Every musical instrument falls into the orchestral groups of instruments. If you look at an orchestra from the front, the musicians are sitting in a certain position defined by what instruments that they are playing.
Sections of the Orchestra
To the left of the conductor are the first and second violins, to the right are the cellos and double bases, right in front are the violas, and together all these instruments form the “Strings Section”. In the center behind the violas are the “Woodwind” consisting of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons. Behind these come the French horns, trumpets, trombones and tubas which are all classed as the “Brass”. At the back of the orchestra is the “Percussion” section.
Why Do Some Instruments Belong Together?
As we said, instruments are grouped into certain families, all based on how they make their sounds. But it is rather confusing why certain instruments fit into one group and not another. For instance, the piano forte has strings that vibrate, and they are struck by hammers. So, does it fall into the “Strings” section or the “Percussion?”
Percussion instruments are instruments that make a sound when hit, be it a drum hit with a stick or a tambourine that is hit with the fingers or palm of the hand. Another qualification for percussion instruments are those that vibrate when scratched or rubbed to produce sound. Some of the percussion instruments include: drums, cymbals, triangle, xylophone, chimes, timpani and bells.
Any instrument that is made of metal and makes a sound when blown into can be classed as a Brass instrument. The musician blows through a mouthpiece which makes air vibrate in the instrument making a sound. Most Brass instruments are obvious: trumpet, tuba, trombone, bugle and cornet.
This section is fairly easy to understand, as it is more or less any instrument that produces sound from their strings. It does not matter how the strings create the sound, they may be plucked, or bowed as with a violin or struck like the dulcimer. The stringed instruments include: violin, cello, double bass and harp.
Similar to the Brass section, Woodwind instruments produce sound when air is blown inside them. There are some that have reeds such as a clarinet or those that are blown over a “lip”, as in the flute. Instruments of this section include: clarinet, bassoon, flute, piccolo or oboe. Just to set the record right, a piano is classed as a percussion instrument, although it does have strings, the vibration and thus the noise happens when the strings are hit by hammers. Some modern instruments struggle to be “classically” organized according to these very old classifications. The organ for instance is one such instrument, although it has a keyboard is not classed as a percussion instrument, it actually falls under the Woodwind section.These formal classifications were fine back in the days when they were formulated, but as time has progressed people have managed to get sounds from items which were never dreamed of in the past. As for now, the advice is to simply enjoy the music and not to get too worked up what category a particular instrument belongs to.