What Are the Different Types of Orchestra Groups?

An orchestra is a large group of musicians who are usually brought together to perform classical music. The number of musicians required is determined the type of orchestra and the financial resources available to hire musicians. Orchestras are usually divided into four groups, each of which plays a different instrument family. Strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion are among the orchestra groups. Depending on the size of the concert hall and the type of music being performed, these groups can be arranged in a variety of ways.

Because stringed instruments are typically arranged at the front of the concert stage, they are the most visible of the orchestra groups. Violins, violas, cellos, and double basses are among the strings. Several strings are stretched out along the hollow wooden body of these instruments. When a bow is drawn across the strings and resonates through the wood, sound is produced. The string section is the largest and is responsible for many musical compositions’ basic instrumentation.

The woodwind section is one of the three smaller orchestra groups, and it is usually positioned behind the strings in the middle of the stage. Woodwind instruments include clarinets, flutes, piccolos, oboes, English horns, bass clarinets, bassoons, and contra-bassoons. Blowing into their instruments and modifying the acoustics with a set of keys arranged along the length of the instrument are how woodwind players perform. Some woodwind instruments, such as clarinets, are partially made of wood, while others are entirely made of metal.

Because of their highly polished surfaces and rich sounds, brass instruments are instantly recognizable. The brass section sits behind the woodwinds, and instruments from both orchestra groups are played in a similar way, with the performer producing sound exhaling into a hollow tube. Trumpets, French horns, trombones, and tubas are examples of brass instruments. Some of these instruments are quite large and can produce a powerful bass sound.

The percussion section is the smallest of the orchestra sections, and its size varies the most between works. This section includes drums, timpani, xylophones, bells, and other instruments. These instruments are played striking two instrument pieces together with a stick, similar to how cymbals are played. During a performance, some compositions call for a person to play a variety of percussion instruments. The percussion section is usually placed behind the rest of the performers at the back of the stage.

While the major orchestra groups are represented in these four sections, other instruments may appear on the concert stage. Orchestra pieces frequently feature instruments such as harps, pianos, and organs, but they are rarely organized with the other orchestra groups. Depending on their importance to the composition, these instruments may appear on different parts of the stage. Featured pianists will frequently perform in the orchestra’s front row, while minor performers will often appear to the side or rear.

Orchestras can be divided into groups based on size and style, in addition to instrument divisions. A symphony orchestra, also known as a philharmonic orchestra, is a large ensemble with several dozen members. The Nashville Symphony Orchestra in Tennessee, for example, has about 85 members as of 2011, while the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Massachusetts has around 100 members. Chamber orchestras are typically smaller, consisting of only a few dozen musicians. Other groupings are even smaller, with ensembles typically containing only a few or slightly more members and quartets containing a clearly defined four members.