An orchestra is most commonly known for its collection of string instruments, such as the violin and the cello. However, many of today’s orchestras also include a selection of other instrument types from the brass, woodwinds and percussion categories, making the group’s music more varied and dynamic.
Chamber vs. Symphony Orchestra
There are two major designations for orchestras: chamber and symphony.
Chamber orchestras typically have less than 50 members, such as school bands, and play music that requires fewer instruments. Historically they were formed to perform in small chambers like private palaces.
Symphony orchestras, on the other hand, could be comprised of several hundred members. Since symphonies were written to be played in large concert halls using 20 or more unique instruments, they are much larger and more complex.
The types of musical instruments generally included in the orchestra are very broad, but the largest portion is typically made up of string instruments. Violins, violas, cellos, double basses and harps all make an appearance.
Violins are the most popular and most needed instrument of the group, usually employing one group to play the melody, and a second group to play the accompaniment.
In a chamber orchestra you can expect to have 15-20 violinists present, while you will probably only have about 5 cellists, one or two bassists and maybe a harp or viola.
String instruments are rarely tasked with performing all alone. Rather, they are often combined with flutes, clarinets, and even the booming timpani drums.
There is room in most orchestras for instruments other than strings to join in. However, space will usually be limited because a single trumpet or a pair of clarinets is often more than enough to balance the sound of the strings. Likewise, you can expect only a handful of percussion players present until you reach the symphony orchestra level.
Ultimately, it will be up to the conductor of any orchestra to know how many of each instrument is needed. Different styles of music require different types of instruments, and can shift the landscape of the orchestra around the core string players.
However, even if you choose an instrument that is more typical of a concert band, there are plenty of opportunities to join an orchestra as well.
Your Schmitt Music store has everything your beginning band or orchestra student needs from instruments & accessories to private teachers & method books. Visit our Violin Shop at Schmitt Music Brooklyn Center to work with a specialist when it’s time to upgrade to an intermediate or professional instrument.