Musical Instruments: The Brass Family

saxophone
The saxophone. Not technically a brass instrument.

Seated up the back right as you look at an orchestra is the brass family. In typical classical fashion, not all instruments in the brass family are made of brass, and not all instruments made of brass are members of the brass family: the term actually refers to instruments which produce sound through the ‘sympathetic vibration’ of the player’s lips against the mouth-piece of a tubular resonator. Thus the digeridoo, which is made of wood, is technically a ‘brass’ instrument, but the saxophone, which produces sound by means of a reed in the mouth-piece, is not a ‘brass’ instrument. Continue reading “Musical Instruments: The Brass Family”

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Musical Instruments: The Woodwind Family

recorder
Was I born in England? Yes I was. In the 1980s? Yes I was. Am I a girl? Yes I am. Therefore I can play the recorder. Am I exaggerating? Only slightly.

The woodwind family is part of a vast and ancient family of wind instruments, all of which are played by blowing air across a hollow pipe or pipes of varying length. The air stream is concentrated in some way, either by being blown at an angle or by having a narrowing or a ‘reed’ positioned inside or just below the mouthpiece. As the name would suggest, once upon a time all the woodwinds were made of wood, although these days many are made of metal or plastic. The only instrument I can play with any degree of competency is a woodwind – the recorder. Continue reading “Musical Instruments: The Woodwind Family”

Musical Instruments: The String Family

Violin Mae
World-famous violinist Vanessa Mae in concert.

Stringed instruments, strummed, plucked, or played with a bow, have been with us since antiquity: the psalms, for example, contain a number of references to various ‘stringed instruments’. In the world of classical music the term ‘strings’ usually refers to the violin, viola, cello, and double bass, all of which are played with a bow, although the harp, which is plucked and strummed, is also a stringed instrument. Continue reading “Musical Instruments: The String Family”

Introducing the Orchestra

People have been playing instruments together since there were instruments to play, but as classical music became more complex and more instruments were invented during the Baroque and Classical periods, the layout of these groups if instruments also became more complex, resulting in the modern orchestra which we see today. Continue reading “Introducing the Orchestra”