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Families of the Orchestra String and Woodwind

MATERIALS: -Optional worksheet printouts

AGE RANGE: Late elementary through middle school


THE FAMILIES OF THE ORCHESTRA There are four main families in the symphony orchestra: the string family, the woodwind family, the brass family, and the percussion family. In this program, we are going to learn about the string and woodwind families. Keep reading to learn more about these instruments.

String Family The string family includes any instrument that creates sound by their vibrating strings. In the orchestra, the most common string instruments are the violin, viola, cello, and bass. Non-orchestral string instruments may include the guitar, banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, and more. String instruments in the orchestra all have four strings that sound as different notes. Most commonly, musicians pull their bow across the strings to make sound – this technique is called arco. The can also use their fingers to pluck the strings, called pizzicato. Musicians use their left hand to press down the strings and the notes change depending where the string is being pressed. Each string family instrument comes in different sizes so that kids and adults of all ages can find an instrument that fits them most comfortably. The body of a string instrument is typically made of wood, the strings are made of steel or sometimes sheep or cattle intestines (these are called gut strings and are less common today), and a bow is made of over 100 pieces of horse hair. Now, let’s take a closer look at the string instruments most commonly used in the orchestra.

Violin The violin is the smallest instrument of the orchestral string family. In an orchestra, the principal violinist is called the concertmaster. The concertmaster acts as the leader of all the violins as well as the orchestra – during a symphony orchestra concert, watch as the concert master walks out and points to the oboe to give the tuning note. The body of a full-size violin is about 14 inches long. The modern violin has been around for 500 years and was first created by Andrea Amati – some of Amati’s 500+ year old violins can still be played today! Violins are very complex (and fragile) and are made up of over 70 pieces of wood. The most expensive violin in the world was made by a famous luthier, the name for someone who makes string instruments, named Giuseppe Guarneri in 1741 and is worth about $18 million. Watch and listen as the associate concertmaster of the LA Philharmonic plays instruments made by famous luthiers that are hundreds of years old.


Viola The viola is just a bit larger than the violin and has a lower sound (the bigger the string, the lower the sound). The body of a full-size viola is about 16-16.5 inches. Because the viola is a bit bigger and lower than the violin, people often say it sounds more dark, earthy, or mellow than the bright and high-pitched violin. It is the string instrument closest in register to the human voice and holds a special place in the orchestra because of that.

Cello The full name for the cello is violincello. Did you know the plural of cello isn’t not cellos, it’s celli! It is the next lowest instrument in the string family. Instead of being held under the chin when played, musicians hold the body of the cello between their legs. The body of a full-size cello is just under 30 inches, while the entire cello is about 4 feet long. Just like the violin, Andrea Amati is the first known luthier to ever make a cello.

Contrabass This instrument is called the contrabass, double bass, or just the bass – when you hear any of those terms, they’re all referring to the same instrument. The body of a full-size double bass is about 46 inches and from the very top to the bottom, a full-size bass is 6 feet tall! For most of the other instruments, a professional adult will play the full-size version, but the bass is so large that most professional adult musicians play a ¾ size. Ask the bassist with our orchestra what size he plays!


Label the Violin

Vocabulary: Scroll F-hole Body

Fine Tuner Tuning Pegs Bow

Chin Rest Bridge Fingerboard


Match the Facts

Bass

Draw a line from the fact to the instrument it is about. Cello

Violin

Viola

From top to bottom, I am about four feet tall. I am the lowest instrument in the string family. My sound is often compared to the human voice. I am the highest string instrument.

In my instrument section, you'll find the concertmaster, the leader of the orchestra.

When it's time to be played, a musician holds me between their legs.

I am six feet tall from top to bottom - so big, that most musicians don't play the full-size version of me.


Woodwind Family The woodwind family is made of instruments that can be further separated into two categories: flutes and reed instruments. All woodwind instruments make their sound when air blown quickly through an instrument. In flutes, the player blows across the mouthpiece, splitting the air – some air then vibrates inside of and through the flute. In reed instruments, the player’s exhaled air causes the reed to vibrate and those vibrations help create the sound. The four most-common woodwind instruments in an orchestra are the flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. Some non-orchestra woodwind instruments include saxophones, bagpipes, harmonica, and recorder.

Flute Flutes today are usually made of metal, but they were initially carved out of wood. The oldest instruments that archeologists have ever found are flutes. In Germany and England, flutes ranging from 35,000-43,000 years old have been uncovered – these instruments are made from materials like giraffe bones and wooly mammoth tusks. In an orchestra, the flute section will usually include two flutists and a piccolo player. The piccolo is a smaller version of the flute, about half the size. The piccolo is the highest instrument in the woodwind family.

Oboe The oboe is has a smaller range than the flute – it cannot play quite as high as easily. It is a double reed instrument. The reed that the musician plays in to is made of two very thin pieces of cane that are tied together and scraped and shaved down. Most oboists make their own reeds and reeds often only last a week or two so this is a constant process. In a standard orchestra, the oboe section will contain two musicians playing the oboe and one playing the English Horn. The English horn is a sister-instrument to the oboe. All the fingerings (the combination of keys you press to make certain notes sound) are the same, but the instrument and the reed are just a bit bigger, giving it a lower sound.


Clarinet The clarinet is also a reed instrument, but it uses a single reed. Made from the same type of cane as the oboe reed, it vibrates inside of a plastic mouthpiece. The clarinet is one of the youngest instruments in the orchestra – it was created in the 1700s. It is a bit bigger than the oboe and has a bigger range – it can play lower and higher than the oboe. In an orchestra, you’ll often find two clarinets and, less often, a bass clarinet. The clarinet has many more related instruments than most of the woodwinds. There are clarinets B♭, C, and A, bass and contrabass clarinets, soprano clarinets in different keys, and more.

Bassoon The bassoon is the lowest member of the woodwind family and is a double reed instrument like the oboe. The bassoon we see is about four feet long, but if you were to straighten the tube, it would be about 8 feet long. Because the bassoon is so large and heavy, bassoonists typically either use a neck strap or a seat strap that they sit on to help support the weight. Most orchestras contain two bassoon players and occasionally a contrabassoon player, which is a lower-relative of the bassoon. The very first time a part was written for contrabassoon in a symphony was in Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5.


Label the Violin

Answer Key

F-hole Bridge

Fingerboard Bow

Fine tuners

Chin Rest

Tuning pegs Scroll

Body Vocabulary: Scroll F-hole Body

Fine Tuner Tuning Pegs Bow

Chin Rest Bridge Fingerboard


Match the Facts

Bass

Answer Key

Draw a line from the fact to the instrument it is about. Cello

Violin

Viola

From top to bottom, I am about four feet tall.

I am the lowest instrument in the string family. My sound is often compared to the human voice.

I am the highest string instrument.

In my instrument section, you'll find the concertmaster, the leader of the orchestra.

When it's time to be played, a musician holds me between their legs.

I am six feet tall from top to bottom - so big, that most musicians don't play the full-size version of me.


Find the Woodwind Instruments

Answer Key

Circle the instruments from the woodwind family. For any instrument that is not a member of the woodwind family, label it with it's proper instrument family. Trombone

Accordion

Clarinet

Oboe

Trumpet

Cello

Contrabassoon

Flute

Viola

Piano

Djembe

Alto Saxophone

Harmonica


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Families of the Orchestra - String and Woodwind  

Explore the instruments in the string and woodwind families of the orchestra.

Families of the Orchestra - String and Woodwind  

Explore the instruments in the string and woodwind families of the orchestra.