Explore Instrument Families

  • What Family do the Instruments Belong To?

    Learn the families below, then take the quiz!


  • Instruments from highest to lowest
    • piccolo
    • flute
    • oboe
    • clarinet
    • bass clarinet
    • bassoon
    • contra-bassoon
  • About the Woodwind Family

    All woodwinds were originally made of wood except the saxophone. There are instruments, like the clarinet and saxophone, which use a single reed to create the sound. Some members use a double reed such as the oboe and bassoon.  The flute and piccolo do not use a reed at all!

    • The saxophone was the last woodwind invented.
    • The contrabassoon is the lowest instrument in the entire orchestra!
    • Woodwinds reeds are made of cane which is shaped to fit the instrument.
    • All woodwinds use air to produce the sound.
  • Strings

  • Instruments from highest to lowest
    • violin
    • viola
    • cello
    • double bass
    • harp
  • About the String Family

    String instruments are played by plucking or bowing the strings. The plucking technique for the violin family is known as pizzicato. The piano is an instrument that uses strings, but it is usually included in the percussion family because its strings are hammered rather than bowed or plucked.

    • Early instruments used animal intestine for the strings!
    • A bow is made of a wood or carbon fiber frame with horsehair attached to it.
    • String instruments are “chordophones”
    • Harp has the largest range, 6.5 octaves!
  • Brass

  • Instruments from highest to lowest:
    • trumpet
    • french horn
    • trombone
    • tuba
  • About the Brass Family

    The brass family contains the loudest instruments in the orchestra. In order to create a sound on a brass instrument the player’s lips vibrate inside a mouthpiece and air moves down the tubing. Valves or a slide control the length of the tubing to create different pitches.

    • “Brass” is a yellowish metal made of a combination of copper and zinc
    • Brass instruments were not always made of metal.  Wood and even shells have been used to produce early forms of brass instruments!
    • Valves have not always been a part of brass instruments.  Early “natural” ones could only play the harmonic series in one key.
  • Percussion

  • The number of Percussion Instruments in the Orchestra is unlimited! These are a few common ones:
    • timpani
    • xylophone
    • chimes
    • snare drum
    • triangle
    • cymbals
  • About the Percussion Family

    Percussion instruments are instruments that are struck or scraped to create a sound. They are generally grouped into pitched and non pitched.  Pitched instrument create specific notes such as a xylophone or chimes. Non-pitched instruments such as a snare drum create a sound that does not have a specific note.

    • Orchestras before the 1800s usually used only the timpani for the percussion section.
    • In the twentieth century the use of percussion exploded, sometimes even using non-instruments like the typewriter or brake drum!
    • Unlike other members of the orchestra, a percussionist often plays several instruments in one piece.