APPENDIX 3: INDIVIDUAL INSTRUMENTS OF THE ORCHESTRA
Videos presented by the Philharmonia Orchestra of London
THE STRING FAMILY
As you watch the following short video clips, notice how the hands of the performers move. As you will see, it takes a lot of physical dexterity to perform music at this level. When you see a group of string performers in an orchestra, you will notice the many performers doing the exact same movements at the same time in order to create a cohesive sound. In an orchestra there are two sets of violins, the first violins and the second violins.
The viola is played just like the violin, but the instrument itself is slightly larger than a violin. Because it is larger, the strings are longer, and, as discussed, the longer the part of the instrument that produces the sound, the lower the pitches it produces. Also, the viola has a slightly different timbre, or tone color (this will be discussed in later chapters), than the violin. This is based mainly on its size.
The cello is larger than the viola and has to be played siting down. In a way it is the same as all of the string instruments in the way it is played. The cello has a much different timbre than the violin or viola. In early orchestras, the cello was the lowest instrument on the string family until the Double Bass was brought into the orchestra. The cello remained because of its place in the pitch‐range of the strings and because there is always room for Cello.
THE DOUBLE BASS
The double bass looks like a giant violin. The instrument is usually played standing up or with the player sitting on a high stool. This instrument is also used in jazz music where it is mainly plucked, rather then played with a bow.
Often overlooked as a string instrument, the harp is used very subtly in orchestral music. It is also used in many film scores.
THE WOODWIND FAMILY
Flutes were once made mainly from wood. In ancient times, they were even made out of bones. Today they are usually made of metals, from stainless steel to gold. The flute family is the only one of the woodwinds that does not use a wooden reed to start the pitch.
The clarinet family includes a number of different sized clarinets. The clarinets use a single reed, made out of a wood that attaches to a mouthpiece. The most common clarinet is the Bb clarinet; however, there are a number of clarinets of different pitch ranges all the way down to the contrabass clarinet.
THE DOUBLE‐REED INSTRUMENTS
The oboe, bassoons, English Horn, and Bassoon use a different type of reed than the clarinets– a double reed. Double reed instruments have their own unique timbre, which we will examine shortly. The concept for both the single and double reeds are the same – the player starts the reed to vibrate, which creates the sound, then uses the various keys on the instrument to limit the vibrations to different lengths along the instrument. This is what creates the different pitches. Here is an example of what an oboe
THE BRASS FAMILY
The trumpet also has its own family, with several types of trumpets. The most common is the Bb Trumpet. As with all brass instruments, it is played by “buzzing” the lips into a mouthpiece. The actual instrument then “shapes” the sound and gives it color, and the valves allow for different pitches.
THE FRENCH HORN
The French Horn is perhaps the most versatile instrument in the orchestra. It is used in brass ensembles as well as woodwind ensembles, and of course in the orchestra. Movie composers like John Williams use the French Horns prominently in their film scores.
The trombone is the only brass instrument not to use valves as a way to change pitches. Instead, it has a slide that is moved from position to position to change pitches. There are valve trombones, but they were created mainly for the marching band as a way to use trumpet players on trombones.
instrument is played the same way all brass instruments are played, by buzzing into a mouthpiece. This is the “longest” brass instrument, which is why it is the lowest in pitch.
THE PERCUSSION FAMILY
If you would like to know more about the percussion instruments used in different types of music, you can find many of them online. Please watch this video about percussion in the orchestra.