Brass & Woodwind Instruments

Flute

Flute
a normally silver-plated (or in more extravagant cases, gold), narrow-bored instrument, held horizontally just under the mouth, and activated by blowing air across an aperture at one end of the instrument. Its higher-pitched cousin, the piccolo, is often encountered, although the lower alto flute rather less so. Early forebears include the unkeyed fife. The most popular close relation is the recorder family, largely unkeyed and end-blown in the vertical position.

Watch a video of a professional musician here.

Oboe

Oboe
a narrow-bored wooden instrument descended from the medieval shawm, held vertically, and activated by means of placing the end-positioned double-reed in the mouth, and blowing under high-pressure so as to force air between the two bound reeds, causing them to vibrate. Other members of the oboe family include the lower pitched cor anglais (or English Horn), and (far more rarely) baritone oboe and heckelphone (bass oboe). 

Watch a fun audition video of a talented musician here.

Clarinet

Clarinet
like the oboe usually wooden, played vertically and held in the mouth, but with a wider bore and consisting of a single reed which when activated vibrates against a detachable mouthpiece. The standard instrument can be pitched in B flat (usually) or A, and the family is unusually extensive including the higher-pitched E flat, the B flat bass, the rarely-used C, the alto (a modern relative of the basset horn), and the even more obscure double-bass or 'pedal' clarinet. Occasionally the clarinet's 'popular' cousin can be seen in the concert hall, the saxophone. 

Watch a video of a very talented student musician here.

Saxophone

Saxophone

is a family of woodwind instruments. Saxophones are usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet.  The saxophone family was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1840.  Adolphe Sax wanted to create a group or series of instruments that would be the most powerful and vocal of the woodwinds, and the most adaptive of the brass that would fill the vacant middle ground between the two sections. The series pitched in B♭ and E♭, designed for military bands, have proved extremely popular and most saxophones encountered today are from this series. The saxophone is used in classical music (such as concert bands, chamber music, and solo repertoire), military bands (such as military concert bands, marching bands, etc.), marching bands, and jazz (such as big bands, jazz combos, etc.).

Watch a video of a saxophone solo here.
 


Bassoon

Bassoon
as the name would suggest, the bass member of the woodwind family, and by far the largest, especially its lower-pitched relation, the extremely bulky double or contra-bassoon. Like the oboe, it is a double-reed instrument, although to facilitate the playing action (the instrument is normally held across and in front of the body) it is connected to the bassoon via a silver-plated, curved crook. Its most notorious cousin is the Baroque serpent, shaped very much as its name would suggest.

Watch a video of a professional musician here.

Trumpet

Trumpet
one of the most ancient of all instruments. Played horizontally via a series of valves on the top of the instrument which are opened and closed in various combinations to create different pitches. Occasionally, the piccolo (higher) or bass (lower) trumpets are heard (and the trumpet's 'popular' cousin, the cornet), although more common nowadays in 'authentic' Baroque orchestras (which use instruments of the correct period or copies thereof), is the 'natural' or valveless trumpet. The more notationally limited bugle is rarely heard away from its traditional military context.

Watch a wonderful performance by Alison Balsom, trumpeter, here.

French Horn

French horn
another ancient instrument, descended from the use of animals' horns (hence the name) in pre-historic times. The modern instrument is the most outwardly complex, consisting of a basic tube, rounded into a compact shape culminating in a conical bore or bell, into which a series of valves are centrally set. Before the valve system had been developed, the changing of basic pitch was facilitated by the insertion of a variety of crooks which altered the length of the basic tube, and the changing of certain notes by holding the hand in a variety of subtly differentiated positions within the bell. In a popular context the term 'horn' invariably refers to the saxophone, and for the cor anglais see 'oboe' under the woodwind section above. Traditionally, the French horn section is seated away from the rest of the brass family.

Watch a very informative video about the French horn here.

Trombone

Trombone
descended from the medieval sackbutt, it is the only popular orchestral wind instrument which operates without the use of a valve or key system. The trombone is easily recognisable by its extended elliptical shape culminating in a conical bore, and its distinctive use of a hand-operated slide held out in front, in order to change pitch. The slide can be moved to any one of seven main positions, each of which facilitate a different series of notes. The tenor and bass trombone are occasionally seen (especially the latter), although the alto and double-bass are extreme rarities.

Watch an informative (British) video about the trombone here.

Euphonium

Euphonium 

is a conical-bore, baritone-voiced brass instrument. The euphonium derives its name from the Greek word euphonos, meaning "well-sounding" or "sweet-voiced". The euphonium is a valved instrument; nearly all current models are piston valved, though rotary valved models do exist. The euphonium is a non-transposing instrument known for its distinctive tone color, wide range, variety of character and agility. 

Watch a very talented musician play "Let It Go" from Frozen on the euphonium here.

Tuba

Tuba
not unlike the French horn in basic construction, only more oval in shape and much bigger. The piston valve action is similar to the trumpet, only the valves themselves are situated in the middle of the instrument. A variety of types and sizes exist aside from the typical concert instrument in F (bass tuba), including the tenor tuba (higher), and double-bass tuba (lower), often referred to as a bombardon in a military or brass band context.

Watch an informative video about the tuba here.

String Instruments

Violin

Violin
The violin is a stringed musical instrument comprising four strings tuned a fifth apart. It is the smallest and highest-tuned member of the violin family of string instruments, which also includes the viola, cello and double bass. The lowest string (and hence the lowest note) is the G just below middle C, then in ascending order D, A and E. Sheet music for a violin almost always uses the G clef (treble clef).

Watch an amazing young violinist perform here.

Viola

Viola
A stringed musical instrument, the tenor of the violin family. It is built in proportions similar to those of the violin but has a body length of 37 to 43 cm (14.5 to 17 inches), about 5 cm (2 inches) longer than a violin. Its four strings are tuned c–g–d′–a′, beginning with the C below middle C. The viola’s tone is darker, weightier, and warmer than that of the violin. The modern symphony orchestra contains from 6 to 10 violas. The viola is an integral member of the string quartet and larger chamber music ensembles.

Watch a very informative video about the viola here.


Cello

Cello

is a bowed string instrument with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is a member of the violin family of musical instruments, which also includes the violin and viola.The cello is used as a solo musical instrument, as well as in chamber music ensembles, string orchestras, as a member of the string section of symphony orchestras, and some rock bands. It is the second-largest bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra, the double bass being the largest. Cellos were derived from other mid- to large-sized bowed instruments in the 16th century, such as the viola da gamba, and the generally smaller and squarer viola da braccio.

Watch some fantastic cellists here.


Bass

Bass

The double bass is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra. It is a transposing instrument and is typically notated one octave higher than sounding to avoid excessive ledger lines. The double bass is the only modern bowed string instrument that is tuned in fourths (like a viol), rather than fifths, with strings usually tuned to E1, A1, D2 and G2. The instrument's exact lineage is still a matter of some debate, with scholars divided on whether the bass is derived from the viol or the violin family.The double bass is a standard member of the orchestra's string section, as well as the concert band, and is featured in concertos, solo and chamber music in Western classical music. The bass is used in a range of other genres, such as jazz, 1950s-style blues and rock and roll, rockabilly/psychobilly, traditional country music, bluegrass, tango and many types of folk music.The double bass is played either with a bow (arco) or by plucking the strings (pizzicato).

Watch a video of a guitar and bass performance here.

Percussion

Snare Drum

Snare Drum

is a ubiquitous percussion instrument known for its cylindrical shape and powerful, staccato sound. Snare drums are often used in orchestras, concert bands, marching bands, parades, drumlines, drum corps, and more. The snare is also one of the central pieces in a trap set, a collection of percussion instruments designed to be played by a seated drummer, which is used in many popular genres of music. Snare drums are typically played with drum sticks, although there are other options for a completely different sound, such as the brush.


Here's a very cool student video performance on the Snare Drums.

Marimba

Marimba

is a percussion instrument consisting of a set of wooden bars struck with mallets to produce musical tones. Resonators attached to the bars amplify their sound. The bars are arranged as those of a piano, with the accidentals raised vertically and overlapping the natural bars (similar to a piano) to aid the performer both visually and physically. This instrument is a type of idiophone, but with a more resonant and lower-pitched tessitura than the xylophone.


Check out this wonderful Marimba performance.

Timpani

Timpani

also called kettledrums, are musical instruments in the percussion family. A type of drum, they consist of a skin called a head stretched over a large bowl traditionally made of copper. They are played by striking the head with a specialized drum stick called a timpani stick or timpani mallet. Timpani evolved from military drums to become a staple of the classical orchestra by the last third of the 18th century. Today, they are used in many types of musical ensembles, including concert bands, marching bands, orchestras, and even in some rock.


Here is an informative video about the Timpani.