The following is a guide to a variety of musical instruments found in an orchestra. Some, like the violin, are traditionally found in the set-up, while others, such as the saxaphone or the marimba might be only found in special arrangements. There will also be resources for how to practice the instruments as well as take care of them.
There are a variety of stringed instruments which are typically part of an orchestra and they are instantly recognizable. In recent years, other forms of music, such as pop and rock have adopted orchestral sections to make a song richer.
- violin- The first violin is usually considered the leader of the orchestra, second only to the conductor. In a typical arrangement there are two sections, comprising upwards of 34 players.
- viola- There are usually 14 viola players in an orchestra and is the middle voice between violins and cellos.
- cello- A member of the violin family, cellos have a richer, deeper sound and there are typically 12 players in an orchestra.
- double bass- The lowest in the register, double bass, also called the upright bass, are also the largest of the violin family. They are also commonly used in traditional jazz.
- harp- Harps, with their distinctive sound and complex technique are wonderful instruments, but they are very large so be prepared to find a big practice space.
With the high, reedy sounds, woodwind instruments are easily recognizable. They migrated from more traditional classical music into jazz and blues, but are still an essential part of any orchestra.
- clarinet- The distinct shape of the clarinet is difficult to miss and they have a wonderful sound used in jazz and classical.
- flutes- Coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, flutes are an instrumental part of an orchestra, often adding a playful element.
- oboe- Slightly longer than a clarinet and using a different mouthpiece, the oboe originated in France and is an integral part of the modern orchestra.
A slightly deceiving name, brass instruments do not need to be made of brass. Rather, they are defined by the sound they produce. Therefore, instruments like the conch shell or the didgeridoo are considered brass instruments.
- trumpet- A trumpet produces sounds in the highest register of the brass family and can be considered some of the oldest instruments, dating back to 1500 BC. Although they are essential in an orchestra their influence on jazz has been large as well.
- horns in F- More commonly known as French Horns, these instruments are valved like trumpets and are the third highest in the brass register.
- trombone- Like other brass instruments, the trombone produces sound by the vibration of the player’s lips, but unlike trumpets and horns there are usually no valves. Instead the player uses a slide to change the pitch.
- tuba- The largest, lowest pitch instrument in the brass family, the tuba is one of the most recent inclusions in the symphony arrangement.
Providing the rhythm for a symphony orchestra, there are more than a dozen instruments in this category. They are utilized according to the needs of the composer.
- timpani- Also known as the kettledrums, the timpani is a large drum with the head traditionally stretched over copper.
- marimba- A marimba is made up of wooden bars with resonators, usually played with a mallet. It is in the xylophone family, but has a broader and lower range of tones.
- snare drum- Widely used in many different forms of music, the snare drum is an unpitched percussion instrument with a distinctive rattle.