Instruments and their families


Instruments can be split up into different groups, or families. These relate to the way an instrument is played, the sound it makes or the material it is made from. The main five groups are: Strings, Brass, Woodwind, Keyboards, and Percussion.


Stringed instruments are "chordophones" which means they make sound by vibration of their strings. This family includes:

* Violin
* Viola
* Cello
* Double Bass
* Harp
* Guitar (electric and acoustic)

All except guitars are found in symphony orchestras


Brass instruments are - surprisingly enough - usually made of brass. They are "aerophones" so produce sound as the air blown through them vibrates in the tubes. They use a series of valves (or a slide) to produce the required pitch, passing the air through a longer or shorter distance of tubes. The longer the distance, the lower the note. Some Brass instruments include:

* Trumpet
* Trombone
* Tuba
* French Horn
* Cornet
* Tenor Horn
* Euphonium

The first four are found in symphony orchestras


Woodwind instruments are, as their name suggests, usually made from wood, and create sound with the aid of wind. They are "aerophones", and produce a note in most cases by air passing across a reed, which causes air inside the instrument to vibrate before being amplified. The exceptions to this are flute and picollo. These instruments can be single- or double-reeded. Some examples are:

* Flute
* Oboe
* Clarinet
* Bassoon
* Piccolo
* Cor Anglais
* Bass Clarinet
* Contra Bassoon

The first four are found in symphony orchestras, the others only occasionally.


Keyboard instruments have a keyboard, like a piano, that you play and which then produces the given note for you. This family includes:

* Piano
* Harpsichord
* Organ
* Electric organ
* Electric keyboard
* Clavichord


Most percussion instruments are "idiophones" - make sound when hit - or "membranophones" - make a sound through the vibration of a stretched skin. The percussion family is very large, and includes:

* Timpani (kettle drums)
* Drums
* Cymbals
* Maracas
* Bongos
* Woodblocks

The list goes on and on...