A symphony orchestra is a collection of up to about 100 musicians who play instruments of four basic types: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. Click on the hyperlinks for each instrument to hear an Orchestra Indiana musician play and discuss each instrument.
- Strings – violins (smallest, and highest in pitch), violas, cellos, and double basses (largest and lowest in pitch). These players sit in a semicircle directly in front of the conductor and make up more than half the orchestra. The harp is also a string instrument, although it looks very different from the other strings. The harp player usually sits behind the violin sections.
- Woodwinds – flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons. These players sit a few rows back from the conductor, in the center of the orchestra. You may sometimes see closely related instruments being played alongside these instruments. Each of the woodwind instruments has “cousins” that may be smaller, like the piccolo, or larger, like the English horn, bass clarinet, and contrabassoon.
- Brass – trumpets, horns, trombones, and tubas. These instruments are the loudest, so you’ll see them in the rear of the orchestra.
- Percussion – drums, bells, tambourines, chimes, symbols, woodblocks, and sometimes odd things such as hubcaps that are struck, plucked, rubbed, etc. This includes the timpani, xylophone, and marimba. Some works use lots of different percussion; others may have a single musician playing the timpani, or no percussion at all. The percussion section is at the back of the orchestra because percussionists often play more than one instrument and need space to move from one to the other during the concert. Although the piano is really a keyboard instrument, not percussion, it is occasionally used in the orchestra and will usually be located towards the back of the orchestra, near the percussion.