Recently I saw a couple examples of people using an acoustic guitar to create music that sounds similar to the kind you would hear from a whole band, i.e. one with guitar, percussion, and melodic instrument (usually voice in the case of "modern pop music"):

These guitarists use percussive techniques as well as the steady harmonic bass chords and probably many other special techniques that I wouldn't have the ability to describe to create very good approximations of a real band with multiple musicians and instruments.

My question is: have there been similar percussive and "pop song-like" techniques developed for acoustic piano to allow for similar sounds/feel as the "modern pop band"? The reason I ask is because my whole life I've thought of piano as a very classical instrument with a very classical sound; no matter how "pop song-like" the rhythm gets, it still sounds very much like a classical instrument. However, I thought this about acoustic guitar, but then I saw these examples and realized just how varying a single instrument could be.

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    FWIW, that video is not completely honest. He probably can play a similar percussive part in acoustic live performance, but I'd be confident to bet that the audio here was actually recorded in multiple takes with each of them having substantial post-processing on them. That swishing sound you noted is probably a straight-out sample. (But that doesn't change the question – yes, there are astonishing guitarists out there!) May 3, 2020 at 18:31
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    (For a clear proof that the sound is not from the video see 1:23, where a couple of “snare” hits are completely missing in the video.) May 3, 2020 at 18:34

2 Answers 2


As @leftaroundabout says, the audio in that video sounds like studio audio, with added multiple tracks. So one thing is to record that track, and the other is to play it. But in any case, the intention to 'simulate a modern pop rock band' using just one instrument is valid. What he is doing is pretty much just adding a percussion element to the playing, using the same instrument as the percussion generating sounds.

To make this happen, you have to be able to play and understand a rhythm instrument and play percussion on its own. For this percussion style, a Cajon is an appropiate instrument to use as a reference. But mainly learn how to play a backbeat.

If you learn how to do percussions, you can of course transfer that knowledge and make percussions on piano, or a guitar, or whatever. A guitar is especially suited for this, being a light hollow wooden instrument, conveniently reachable from the right hand position. In a piano this is more difficult for the position of the hands, and because the body of a piano does not allow to imitate such percussive sounds at the same volume level as the instrument itself.

There are examples like this, similar to the audio from your video (layered tracks), where someone takes the same approach of adding percussion using the same instrument (with a piano). Again, because the piano sounds, he has to amplify them digitally.

For simultaneous playing, this is as far as Ive seen:

this is the simplest example of what you want, where the percussion is nothing more than the backbeat that a snare would normally hit. Hitting the sheet music holder against the lid is actually a nice trick to get a louder sound that can match the levels of the piano.

I actually haven't seen anyone playing both piano and complex percussion at the same time and make it sound good. But don't make this stop you from finding a way of making it work. You would need to find good places in the piano to get good percussive sounds, and play them between piano hits. Another maybe more realistic option is to divide your hands into the two tasks: Your left hand can play bass lines and chords (stride piano like), while the right hand just focuses on providing a backbeat.


When you wrote that piano always sounds like a classical instrument, I immediately thought of Iiro Rantala. He, I think, always sounds very pop like, or non classical - even when playing classical music!

Rantala also does a lot of percussive stuff. He solves the volume problem mentioned by hirschme by playing dampened strings, or playing the strings directly with his fingers inside the piano (string piano). But then you have the problem of reaching the keys at the same time.

Ok, Iiro Rantala didn't invent prepared piano, but when combined to his pop like jazz style, the results are interesting. I will pick a couple of examples from Tunteiden ilta radio/video stream show: (Yle is the Finnish national broadcasting company, in this program series Iiro Rantala and Ville Ranta do improvised music and drawings based on audience stories or emotions. So there is a lot of talking in Finnish.)

  • The piece starting at 16 min has percussive damped notes, and long bass notes. Probably one could also play some melody with the right hand, if needed.

  • At 47 min, he "throws the towel in the ring". It dampens some of the strings so he can play percussive stuff on those strings. Other strings still play normal. If you want to play a bass drum + snare kind of low+high pitched rhythm, you could perhaps use two towels, one at low and one at high notes.

  • From 1.41.20 you can see him stretching inside the piano and on the keys at the same time.

His latest album My Finnish Calendar [Spotify] is advertised as improvised solo piano, but according to Jazzpossu and AJ Dehany, there is a backing track recorded by Mikko Renfors, practically all of the sound is from a piano though.

Your guitar examples are also very much dependent on microphone and editing technique. Percussive sounds can be made also acoustically, but for example in this George Michael cover by Alexandr Misko the percussive hits are strongly emphasized by the microphones. As an example of a more realistic sound, it seems this video by Petteri Sariola is recorded with external microphones, but it still sounds like they had to make some compromise to the quitar sound to emphasize the "bass drum".

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