What Is The Typical Band Lineup

The Beatles - 4-piece perfection

   So you’re a musician and you want to become a live performing musician. You want to start a band and you’re not sure what instruments you need to get a functional band together. The beautiful thing about playing in a band is the fact that you’re going to be playing with other people. You won’t be a solo artist anymore when you play in a band. In fact, the definition of band is “An unofficial association of people or groups.” So I guess technically you only need two people to start a band. The first thing you need to decide is what type of music you’re going to be playing. If you decide you want to play hard rock then the lineup requirements will be different than if you are playing bluegrass. How many people you have in your band can really affect your band chemistry as well. Musician’s tend to have large personalities and the more you add, the more interesting and challenging things can become. Let’s take a look at some typical band lineups.

   After you select your musical genre then you need to look at minimum lineup requirements. Let’s say you want to play folk music. A two-person lineup could easily consist of 2 guitars. For Bluegrass you may want a banjo and a guitar. For rock you’d probably want drums and a guitar. Recently the drums and guitar only lineup has been made very popular by the band The White Stripes. They really make the 2-person, drums and guitar lineup work for them. Another one of my favorite 2 person rock band lineups is Mates Of State, they consist of a drummer and keyboard player. They’re able to make really great music with just two people. That being said, 2-person rock groups are rare and they usually record with overdubbing which, in my opinion, makes them no longer a 2-piece band. Folk groups that consist of two people are much more common.

   Which brings us to the Trio. The 3-person lineup is huge rock staple. Some of the the most famous groups in history have been 3-piece lineups. Here’s a short list of famous trios:

  • Rush
  • ZZ Top
  • The Police
  • Mountain
  • Cream
  • Jimi Hendrix Experience
  • Emerson, Lake and Palmer
  • Nirvana
  • King’s X

and that’s the SHORT list! The rock trio is a staple and in my opinion is the minimum lineup for a successful band. I suggest either guitar, bass and drums or keyboards, bass and drums.

   Which brings us to the most common and also most typical band lineup, the 4-piece, or quartet. With 4 instruments you can really cover a lot of music. The most versatile lineup consisting of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums. The second most versatile being two guitars, bass and drums. The third most versatile being guitar, bass, drums and lead vocalist. There are so many bands with this lineup that I will only list a few. Here goes:

  • The Beatles
  • Pink Floyd
  • The Who
  • Led Zeppelin
  • AC/DC

I could go on, but why? There’s so many that the list could go on forever.

   Finally you have the 5-piece or more category. Obviously the more people you have, the more diverse the music you can play. You’ll be able to start adding horns, percussion and other specialized instruments. The possibilities really are endless. There are a ton of famous bands with 5 or more members. Most notably:

  • The Rolling Stones
  • Santana
  • Journey
  • Chicago
  • The Eagles
  • Yes
  • Earth, Wind and Fire
  • Fleetwood Mac

and the list could go on.

   So there you have it, of all the typical band lineups the 4-piece has the rest of them beat. In my experience having 4 people in your band is ideal simply because of the logistics involved with scheduling. The more people you try to coordinate for practice and gigging, the more complicated it gets. With four people things are still manageable enough to be fun and usually personalities don’t clash as much which gives you a smooth band chemistry. So, although I love to play in a 3-piece, my recommendation is to play in a 4-piece.

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Author: Live Musician Central

My name is Matt Rushton. I have been playing in bands for 27 years. I've been playing professionally for 21 years. I have opened for Sheryl Crow, Barenaked Ladies, Joan Jett, Little River Band, and Quiet Riot.

2 thoughts on “What Is The Typical Band Lineup”

  1. Here’s another power trio for ya – Green Day.

    But that highlights another point – like you mentioned w/ the 2 piece bands, who overdub a lot, it’s hard to think of a 3- or 4- or whatever – piece band that hasn’t indulged in adding parts they can’t play live (without help).

    Green Day is doing shows w/ an extra guitar player these days…

    Back in the 70’s, the prog rock trio ELP started touring w/ an entire orchestra to pull off their songs…

    Even the mighty Beatles brought Billy Preston on board to cover a live performance…

    Nowadays bands can cheat w/ backing tracks and midi sequencing, but it can backfire. Van Halen’s recent tour was plagued with incidents where the backing tracks were either out of tune w/ the rest of the band, or they couldn’t stay in sync w/ the track live. And this from a band who at one time in their past prided themselves on never recording a song they couldn’t do live.


  2. Yup those are some excellent points Knarf-0. I didn’t know Van Halen was struggling with the backing tracks this tour. I’m not too surprised though.

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