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In music, a trio (from the Italian) is an either 1) ensemble of three instruments or voices, 2) a composition for three performers or three musical parts, or 3.) the middle section (having only a historical connection to a subgroup of three instruments) of a ternary form.
Instrumental or vocal ensemble
In general, "trio" denotes a group of three solo instruments or voices (Randel 2003). The term is also used to describe a composition for such a group. The most common types of such compositions are the "piano trio"—piano, violin and cello—and the "string trio"—violin, viola and cello (Schwandt 2001). In vocal music with or without accompaniment, the term terzet is sometimes preferred to "trio" (McClymonds, Cook, and Budden 1992).
In the 17th and early 18th century musical genre trio sonata two melodic instruments are accompanied by a basso continuo, making three parts in all. Because the basso continuo is usually played by two instruments (typically a cello or bass viol and a keyboard instrument such as the harpsichord), performances of trio sonatas typically involve four musicians. However there are also examples for a single performer (Bach's organ "Sonatas or Trios", BWV 525–30 for two hands and feet) and well as two (the same composer's sonatas for violin, viola da gamba, and [Flute Sonata in B minor, BWV 1030|flute]], in which the harpsichordist's right hand has a melodic role).
From the 17th century onward the word "trio" is used to describe a contrasting second or middle dance appearing between two statements of a principal dance, such as a minuet or bourée. This second dance was originally called a "trio" from the 17th-century practice of scoring it for three instruments, and later examples continued to be referred to as trios, even when they involved a larger number of parts (Randel 2003; Schwandt 2001). The Menuet of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 (1721) is a late nod to the original practice, with trios for two oboes and bassoon as well as two horns and a third part played by three oboes in unison.
The most common forms of trio are (Schwandt 2001):
Other types of trio include:
- Brass trio (horn, trumpet, trombone)
- Clarinet-cello-piano trio (clarinet, violoncello, piano)
- Clarinet-viola-piano trio (clarinet, viola, piano)
- Clarinet-violin-piano trio (clarinet, violin, piano)
- Flute, viola and harp (flute, viola, harp)
- Harmonica trio (chromatic harmonica, bass harmonica, chord harmonica)
- Horn trio (valved or natural horn, violin, and piano)
- Jazz trio (piano or guitar, acoustic bass or bass guitar, drum kit)
- Organ trio (Hammond organ, drummer, jazz guitarist or a saxophone)
- Power trio (electric guitar, bass guitar, drum kit)
- Trio sonata (two instruments plus continuo)
- McClymonds, Marita P., Elisabeth Cook, and Julian Budden. 1992. "Trio [terzet]". The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols., edited by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan Press Limited. ISBN 9780935859928; ISBN 9780333485521; ISBN 9780333734322; ISBN 9781561592289.
- Randel, Don Michael. 2003. The Harvard Dictionary of Music, fourth edition (Harvard University Press Reference Library). Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674011632.
- Schwandt, Erich. 2001. "Trio". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.