn't. As a bassist, I'm not going to complain when an article, written to explain why 7-string guitars are awesome, alienates me.
    "All bands have that, but only Trios excel at it." Only is a strong word. And it's in the wrong place here. There are a ton of bands that play a well coordinated music in perfect unison with four or more members. And, well, think about a symphonic orchestra. It's not that a trio is better, it's just easier to find good members.
    My Last Words
    This pretty much.. Apart from that you had some good points, although most of them were quite obvious.
    You left out ZZ Top! How can you leave out ZZ Top??? Good article nevertheless.
    46 and 2
    One thing you forgot to mention is how useful pedals are nowadays for recreating the studio version. Take Rush, for instance. Sure, they were fantastic back in the day when it was just them and the instruments, but now they can play their albums more or less the same as they are on the record and they sound phenomenal.
    Three piece bands are great for organizing rehearsal, you only have to phone 2 other guys/girls to get it going. Trying to get five people in the same room together is a hard work.
    Yeah, this was my first article. Please, any tips, criticism, etc. share. I want to get better. I do want to say, I wrote this as an idea for bands to think about. Today it's hard to find people you like, AND who play the same stuff as you, especially if your young. I was thinking about following this up with some more in-depth look, addressing what I just typed, and loop pedals, more musical philosophy, things like that. What do you all think?
    3 people -more money for each member 1/3 of the cut not 1/4 1/5 etc
    Leather Sleeves
    This: "Now don't think the trio has it easy. Without another guitarist, a missed note can really stand out." That's why I'd love to find another guitarist for my band, I'm certainly not phenomenal.
    should have mentioned that ELP didn't even have a guitar player. Green Day is a four piece now, same with Nirvana when they ended.
    Nirvana where never officially a four piece. Pat Smear was just a touring member. He probably would joined if they didn't end so abruptly...