Instruments of the Orchestra

The Four Families

There are many different kinds of instruments, and each one makes a different and unique sound. Some instruments are "related" to each other, because the way they make sound is similar to each other. We can group most instruments into four different "families". They are Strings, Brass, Woodwinds, and Percussion. When all of these instruments play together as a group, it is called an orchestra.

Before we begin, take a look at what an entire orchestra looks like:

String Family

String instruments make a sound when a player vibrates a string by "plucking" or using a bow.

Plucked string instruments:

"Plucked" instruments are played when a player uses their fingers or a pick or strum a string. Let's look at some of the instruments that are plucked in order to make a sound:






Bow string instruments:

Some string instruments use a bow to make sound. A bow is a piece of wood with horse hair connecting the two ends. A player rubs the hair along the strings of the instrument which makes the string vibrate. Here is what a bow look like:

Most of the string instruments in an orchestra use a bow. These instruments can also be plucked, but most of the time they use a bow to make a sound.




Double Bass

Brass Family

Brass instruments make sound when a player's lips vibrate into a mouthpiece. Every brass instrument uses a mouthpiece. A player's lips "buzz" into a mouthpiece, and when it's connected to the rest of the instrument, it makes a sound.



French Horn


Baritone / Euphonium

Woodwind Family:

Woodwind instruments make their sound when a player blows over a reed or an edge.

Reed instruments:

Some woodwinds use a reed to make sound. A reed is a small piece of wood that the player attaches to the mouthpiece and blows air over. As air travels over the reed, it vibrates against the mouthpiece to make sound. Here are some reed woodwind instruments:





Edge instruments:

Some woodwinds use an edge to make a sound. A player blows over the edge and the air is split into two columns. As the air is split, it vibrates and creates a sound. Here are some edge woodwind instruments:





Percussion Family

Percussion instruments make sound when they are struck, or hit. These instruments can be split into two categories; melody and rhythm percussion instruments.

Melody percussion instruments:

These instruments are pitched, which means they can play different notes and melodies.





Rhythm percussion instruments:

These instruments are unpitched, which means they are unable to play different notes. They can make different sounds, but they are meant to add to the rhythm of a musical piece, not the harmony or melody.

Snare Drum

Bass Drum

Cymbals / Gongs


There are many other examples of rhythm percussion instruments. Can you think of a few more?