• Meet the Instruments of the Orchestra
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    The orchestra is a group of musicians performing on STRING, BRASS, WOODWIND, or PERCUSSION instruments. Can you find the string, brass, woodwind, and percussion families in the picture BELOW?
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    The orchestra is directed by a CONDUCTOR. The conductor tells each section (family) when to play, the tempo, and even the dynamics to perform. Can you find the CONDUCTOR in the picture above?
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    Meet the STRING Family
  • The string section is made up of four main instruments - the violins, violas, cellos and double basses. In an orchestra, the violins are usually split into two sections, playing different parts. Sometimes the double basses share the same music as the cello, and sometimes they each play their own parts. The string instruments all share the same design. Four strings are stretched across a hollow, wooden body. These strings are usually made of nylon, metal or gut. The strings are attached to the tuning-peg at one end and lay across the bridge, where they are attached to the tail-piece at the other end of the instrument. The bow used in string instruments is made of more than two hundred strands of horsehair being stretched tight across a wooden stick. There are three ways that sound can be created on a string instrument - arco, which is drawing the bow across the strings; pizzicato, where the player plucks the strings with his fingertips; and col legno, where the player taps the strings with the wood of the bow. The pitch of a note depends on the length, thickness and tension of the vibrating section of the string. The player shortens the strings by pressing his fingers down on the strings, so that only the length of the string from the tail-piece to his fingertip will vibrate.
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    The VIOLIN is the smallest instrument in the string family and it plays the highest pitches. The violin is held under the chin and plucked or a bow is used.
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    The VIOLA is the next to the smallest instrument and is just a little bigger than violin with a more mellow sound. A bow is also used to play the viola as it is held under the chin.
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    The CELLO is another instrument of the string family that is played by sitting the instrument between the knees and also a bow is used.
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    The STRING BASS is the largest string instrument and it plays the lowest sound. The string bass is played by standing or sitting on a tall stool.
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    The HARP is the cousin of the string family and is one of the hardest instruments to play. The harp has different red and blue strings to make it easier to play. The harp also has pedals.
  • Meet the BRASS Family
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    The name of this family of instruments is like the woodwinds, in that the name of the group comes from the metals used in creating the original instruments. However, pure brass instruments are rare. In the modern orchestra, the brass section is usually made up of four horns, three trumpets, two trombones and one bass trombone, and a tuba. Audiences at a concert can tell apart brass instruments from other instruments by their flaring bell and valves. In 1815 the valve system was created to allow players to quickly change the length of the vibrating air column, which results in changing the pitch of the note produced. Sound is produced in brass instruments by the vibration of air in the hollow metal tube. This achieved by vibrating the lips as the player blows, similar to the use of a double reed. The pitch can be affected not just by the length of the tubing in the instrument, but also by how much tension is in the player's lips. Basically, the tighter the player's lips, the higher the note. Brass instruments produce a unique sound, which is sometimes influenced by the bore (or hole) and the bell. Also, players can insert a mute into the bell of the instrument, which muffles the sound being produced.
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    Trumpet The trumpet plays high brassy notes. An optional mute can make the trumpet sound completely different. Many great jazz players have been trumpet players.
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    French Horn The French Horn is often played with the right hand inside the bell. It is also said to be the most difficult instrument to play.
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    Trombone The trombone has the the greatest note range out of all the brass because of its slide. The 'bone is an essential part of any big band group. The trombone does not have valves but a slide.
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    Tuba The tuba is the lowest and largest instrument in the whole brass section. The tuba is used a lot in marches and other compositions where it is important to have a strong beat.
  • Meet the WOODWIND Family

  • The instrument family known as woodwinds got their name originally because the first instruments were made of wood. Today, these instruments are also made up of more modern materials such as plastic and metal. In the modern orchestra, the woodwind section is usually made up of two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets and two bassoons to which are sometimes added a piccolo, cor anglais, double bassoon and bass clarinet. All of these instruments share basically the same design, which is a hollow tube along which there are a series of holes covered by keys. These holes can be closed or opened by a system of springs and levers. Sound is produced in these instruments by the vibration of the air column inside the instrument. This is done in three different ways: 1). Edge-tone: This method is used by flutes and piccolos only. The player directs a stream of air edgewise across a hole, and the stream is split by the tapered further edge, causing the air column in the instrument to vibrate. (This is basically the same type of method used when someone blows air across the top of a glass bottle, producing a sound!) 2). Single reed: This is found only in the clarinet. The single reed is made of cane that is shaved thin at one end. This reed fits over a rectangular hole at the mouthpiece, and drives the vibration of the air column when triggered by the breath of the player. 3). Double reed: The rest of the woodwinds have a double reed, which is simply two thin strips of cane attached tightly together. When the player blows into the reeds, they vibrate against each other, causing the air column to vibrate. The woodwind section is placed in the center of the orchestra, since these instruments are given many solos. This is due to the fact that the sound woodwind instruments produce tends to stand out from the other instruments.
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    Flute The flute really isn't a woodwind anymore, and is normally made of metal now. It produces very bright and joyful notes.
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    Piccolo The piccolo is the smaller relative of the flute. It is exactly the same in all respects -- notes and fingerings -- but is a lot smaller than the flute and it has a higher pitch.
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    Clarinet The clarinet is a single reed instrument. It plays a wide range of music from classical to jazz. It also has a very wide range of notes that can be played.
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    Oboe The oboe looks very similiar to the clarinet except for the fact that it has a double reed. The oboe is widely used in classical compositions.
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    Saxophone The saxophone is a single reed instrument. Depending on the player it can sound mellow or strong. It does everything from pop to big band to jazz but also has its place in classical music.
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    Bassoon The bassoon is a double reed instrument. Because of its size, it plays very low notes and is often the backbone of the orchestra.
  • Meet the PERCUSSION Family

  • The percussion section is the one section in the orchestra with the greatest variety of instruments. Percussion instruments can either be pitched, such as a piano, or non-pitched, such as a wood block. Percussion instruments can be played in many different ways, from being struck with a pair of mallets to being shaken or banged together. Pitched percussion instruments range in size from the tympani to the xylophone, and are many times struck with different kinds and sizes of mallets. Their pitch makes it possible for these instruments to play melodies at times in certain pieces of music. The sound of these pitched percussion instruments ranges from loud, thunderous noises, to quiet, gentle tones depending on the instrument. A piano is considered part of the pitched percussion instruments section because when a piano key is pressed, hammers inside the piano strike metal strings, causing them to vibrate and make a sound.
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    Snare Drum The snare drum is primarily used for rolls in a classical setting or for adding accents to music.
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    Timpani The timpanis are also commonly used in rolls. They can, however, be tuned to a certain note and have a deeper sound.
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    Cymbals Everyone pretty much knows what the cymbals do. You hit them together and they produce a crashing sound.
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    Bass Drum The bass drum is mainly used to keep a pulse in music. They are extensively used in marches.
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