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Lesson 4.12 - Orchestral Instruments

Some basic questions about the instruments of the orchestra will be asked at examination for Grade 4 ABRSM Music Theory. In Trinity College Music Theory exams, this knowledge starts at Grade 3 but only for a limited number of instruments, namely violin, cello, flute and bassoon.



Questions might include:
  • the names of the different instruments and to which orchestral family they belong.

  • the range of these instruments and a knowledge of which clefs are used by them.

  • some terms and signs that apply specifically to certain instruments


Instrument families

Strings: 

Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass


Woodwind: 

Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon


Brass: 

Trumpet, Horn, Trombone, Tuba


Percussion: 

Timpani, Xylophone, Drums (various kinds) Cymbals etc.

One common questions with regard to percussion instruments is to differentiate between tuned (those that possess a specific pitch or pitches e.g. timpani) and untuned (those that have no specific pitch e.g. bass drum)

The above lists are by no means exhaustive but do list some of the more popular instruments



Clefs

The majority of instruments use the treble clef most of the time with the exceptions of the following -

Alto Clef - Viola

Tenor Clef - Tenor Trombone

Bass Clef - Cello, Double Bass, Bassoon, Bass Trombone and Tuba

Other instruments may use other clefs sometimes but the ones given above are the most commonly used.

Terms and Signs

Sordini (or sord) - Mutes as used by stringed and brass instruments.

The following signs are used just by string instruments.
1. Down bow 2. Up bow 3. Play the notes within the slur with one bow 4. Short for pizzicato meaning plucked 5. On the G string 6. Play near the bridge

  1.  Down bow
  2.  Up bow
  3.  Play the notes within the slur with one bow
  4.  Short for pizzicato meaning plucked
  5.  On the G string
  6.  Play near the bridge
The final set of terms and signs are more specifically for the piano.
1. - Una corda stands for 'one string' which is to use the left pedal  (damper pedal) on the piano 2. - Tre corda or 'three strings' means to liftthe left (damper) pedal. 3. - Ped is short for 'pedal' meaning use the right or sustain pedal.  4. - Release the right (sustain) pedal. 5. - m.s. - mano sinistra i.e. play with the left hand. 6. - m.d. - mano destra i.e. play with the right hand. 7. - spread the notes of a chord, starting at the bottom much like a  rapid arpeggio.

  1.  Una corda stands for 'one string'* which is to use the left pedal (damper pedal) on the piano
  2. Tre corda or 'three strings' means to lift the left (damper) pedal.
  3. Ped is short for 'pedal' meaning use the right or sustain pedal. 
  4. Release the right (sustain) pedal.
  5. m.s. - mano sinistra i.e. play with the left hand.
  6. m.d. - mano destra i.e. play with the right hand.
  7. Spread the notes of a chord, starting at the bottom much like a rapid arpeggio.
*The term Una Corda comes from the fact that traditionally on a piano the sound is made quieter by moving the hammer that hit the strings to one side so that it only strikes one of three strings.         

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