Musical Resources: Online Guide to the Symphony Orchestra

The orchestra is an ensemble of musical instruments that is divided in four sections: string, brass, percussion, and woodwind. When learning about the orchestra, it is important to understand how it is divided and the role of each section in the ensemble. Each section is equally important and contributes to the overall sound and success of the orchestra. The orchestra is one big family of different musical instruments. Learning more about the instruments would help people enjoy the music more fully.

In a symphony orchestra, brass instruments include the French horn, tuba, trumpet, horn, and trombone. The brass section brings rich and beep sound to the orchestra and is a great counterpart to the lighter instruments. French horns are the leader of an orchestra. Tubas are the big boomers in the brass section and have one of the deepest sounds. Horns are often mixed with woodwind because they have a weaker sound and complement each other.

A harp used in a symphony orchestra is typically very large. It can be approximately 1.8 meters high, weighing about 36 kg, with 46 or 47 strings. The harp is a special component of the orchestra, producing a bright, expressive, and colorful sound. Famous composers like Franz Liszt, Handel, Mozart, J.C. Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Debussy have written many parts for the harp in symphonic music.

These are instruments that produce sound when they are hit or shaken. It is not easy to play percussion, as it requires much practice and strength. Precision is also required, because like other instruments, the part of the instrument that is played sound differently; where a drum is struck affects the sound it produces. Some percussion instruments can be tuned in different notes like the timpani or vibraphone. There are also some that are not tuned, like cymbals and bass drums. The main role of percussion in the orchestra is to keep rhythm but they also add texture to the whole performance. A musician can play several percussion instruments during a performance. The conductor has to pay special attention because it can be hard to change instruments and get into the beat again.

String instruments are a major part of the symphony orchestra. Their sound is produced by the vibration of strings. String instruments can be bowed, plucked (harp or lute), struck (clavichord or piano) or strummed (harp or lute). Depending on the instruments and the way in which they are played, string instruments offer a wealth of sounds to the orchestra. For instance, the violin can produce a bright, harmonic sound as well as a dark, mellow sound.

Woodwind instruments produce sound when air vibrates in the column of air within the instruments. Musicians play these instruments by blowing through the mouthpiece and changing the pitch by covering and uncovering the holes. While it is easy to think that all woodwind instruments are made of wood, in fact, they can be made of various metals. Some examples of woodwind instruments are the flute, oboe, horn, clarinet, and bassoon. The flute and the clarinet produce a clear sound while the oboe and bassoon produce a slightly reedy sound.