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Instrumental musicians play one or more musical instruments, usually in a group and in some cases as featured soloists. Musical instruments are usually classified in several distinct categories according to the method by which they produce sound: strings (violins, cellos, basses, etc.), which make sounds by vibrations from bowing or plucking; woodwinds (oboes, clarinets, saxophones), which make sounds by air vibrations through reeds; brass (trumpets, French horns, trombones, etc.), which make sounds by air vibrations through metal; and percussion (drums, pianos, triangles), which produce sound by striking. Instruments can also be classified as electric or acoustic, especially in popular music. Synthesizers are another common instrument, and computer and other electronic technology is increasingly used for creating music.
Like other instrumental musicians, singers use their own voice as an instrument to convey music. They aim to express emotion through lyric phrasing and characterization.
Musicians may play in symphony orchestras, dance bands, jazz bands, rock bands, country bands, or other groups, or they might go it alone. Some musicians may play in recording studios either with their group or as a session player for a particular recording. Recordings are in the form of records, compact discs, videos, digital audio files, and digital video discs. Classical musicians perform in concerts, opera performances, and chamber music concerts, and they may also play in theater orchestras, although theater music is not normally classical. The most talented ones may work as soloists with orchestras or alone in recitals. Some classical musicians accompany singers and choirs, and they may also perform in churches, temples, and other religious settings.
Musicians who play popular music make heavy use of such rhythm instruments as piano, bass, drums, and guitar. Jazz musicians also feature woodwind and brass instruments, especially the saxophone and trumpet, and they extensively utilize the bass. Synthesizers are also commonly used jazz instruments; some music is performed entirely on synthesizers, which can be programmed to imitate a variety of instruments and sounds. Musicians in jazz, blues, country, and rock groups play clubs, festivals, and concert halls and may perform music for recordings, television, and motion picture soundtracks. Occasionally they appear in a movie themselves. Other musicians compose, record, and perform entirely with electronic instruments, such as synthesizers and other devices. In the late 1970s, rap artists began using turntables as musical instruments, and later, samplers, which record a snippet of other songs and sounds, as part of their music.
Instrumental musicians and singers use their skills to convey the form and meaning of written music. They work to achieve precision, fluency, and emotion within a piece of music, whether through an instrument or through their own voice. Musicians practice constantly to perfect their techniques.
Many musicians supplement their incomes through teaching, while others teach as their full-time occupation, perhaps playing jobs occasionally. Voice and instrumental music teachers work in colleges, high schools, elementary schools, conservatories, and in their own studios; often they give concerts and recitals featuring their students. Many professional musicians give private lessons. Students learn to read music, develop their voices, breathe correctly, and hold their instruments properly.
Choral directors lead groups of singers in schools and other organizations. Church choirs, community oratorio societies, and professional symphony choruses are among the groups that employ choral directors outside of school settings. Choral directors audition singers, select music, and direct singers in achieving the tone, variety, intensity, and phrasing that they feel is required. Orchestra conductors do the same with instrumental musicians. Many work in schools and smaller communities, but the best conduct large orchestras in major cities. Some are resident instructors, while others travel constantly, making guest appearances with major national and foreign orchestras. They are responsible for the overall sound and quality of their orchestras.
Individuals also write and prepare music for themselves or other musicians to play and sing. Composers write the original music for symphonies, songs, or operas using musical notation to express their ideas through melody, rhythm, and harmony. Arrangers and orchestrators take a composer's work and transcribe it for the various orchestra sections or individual instrumentalists and singers to perform; they prepare music for film scores, musical theater, television, or recordings. Copyists assist composers and arrangers by copying down the various parts of a composition, each of which is played by a different section of the orchestra. Librettists write words to opera and musical theater scores, and lyricists write words to songs and other short musical pieces. A number of songwriters compose both music and lyrics, and many are musicians who perform their own songs.