Although it was first created in Europe over several centuries, the Western orchestra has since spread worldwide. There are many different sorts of bands and other ensembles made up mostly of renowned orchestral instruments.
Among the instruments in today’s orchestra is a wide range of unique and fascinating instruments. Though they all sound and look different, instruments in the orchestra may be classified into four broad families depending on how they make their tone: Strings, Woodwinds, Brass, and Percussion instruments.
Below, you’ll find a brief description of each of the most often used instruments in a large orchestra.
The String Family
The string instruments are all hollow sound chambers constructed by gluing wood pieces together. The sound of each of these instruments is determined by its shape, wood, top and back thickness, and the varnish applied to its exterior.
The violin is the smallest musical instrument in the string family and the largest segment of the orchestra. The largest orchestral works can have as many as 30 violins performing at the same time. An ordinary orchestra, on the other hand, typically consists of 16 to 25 violins.
The viola is the second-highest component of the string family, and it has a deeper and darker sound than that of the violin. It is similar in appearance to the violin, but it is slightly larger. Violas are frequently found in groups of 8-10 in an orchestra.
Because it is significantly larger than the violin and viola, it is supported by a floor peg between the players’ legs as the second-lowest part of the string family. In a standard orchestra, there are between 6 and 10 cellos.
The double bass can be described as larger than the cello yet lower in number than it. The bass is positioned directly in front of the performer. A normal orchestra has between five and eight bass players.
In addition to being composed of wood, the harp has a complicated metal mechanism powered by seven-foot pedals that the harpist uses to change the tune of its 47 distinct strings. Even though the harp’s range is wider than that of the violin, it does not need bows; instead, it is played solely by plucking.
The Woodwinds Family
Historically, woodwind instruments were all made of wood, hence the name, but they can today be made of any mix of these materials. They all have a mouthpiece and an aperture. Keys are metal caps with rows of holes. To change the instrument’s tone, performers press different keys.
The piccolo is the smallest woodwind instrument, measuring approximately 13 inches long. Musicians use it to play the highest-pitched tones. Typically, only one piccolo is used, but two or more may be necessary for a particular effect.
The flute, which measures 26 inches in length, was formerly constructed of wood. Invented in 1847, the metal flute has since become a staple of orchestras around the world. In the modern orchestra, it is common to have two flute players and a third, generally on piccolo, playing.
Woodwinds with “double reeds,” such as the oboe, are known as the “double reed” family. This instrument features two separate little reeds, which the musician blows through to produce their sound, rather than one large reed attached to its mouthpiece. Usually, an orchestra has two oboes.
A double reed is also used in the English Horn. Despite being a member of the oboe family, the English horn produces a lower, darker sound because it is larger and longer. In most orchestras, the English horn is the sole player.
A single reed is attached to a mouthpiece of the clarinet. It’s remarkable in that it has three distinct registers, each with its own name (the Chalumeau, Clarion, and Altissimo), all with distinct parts and colors. Two clarinets are usual in the orchestra.
The bassoon, like the oboe, has two reeds. It is 8 feet long and has two parallel tubes at the bottom, making it simpler to handle and play than other woodwind instruments. In an orchestra, two bassoons are standard.
The Brass Family
The brass family is named for the copper and zinc soft metal alloy used to manufacture them. Intricate curves and tubes give these instruments distinctive designs, but this metal is robust enough to keep its shape and produce a clear and booming sound.
The trumpet is the smallest and highest-pitched brass instrument. Trumpets were originally used in the military to communicate with each other before entering the orchestra. The player might communicate everything from battlefield directives to the arrival of a member of the Nobility by playing specified patterns of sounds and rhythms. Two to four trumpets are generally present in an orchestra.
Brass’s second-highest pitching instrument, the horn, is generally known as French Horn. 18 feet of coiled brass tubing and four valves make up this contraption. The average number of horns in an orchestra is four. However, the number can reach nine in some compositions. It is rare for a composer to employ more than 8 on-stage horns and 12 off-stage horns in a single performance.
As a brass instrument, the trombone is one of the lowest-pitched brass instruments. Trombones were initially employed for this purpose since they were much smaller and hence softer than modern trombones, so they didn’t cover up the singers’ voices. An orchestra typically has three trombones: two tenor trombones and one bass trombone.
16 feet of tubing make up the tuba, the brass family’s largest and lowest-pitched brass instrument. For the vast majority of orchestral works, there is just one tuba player in the orchestra; nevertheless, some pieces demand two or the use of tuba and euphonium.
The Percussion Family
The percussion family gets its name from the musician striking the instruments. This can be done with the hands or with sticks, mallets, or beaters.
This drum style has a movable membrane called a “head” stretched over a big copper bowl. The timpanist can alter the tuning of each drum by using a foot pedal to tighten or loosen the head. Depending on the piece, a timpanist may utilize 2-5 different-sized drums.
These are tuned metal tubes that sound like church bells, not tuned bars. They’re hung from a metal rack and pounded with a hammer-like mallet.
To play the Triangle, a beater is used to bend a resonant piece of metal into a triangular shape. They can be made to create a single clear tone or a series of conflicting tones.
The sound of cymbals is produced by striking a thin metal plate. Two cymbals are held together and smashed, although a single cymbal can be strung from a hanger or put on a stand and smashed. Distinct cymbal sizes and thicknesses produce different tones.
The snare drum is made up of a shell and two heads. When the musician strikes the top head of the drum, the vibrations cause the drums to beat against the bottom head, generating that buzzy sound.
The bass drum features a massive wooden shell with two heads that range from 28 to 40 inches in diameter. Its huge size produces low rumbling tones that enhance the music’s rhythm. The bass drum is the orchestra’s loudest instrument, with some hits reaching 120 decibels.
Tam-Tams and Gongs
Like cymbals, these are metal plates hammered to a precise thickness to resound. Their tones vary depending on how hard and quickly they are struck, and they range in size from little to very enormous.
The piano is one of the most well-known and widely played instruments, covering the whole range of human perception. The piano has tuned metal strings, but it makes sounds by hitting them with a felt hammer controlled by the keyboard. The piano can be a solo instrument or part of an orchestra.
The celesta looks like a miniature upright piano, but it produces sound by striking tuned metal bars with felt hammers. Its tone is beautiful and ethereal.
There you have it: the most important instruments employed in an orchestra. Combining these instruments in an auditorium can give you one of the ecstatic experiences of your life if they are positioned, numbered, and composed in the right way.
We hope this writing has helped you better understand the instruments found in an orchestra. Please don’t hesitate to send us an email if you have any suggestions or inquiries.