Introduction to Classical Music/Instruments

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Orchestra[edit]

An orchestra is a group of musicians who play many different instruments. These can include violins, flutes, bassoon, piano, and much more. The term, orchestra, is named after the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus.

If an orchestra is smaller, of around 40 musicians, it is called a chamber orchestra. Big orchestras with over 80 musicians are called symphony orchestras or philharmonic orchestras. The number of musicians playing in a certain piece will vary based on the work and the size of the venue.

Orchestra sample: Brahms - Academic Festival Overture

Keyboard[edit]

A keyboard instrument is any musical instrument played using a musical keyboard. The most common of these is the piano. Other keyboard instruments include organs as well as other harpsichords, clavicords, electric keyboards, and more.

Some of the oldest keyboard instruments are the pipe organ, the clavichord, and the harpsichord. The organ is the oldest of these. It was invented in the 3rd century BC. From its invention until the 14th century, the organ remained the only keyboard instrument. Often, the organ didn't feature a keyboard at all. Instead, it had buttons or large levers which were operated by a whole hand.

The clavichord and the harpsichord were invented during the 14th century. During their development, a B-flat key was added to the keyboard and the other semitones were added later. The harpsichord and the clavichord were both very common until the widespread adoption of the piano in the 18th century, after which their popularity decreased. The piano was revolutionary because a pianist could vary the volume (or dynamics) of the sound by varying the vigor with which each key was struck.


Modern Piano[edit]

Piano Sample: Scenes from childhood - Robert Schumann

Harpsichord[edit]

Guitar[edit]

The guitar is a musical instrument that has been around for a long time and has been used in a wide variety of musical styles. It typically has six strings, but four, seven, eight, ten, and twelve string guitars also exist.

Guitars are often thought of as the primary instrument in blues, country, flamenco, rock music, and many forms of pop. They can also be used alone. Guitars may be played acoustically, which means that the tone is produced by vibration of the strings and affected by the hollow body. They may also rely on an amplifier that can electronically affect tone. Such electric guitars were introduced in the 20th century and continue to have a big influence on popular culture.

Traditionally guitars have usually been constructed of combinations of various woods and strung with animal gut, or more recently, with either nylon or steel strings.


Guitar Sample: Suite Espanola Op. 47 - Leyenda


Violin[edit]

The violin is a bowed string instrument with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest and highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which also includes the viola and cello.

A violin is sometimes called a fiddle, regardless of the type of music played on it. The word "violin" is from the Romance languages from the Middle Latin word vitula, meaning "stringed instrument"; this word is also believed to be the source of the Germanic "fiddle". A person who plays the violin is called a violinist or fiddler.

Violin sample: Introduction et Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28


Woodwinds[edit]

A woodwind instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound when the player blows air against an edge of, or opening in, the instrument. This causes the air to vibrate. Most commonly, the player blows against a thin piece of wood called a reed. Most of these instruments were originally made of wood, but some, such as the saxophone and some flutes, are now usually made of other materials such as metals or plastics.


Types of woodwind instruments[edit]

Single-reed instruments use a reed, which is a thin cut piece of cane or plastic that is held against the aperture of a mouthpiece with a ligature. When air is forced between the reed and the mouthpiece, the reed vibrates, creating the sound. Single reed instruments include the clarinet and saxophone families of instruments.

Double-reed instruments, use two precisely cut, small pieces of cane joined together at the base. The finished, bound reed is inserted into the top of the instrument and vibrates as air is forced between the two pieces of bound cane. There are two types:

  • Exposed double reed instruments, where the reed goes between the player's lips. The oboe, cor anglais (also called the English horn) and bassoon make up the more popular instruments within this family.
  • Capped double reed instruments, where there is a cap covering up the reed with a hole in that the player just blows through. This family includes most bagpipes, the crumhorn, and the shawm.

Flutes produce sound when air is blown across an edge. There are two types:

  • Open flutes, where the player's lips form a stream of air which goes directly from the players lips to the edge, such as transverse flutes and end-blown flutes. Modern concert flutes are usually made of pure metal or a combination of metals including nickel, silver, and gold.
  • Closed flutes, where the instrument forms and directs the air stream over the edge. This family includes fipple based flutes like whistles and the recorder family.

Voice[edit]

Vocal music is music performed by one or more singers, with or without non-vocal instrumental accompaniment, in which singing provides the main focus of the piece. Music which employs singing but does not feature it prominently is generally considered instrumental music as is music without singing. Music without any non-vocal instrumental accompaniment is referred to as a cappella.

Vocal music typically features sung words called lyrics, although there are notable examples of vocal music that are performed using non-linguistic syllables or noises, sometimes as musical onomatopoeia. A short piece of vocal music with lyrics is called a song.

Vocal music is probably the oldest form of music, since it does not require any instrument besides the human voice. All musical cultures have some form of vocal music.