Orchestra for Beginners

This is a guide for anyone who doesn’t know much about orchestras, but would like to learn more.

First, what does the word ‘orchestra’ mean? The term has it roots in an ancient Greek word describing to the area at the front of a theatre.

The term as it’s currently known refers to a large group of musical instruments traditionally playing only classical music. Although there are some orchestras who play more modern music, and different genres.

Orchestras feature a variety of classes of instruments. String instruments are violins, violas, basses, double bass, and harps. Apart from stringed instruments there are brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. These are the main types, but in a few select case you will be able to notice many more, including those who are usually linked to much more modern music, including the electric guitar or electronic instruments, as this type of ensemble obviously evolves with time.

The instruments fall into various classes depending on how they produce their sound to create music. The piano is a special case as it falls into two categories – it is a stringed/percussion instrument as it has hammers that strike the strings that produce its sound. Woodwind instruments are those that are made of wood and use ‘wind’ or the breath to create their sound. Examples of a woodwind instrument in orchestras would be flutes.

The orchestra is guided by a conductor who holds a baton (usually made of wood). He/she uses his/her arms and the movement of the baton to maintain the timing of the piece and give this and other type of indications to the performers.

A chamber orchestra is a fairly small-sized type of ensemble, consisting of generally 30 or fewer musicians. Baroque music generally requires a chamber-sized orchestra. On the other end of the spectrum are philharmonic or symphonic orchestras. These orchestras can range in size from 70 to over 100 musicians, and these are the ones that come immediately to mind when you think of a classical performance.