The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

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Let's Read and Learn More About:

Instrument Families of the Orchestra

String Family:

Violin, Viola, Cello & Double Bass

On all of the orchestral string instruments, the string is played by drawing a bow strung with horsehair across it. The string can also be plucked, an effect called pizzicato.The violin is the smallest and highest pitched instrument in the string family.The viola is a little larger and deeper in sound. The cello is much larger than the viola and produces a rich, mellow tone. The Double Bass is the largest member of the string family and has a very deep tone. 

Woodwind Family:

Piccolo, Flute, Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Bassoon & Contrabassoon

Most of the woodwind instruments were once of made entirely of wood. They are now made with wood, metals and/or plastic. Woodwind instruments make sounds in different ways. The flute and piccolo, make a sound by blowing air across the mouthpiece. The clarinet and saxophone use a single reed (piece of cane or fiberglass), which vibrates, to produce a sound. Oboes, english horns, bassoons and contrabassoons use two pieces of cane vibrating against each other, to make a sound. Woodwind instruments are made into a tube with holes in it. When all of the holes are covered, the tone is low. As the holes are opened, the tone becomes higher.

Brass Family:

Trumpet, Trombone, Tuba & French Horn

Brass instruments are long tubes of metal which the player blows into (making a buzzing sound with the lips) through a mouth-piece at one end. The trumpet has 3 valves to assist in changing the pitches. The french horn and tuba have 4 valves or rotors to change the pitches. The french horn is a conical brass instrument made with a tube coiled in a circle and ending in a flared bell. The trombone uses a slide to change the pitches.

Percussion Family:

Snare Drum, Cymbals, Bass Drum, Guiro, Timpani, Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Marimba, Cymbals, Chimes, Tambourine, Castanets, Triangle...

and more!

The percussion instruments are the rhythm section of the orchestra. They make sounds when they are struck, scraped, or shaken with hands or special sticks or mallets. Some percussion instruments are pitched, and some are unpitched. The Marimba, xylophone, timpani, chimes, vibraphone, and celesta are examples of pitched percussion instruments. The bass drum, snare drum, triangle, cymbals, and tambourine do not have a definite pitch, and so are referred to as unpitched. The percussion family has the most members, with new instruments being added all of the time!

Keyboards and Others:

Piano, Harpsichord, Organ & Harp

These instruments are often classified as percussion instruments because they play a rhythmic role in some music. However, keyboard instruments are not true members of the percussion family. Sound is produced on the piano by small hammers striking strings as the musician presses the keys. The harp is sometimes classified in the string family, however it is not shaped the same and it has about 45 strings stretched across its frame. The strings are plucked. There are seven pedals at the bottom of the harp that adjust the length of the strings to produce more pitches. 

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