Sections of an Orchestra


String instruments have 4 or more strings that are made of different metals. Sound is made by either plucking the string with the fingers or moving a bow made of horsehair over the strings while pressing the strings down with the fingers. The harp is different than the other string instruments because there are many more strings and there are pedals at the bottom of the harp. With the harp, sound is made when the strings are plucked by hand. With all string instruments, the strings vibrations resonate in the wooden body of the instrument to make the sound.


Woodwind instruments get their name because they were once all made of wood, and they need a player’s breath or “wind” to make sound. The flute makes sound by blowing across the hold of the mouthpiece, the clarinet has a single reed attached to a mouthpiece which vibrates when air is blown into it, and the oboe, English horn, bassoon, and contrabassoon have two reeds tied together called a double reed that vibrate to make sound. All the wind instruments have holes along their body which the player covers and uncovers by pressing and releasing keys like a typewriter.


Brass instruments are long metal tubs that are coiled up so a player can hold them easily. The small end of the tube has a mouthpiece on it that the player blows into while buzzing their lips; the large end of the tube opens up to a bell shape where the sound comes out. They all have valves, keys or a slide that make different notes by changing the length of the tubing the player has to blow through. The player sometimes uses their hand or a mute to cover the opening of the instrument to create a softer, muffled sound.


Percussion instruments are hit, struck, shaken, rubbed or made so that they vibrate and can be heard. They can be hit against themselves like two cymbals or they can by played with sticks that are covered with different material so as to change the sound of the hit. Cloth, rubber, yarn, metal or wood are common surfaces that can strike the instrument to make sound. Percussion instruments range from non pitched instruments like beads that rattle to pitched instruments like the xylophone.

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