Orchestra Instruments List

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Orchestra instruments are divided into four main sections: string, brass, percussion, and woodwind. Each one is crucial to an orchestra’s sound. And, our orchestra instruments list will give you a closer look to instruments played in symphony orchestras.

String Instruments


A woman playing a violin at the park

This string instrument, also referred to as a fiddle, is known for its hollow wooden body and high-pitched sound. Of course, it is also famous for how it is played. When playing the violin, you’ll need to use your chin to hold it in position. Using your right or left hand, you’ll glide the bow across the strings while your other hand holds the neck. You’ll need to press the strings as you move the bow to create varying sounds.


A musician playing a viola

The viola is the larger counterpart of the violin – 1″ to 4″ larger, to be more precise. Since it is bigger, it doesn’t have the iconic high pitch sound of violins. Instead, it registers a lower and deeper range. As a matter of fact, musicians and scholars consider the viola as the alto voice or the middle ground between a violin and the cello. Like a violin, you can play the viola by bower or plucking.


A musician playing a cello.

Cellos feature strings tuned in perfect fifths, making them the lowest-toned stringed member in an orchestra. Naturally, its music is written in the bass clef but sometimes has passages from higher. You can play the cello using a bow, but like the violin and viola, you can pluck or hit the strings to produce a sound. In addition, their endpin is similar to the double bass resting on the floor.

Double Bass

A double bass on the floor.

The double bass is a noteworthy stringed instrument because it’s the only bowed instrument with a fourth-based tuning. It is also the largest, measuring about 6-feet from the endpin to the scroll.

Brass Instruments


A musician playing the trumpet.

The trumpet is considered one of the most ancient members of the brass family. Starting out as merely a signaling instrument for different occasions, the trumpet has had quite an interesting evolution to become a present-day musical gem.


A kid practicing the trombone.

Rather than a conical bore, the trombone features a distinctive cylindrical bore that terminates into a flared bell. Another unique feature of the trombone is its use of a slide as opposed to valves or keys to alter the pitch. Thanks to the interconnection of long, slender brass pipes, sliding is possible to adjust the length of the instrument accordingly.

French Horn

Musicians playing the French Horns

Next on the brass instruments list after the diverse trumpet family is the French horn or what is sometimes referred to as the tenor horn. In the musical circle, you may also encounter the term, “alto horn”. The truth is that both alto horn and tenor horn mean the same thing. It’s just that the latter is an English term, while the former is an American term.


A group of musicians holding their tubas.

The tuba is not only the largest but also the lowest-pitched member of the brass family. Thanks to its enormous size, it easily stands out from its peers. It is crafted as a long brass tube with an oblong shape and terminates into a super large bell. It may have up to 6 valves.

Percussion Instruments


A picture of gong.

Originating East and Southeast Asia, this circular, flat disk struck with a mallet, issues a loud and resounding sound. The note of a gong sounds for many counts unless stopped. These large disks hang from a supporting post. Some progressive rock bands and jazz ensembles use the gong. The instrument became famous in popular times when featured on an entertainment show called The Gong Show.


A picture of a vibraphone on stage

The musical instrument vibraphone, also known as the vibraharp or vibes, shares its shape with the xylophone. It uses metal bars and mallets covered in wool or felt to strike the metal which has a tuned, tubular resonator beneath it. Striking the metal creates a mellow tone. The resonator helps the vibraphone bars sustain the tones for long note counts.

Snare Drum

A picture of a snare drum.

You’ll find snare drums on most membranophone instruments lists. They’re the most widely recognized drums in both appearance and sound, and they’re ubiquitous in rock bands, orchestras, drum lines, and more.

Bass Drum

A picture of a bass drum

The most distinguishing feature of the bass drum is its sound. It produces deep, resonant vibrations with indefinite pitch. For this reason, bass drums are often used to mark or keep time during a musical performance. They can also create rolls, climactic single strokes, and special effect sounds meant to mimic thunder or earthquakes.

Woodwind Instruments


A picture of a flute on a white background

Flutes are among the oldest musical instruments, with roots pointing back to the Paleolithic period. The flutes of this age were initially made out of animal bones but later transitioned into an enhanced version in the 16th century. 


A picture of woodwind instrument piccolo

The piccolo is one of the tiniest members of the woodwind family, measuring only half the size of a typical flute. Thanks to the small size, the piccolo produces higher notes that add uniqueness to classical music.


A musician holding an oboe

To play the oboe, you simply hold it upright and blow across the double reed while applying both hands on the keys to regulate the pitch. Thanks to their wide-ranged pitches, oboes mostly come in handy when tuning an orchestra prior to the real performance.


A picture of woodwind instrument bassoon on a white background.

The bassoon relies on a double reed attached to a curved mouthpiece made from metal to produce its distinct low-range sound or lower notes. You can play this woodwind by positioning it upright and blowing air into the double reed. While at it, you must use both hands to press the keys to control the pitch.

English Horn

A musician playing an English horn

The English horn is a double-reed woodwind instrument that closely resembles the instruments in the oboe family. Nonetheless, although siblings and played in a similar manner, the English horn is longer and features a wider tube.


A picture of contrabassoon, a woodwind instrument

The contrabassoon is a close cousin of the bassoon – it’s like a more extended version but with a wider pipe. It closely resembles the bassoon that some people call it the double bassoon. 


A shiny saxophone on a leather sofa

Invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1800s, the saxophone has risen in popularity to become a widely used wind instrument in modern orchestras and jazz bands. 


Picture of chimes instrument on stage.

In an orchestra or band, a set of chimes may hang from a block of wood or sit on a platform of wood. To create the musical vibration, the player uses a small stick with a rounded end called a mallet. A set of chimes typically includes eight-round, metal chimes with a hollow center. This provides the player with a full octave range of notes.

Other Instruments In An Orchestra 

  • Keyboard instruments like piano 
  • Harp
  • Glockenspiel
  • Bass clarinet
  • Marimba
  • Timpani 
  • Cymbal

Final Note

That’s all there is to it! The orchestra instruments list is divided into four sections: string, brass, percussion, and woodwind. We hope this article gave you a closer look at each instrument and even encouraged you to learn more about them.


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