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All you need to know about Orchestral Instruments

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The Orchestra is a term that was used in old-fashioned Greece, it is used to determine and identify the areas that performers and actors are placed. The orchestra is usuallydescribed as a group composes of bowed stringed instruments, wind, percussion and brass instruments. Oftentimes, the orchestra is formed of 100 performers and may be conducted by a chorale or be plainly musical. The word “orchestra” nowadays not only pertains to a group of musicians but also to the main floor of a theater.

What are the Families of instruments in Orchestra?

An orchestra is composed up of lots of various symphonic instruments. Each family is arranged by the different sound of the instrument that produces vibration. It makes it easier if you divide them up into “families” of instruments. These are:

String Family

String families are made up of only string instruments, without woodwinds, brass, or percussion. The string orchestra have four major type of instruments that produce up to these from the smallest to the largest in size:


The Violin has the smallest body yet the highest pitch within its strings family. It carries the melody in an orchestral piece as its sound flows well and easily with other instruments, in an orchestral piece the violinists would be sat together but segregated into two sections playing different “parts”.


The Viola is the older sibling of the violin. It is somewhat bigger and has thicker strings, which gives a harmonious, soulful character than the violin. In an orchestra, there are usually 10 to 14 playing the viola and them almost always play the melody, playing the viola is the same way as play with the violin.


The Cello have a similar look like the violin and viola but is much larger (around 4 feet long), and has fuller strings than either the violin or viola. The cello plays most like a human sound, and it can make an extensive variance of tones, from warm low tones to bright higher pitch. Usually, 8 to 12 cells in an orchestra are played both by Harmony and melody.

Double Bass

The Double Bass contributes a different kind of sound to a prestigious music. The lowest of all string instruments, the double bass is tremendous, larger about than the average human being. The instrument can perform much deeper than anyone can sing, and it furnishes the ground for the orchestra’s sound. In performing in the orchestra, basses are almost always way over on the right side of the stage. Bassists play by sitting on a very tall stool or standing up.


The harp is unique from the other stringed instruments. About 6 feet tall, with a shape of a small number 7, it has 47 strings of different lengths that are attuned to the sounds of the white piano keys. In performing the orchestra, usually there are one or two harps and they play both resonance and harmonics. You play it by sitting down with your legs on either side, with the neck of the harp leaning on your shoulder.  Each string gives a different tone (it has different colors which helps you to differentiate one from another) and you play them by plucking the strings with your fingertips and thumb. Seven-foot pedals are connected to the base of the harp which adjusts the pitch of each string that allows them to make a sound the tones of the black keys on the piano.

Woodwind Family

The Woodwind family are used to be built of wood. Nowadays, they are made of various elements such as wood, metal, plastic or some combination. Basically, they have a narrow cylinder pipe with holes, it has an opening at the bottom end and a mouthpiece at the top. It has a metal caps keys cover the holes from most woodwind instruments. The reed vibrates when you blow over it. Similar to the string family, the tinier woodwinds sound the higher the tones are, while the longer and wider instruments are played the lower notes produced. The woodwind family of instruments includes, from the highest pleasing sound instruments to the lowest are the following: 


The piccolo is a miniature version of the flute is named the piccolo, which indicates tiny in Italian. Half the size of a regular flute, piccolos play the greatest notes of the whole woodwind family, and in the orchestra one of the flute performers will further play piccolo if that instrument is needed. The highest piping sound of the piccolo is also heard in common drum corps and marching band.


The flute is one of the olden-time instrument that gives pitched tones and basically made of various elements such as wood, rock, clay or hollow reeds like bamboo. Modernized flutes are built of silver, gold or platinum, there are usually 2 to 4 flutes in an orchestra. A regular flute is over 2 feet long and is often highlighted performing the music.


The Oboe is played in the soprano scale. Oboes are made of wood, but there are also oboes made of synthetic components. A soprano oboe is around 65 cm (25 1⁄2 in) long, with metal keys, a cone-shaped bore, and a flashed bell. The music is played by blowing within the reed at enough air pressure, making it echo with the air column. The notable tone is mixed and holds continuously and characterized as bright.  When oboe is used completely, it is commonly used to intend the treble instrument willingly than different instruments of the family, such as the English horn.

English horn

The English horn is truly compared to the oboe, it uses a double reed, and is played in the same method. It is longer than oboe and the tube is a bit wider at the bottom end of the English horn, it opens out into a rounded bell shape, which gives it a warmer, fuller sound. It produces a base tone than an oboe. An oboe performer will also play English horn if needed.


The Clarinet is a different instrument in the woodwind family it produces a soft fluid vibration once you blow air through the mouthpiece and single reed, the air being blown passes through the reed causing it to vibrate which results in a quality of sound being made.

E-flat clarinet

The E-flat clarinet is just like a regular clarinet, but nearly half the length. Its smaller size provides higher notes when played.

Bass Clarinet

The Bass clarinet is so vast that the head and bottom are angled to make it easier to hold and play. This is the grandfather of the clarinet family. With its great length the bass clarinet is able to reach the low notes in the orchestra.


The bassoon has a long pipe, made of wood, with many keys. The curve in the pipe makes it possible for musicians to play it conveniently. The bassoon would be around 9 feet long if it were straight. The bassoon uses a double reed, similar to the oboe, which is fitted into a curved metal mouthpiece.  Lower keys are played in the bassoon, but seldom hear their deep low tones emphasized in a harmony.

Contra Bassoon

The contrabassoon is the father of the wind family and is so much bigger than a regular bassoon that its tube is doubled over twice to allow the player to hold it. Picture a longer bassoon with a deeper pipe. It uses a lot of breathing to gain tone coming out of such a long pipe! The alone contrabassoon gives the lowest notes in the whole orchestra.

The Brass Family

The brass instruments are made of brass, that’s where it got its name. This instrument can be played louder than any other orchestra instruments and can also be overheard from distant. Originally made of wood, tusks, animal horns or shells, today’s modern instruments are made completely of brass. Brass instruments are quite very long pipes that widen at their ends into a bell-like shape. The pipes have been arched and contorted into different shapes to make them easier to hold and play.


Being a part of the brass family, the trumpet gives the fullest sound instrument within its family and have long pipes that are curved around and bent together making it easier to hold and play with a bell-like form at its end.

French horn

The French horn originally comes from France and is indeed a horn. It originates from the French field horn of the 1600s and provides an extensive diversity of sound extending from sharp and blasting to soft and flat. It has 18 feet of tubing and is rolled up into a round form, with a huge bell at its end. 2 to 8 French horns performers play in the orchestra, and they play both harmony and melody as well as beat.


The trombone is unique of the modern brass instruments, consisting of an essentially circular brass tube including two bends. The bell flare usually starts near the next curve (which is beside the various current position for the tuning slide), spreading one-fourth to one-third of the diameter of the tube.


The tuba is the great father of the brass family. It is the biggest and lowest base brass instrument and secures the melody of the whole orchestra with its deep rich sound. Similar to the other brasses, it has a long metal tube, bent into an oval form, with a large bell at the bottom. Regular tubas hold about 16 feet of tubing. Generally, only one tuba is used in the orchestra. You play the tuba by sitting down with the instrument placed on your lap and bell shape facing up.

The Percussion Family

The percussion family is the biggest family in the orchestra. Percussion instruments comprise any instrument that produces a sound when it is crashed, swung, or shaken. Even though the instruments are well tuned and with the same note it may sound different, like the xylophone, timpani or piano, and some are un-tuned with no pitch that defines it- for example the bass drums, castanets or the cymbals.


The piano has the extensive variety of several instruments in the orchestra. It is an attuned instrument, and you can play various notes at once operating both of your hands. The piano usually supports the melody, but it has a complex role as a solo instrument, playing both harmony and melody.


The Timpani is also called as kettledrums. Made of big copper pots with drumheads made of calfskin or plastic extended over their heads. Timpani is tuned instruments, can be played by different notes. The timpanist shifts the tone by expanding or extricating the drumheads, which are connected to a foot pedal. Timpani is the core of the percussion family because they provide support and gives beat, harmony, and feeling.


The xylophone basically originated in Africa and Asia, yet has a Greek name that means “wood sound.” The modernized xylophone has wooden bars or keys that are organized like the keys of a piano, but in this case the player would be using a mallet to hit. You can change the tone by using various sets of mallets, and by beating the wooden bars. Attached to the base of the wooden bars are metal tubes called resonators where sound reverberates. This gives the xylophone its bright bell-like sound.


The Cymbals are known as the noisemakers of the orchestra. It has two large metal discs, normally made of spun bronze. Cymbals, which are untoned, come in a range of sizes, from quite small to very large. It can be quite surprising that the larger a cymbal may be the lower the sound that it makes. Cymbals tend to be used for excitement and drama, to accent the rhythm or create delicate sound effects.


The Triangle is made of a small metal bar that is curved into a triangle and makes a chime sound when you hit it. There are various sizes of triangles and individually has a different sound and pitch. The beater has a different size and thickness that can change the sound the triangle makes.

Snare Drum

The snare drum is built of wood or brass with drumheads made of calfskin or plastic pulled over both ends of a bent cylinder. The bottom head (the snare) have a wire wrapped strings that are stretched across, which give a unique “rattling” sound when you hit the drum. Usually used in military music and act as a central part of any marching band. Snare drums produce unique sounds and are used to keep the beat, like drumrolls. When playing the snare you hit the drum with various type of drumsticks.

Bass Drum

The bass drum, similar to the double bass, is the largest of the percussion family and makes the lowest sounds. The bass drum is made similar to a very large snare drum. You play the bass drum by beating each drumhead by sticks that have large soft heads. It can create several sounds from rumbling thunder to the melodious undertones.


The tambourine is a little drum with alloy jangles set within the limits. The drumhead and the jingles are untuned. To play the tambourine, you hold it on your hand and tap or pat, move or hit it, normally into your other hand.


The Maracas originally from Mexico. It chatters, composed of gourds, filled with wilted seeds, grains or tiny ball bearings that clatter. It is made or constructed either wood or synthetic, it produces a sound that makes them, depends on what they are made of. To play with your maracas, you hold them in your hands and shake.


The castanets gives accent to the music with a unique clacked sound. Castanets are produced of two pieces of wood joined together. To perform you hold them with your fingers and click the two sections of wood together. In the orchestra, castanets are sometimes mounted on wood, and the percussionist plays them by hitting them with your hands.


The celesta resembles a small piano and gives a similar sound to the glockenspiel by its gentle bell-like sound. Celestas usually have a keyboard of 49–65 keys. As with the piano, you make a sound on the celesta by pressing down on a key with your finger, which lifts a hammer inside and strikes a metal bar. Can play various tones at once using both your hands.

What is the role of a Conductor? A Conductor is a person who manages or directs the orchestra, choir, performance, choreography, or other musical groups in the production and interpretation of group works. At the most primary level, a conductor must accentuate the musical beat so that all the musicians can follow the same metrical rhythm. The keeping of this musical beat is achieved by a stylized set of arm and hand gestures that draft the necessary measure.

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