Higher Studies in Music



A Guide To The Different Types of Orchestral Instruments And What They Do

The definition of an orchestra is a group of musicians who play musical instruments in the same family for a performance. Orchestras may be used in various settings, including classical music concerts, opera performances, orchestras on stage for movies, TV shows, weddings and other ceremonies.  The word ‘orchestra’ comes from the Greek word ‘ἀρχοντία,’ meaning “a tool”.


The Instruments

The orchestra may be arranged in several types of groups depending on the musical requirements.  String orchestra: A string orchestra usually includes 2 violins, a viola, a cello, a double bass, 2 harps and a percussionist. The instruments are often arranged in a variety of ways so that all players are in different sections. These sections may have a different set of seats and certain techniques are used to change from one section to another. One example is when the violin section changes to viola and the viola section to bass.  Wind orchestra: Also known as wind orchestra, the group usually consists of 5 flutes, 2 oboes, a bassoon, 2 horns, a clarinet, a trombone and a percussionist. Most of the instruments are single and each has its own wooden chamber.


What They Do

Orchestras play music in the same family of instruments used in a traditional orchestra (i.e. strings, brass and woodwinds), but different instruments are employed depending on the type of music being played. For example, symphonies and concertos will feature a piano, violin, cello, harp, flute, oboe, etc. But for the most part, an orchestra will have at least two woodwinds, four-string instruments and one brass instrument.  The number of woodwinds depends on how large the orchestra is. For large orchestras (one hundred or more musicians), one of the most commonly used woodwinds is the flute. For a smaller orchestra, only the oboe, clarinet and flute may be used.  In the upper level of the orchestra, strings are often used.



Strings are made from wood, metal, plastic, composite or alloy, acrylic, or neoprene. They are plucked by one hand, or a few hands, to produce a sound. Strings include acoustic and electric.  Percussion Instruments  Drums are usually made from wood, metal or plastic, and include drums, cymbals, vibraphones, and gongs. A vibraphone is made of wood and metal, while a drum is made from wood and metal. Cymbals are made from a variety of materials, including bronze, copper, brass, acrylic, carbon fibre, or plastic.  Brass  Brass instruments include brass bands and pipe organs. They are made from brass, copper, or steel.  Fours, or string instruments, are made from wood, bamboo, or even antler. They include guitar, viola, cello, violin and bass.



A symphony orchestra comprises three distinct types of wind instruments – the flute, the oboe and the bassoon. These instruments are made of a hollow piece of wood that opens to allow air to pass in and out of the instrument, producing sounds that create different pitches.  The sound of the flute is softer than that of the oboe and louder than the sound of the bassoon. These three instruments belong to the reed family of instruments, which means they have a closed reed, which resembles a small, narrow windpipe.  Baritone  The baritone is the smallest and one of the largest reed-less instruments, with a length of between 40 and 80 centimetres and a volume of around two to three litres.  The primary function of the baritone is to play the bass lines in an orchestra.



There are several types of instruments in brass, which fall into two categories.  The principal instruments are the French horn, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, clarinet, and the French trumpet, or saxhorn.  There are also sub-groups that include the French horn, trumpet, trombone, and baritone horn.  The primary features of the French horn are its length and its shape. It has four valves, which are closed during playing.  The French horn has its range, which extends from C3 to C5. It has a three-dimensional bell shape, and it is tuned in G, B and F. The French horn is played using a ‘glockenspiel’ as opposed to a pipe.  The trombone  The trombone is a brass instrument, similar to the French horn. It has a conical bore and is designed to produce deep, penetrating tones.



The size of a percussion section is generally smaller than that of an orchestra’s percussion section. A percussionist plays one or more instruments in the drum family. These include the vibraphone, mallet percussion, timpani, bongos, tambourine, snare drum, set drums, crash cymbal, side drums, high hats, crash cymbal, kick drum and various smaller cymbals. This type of percussion is also often referred to as crash/stick/punctuate. The following are popular percussion instruments:  The cuatro is a Spanish four-course drum with large metal plates. The sounds can be tuned using gongs, metal plates, mallets and other sound boxes.  Metal set drums are a type of clapper instrument used to produce sound for percussion bands.



This article will provide you with all you need to know about the different types of orchestral instruments, and what they can be used for. Music can be found everywhere, from ancient temples to your favourite videos on the internet.  Watch the video tutorial below on what they are and the different things you can do with them.  The video below will provide you with information on the difference between an orchestra and an orchestra conductor, and the steps involved to be a successful member.  This article was created and published by Debarshi Das. Debarshi is a music composer and student of Music, with a passion for learning about music.


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