What are the Instruments in an Orchestra?

Here is a list of the various instruments in a symphony orchestra, plus information on who plays them and where they are positioned. If you are just a beginner musician you might consider making music stand by your own.

How is Music Created in an Orchestra?

An orchestra is a large group of musicians who play together to make music. Music is created when musicians follow the directions in a score, which is a written document that holds the arrangement of musical notes and cues for when they should be played. A conductor leads the musicians in the orchestra, ensuring that all of the parts are together and working as one. In smaller groups such as a string quartet, all of the musicians play their part.

In a full orchestra, however, there are several different sections, each with its own distinct musical part. For example, there are sections for violins, violas, cellos and contrabasses; these are known as instrumental sections.

There are also vocal sections, most prominently the choir. A conductor does not normally lead a string quartet, but in a full orchestra, the largest instrumental section stands at the back of the orchestra, while the choir sits at the front.

orchestra in a concert hall


The idea of combining several musical instruments to make music isn’t a modern one. Unfortunately, the individual who invented the orchestra is no longer known. It’s estimated that this happened anywhere from 600 to 9500 years ago! Ancient Egyptian drawings show an orchestra playing around 3000 BCE. From this early time until around 1400 CE, orchestras were only used for ceremonial purposes as they were strictly an aristocratic form of entertainment. During the 14th century, orchestras started performing for the public and became popular entertainment. The size of these early orchestras varied considerably, with anywhere from 6 to 45 instrumentalists performing. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the modern-sized orchestra was formed

How Many Musical Instruments are There in an Orchestra?

The average size of a fully equipped symphony orchestra is around 85 to 90 players. However, smaller orchestras are often used for chamber concerts or recordings. Very large orchestras are sometimes used for romantic era works, with over 100 players. Conductor Arthur Fiedler of the Boston Pops fame often used a large orchestra for musical works from the early twentieth century.

Instruments in an Orchestra

Most of the instruments in a full orchestra are classic staples that have been around for hundreds of years. However, there are a few exceptions that are specifically designed for orchestral performance.

Orchestral String Instruments

On the string side of things, the orchestra features a double violin, a violin, a viola, and a cello. The double (or full) violin is the largest string instrument in the orchestra and is typically placed in the middle. Its deep, rich tones provide the harmonic basis for the orchestra. The second largest string instrument is the viola, which is positioned toward the back of the orchestra. The viola provides extra support for the violin in lower registers and adds extra weight to the sound when it's played alone.


The violin is similar to the viola in size but has a more pronounced singing quality to its tone. The viola is somewhat akin to an alto vocalist while the violin is more comparable to a tenor vocalist. The cello is played lying down and has a rich, deep sound that's reminiscent of a double bass. The cello is often thought of as the backbone of the string section. The bass role in orchestral music is often played on the cello. The fourth and smallest string instrument is the viola, which is akin to a tenor vocalist.


There are four woodwind instruments in the orchestra. These include a flute, an oboe, another type of woodwind called a clarinet, and a saxophone. Both the oboe and the flute have hollow bodies and can play phrasings that are both melodic and percussive. The clarinet is similar to the oboe but has an electric wire bow instead of a horn. The saxophone is a jazz instrument but it enjoys international popularity. It's more melodic than the other woodwinds and has a susceptibility to vibrato that's distinctive.


There are two brass instruments in the orchestra- a Trumpet and a French horn. The trumpet is by far the most popular brass instrument in popular music. It can play high, percussive bursts of sound called snaps. The trumpet is also versatile and can play fluid melodic phrases. The French horn is an instrument that's made of rolled brass and possesses a deep, mellow tone. Its most recognizable attribute is its adjustable slide, which all players move to change pitches.

golden trumpet on a table


The percussion section consists of a number of instruments that don't need to be held or blown. This includes a variety of drums, xylophones, and other struck instruments. The percussion section adds accents and beats to the overall sound of the orchestra.

Did You Know?

Most string instruments are made out of wood. The violin, viola, and cello are carved out of a single piece of wood.

The bass is made of several pieces of wood glued together. Woodwinds are made out of wood, with the oboe and flute having holes through which they blow and breathe. The clarinet is made out of rosewood and has two keys. The saxophone is made out of zinc and has up to 24 keys.

All brass instruments are made out of brass. The trumpet has a turned bell, while the trombone has a bowed aerial. Both instruments have lips that touch their openings when playing.

The stringed instruments in the orchestra are joined with a string, bow, and chin-rest. The piano is made out of 88 keys that are grouped into five octaves.

A key can be depressed on a keyboard or piano by using your finger or thumbs. Wooden instruments are naturally more affected by temperature variations than metal instruments. Brass instruments have a brighter, sharper tone when they're new, which over time evolves to a warm, mellow sound.

Final Thoughts

So, now you know the answers to the most common questions about orchestras. Whether you’re a fan of classical music or not, you should support live classical music concerts. Without concert halls and orchestras, we would lose a vital part of our cultural heritage. Plus, there’s no doubt that concerts are a fantastic way to enjoy some relaxing time and to be inspired.

Commonly Asked Questions

What is the largest orchestra instrument?

The largest orchestra instrument is the Double Bass. It is also the lowest pitched instrument in the Orchestra.

Is a saxophone an orchestra instrument?

A saxophone is a single-reed wind instrument that is most commonly used in jazz and blues bands but can be used in a symphony orchestra.

Author - Aleksandra Djurdjevic
Aleksandra Djurdjevic          

Senior Content Creator

Aleksandra Djurdjevic is a senior writer and editor, covering jewelry, accessories, and trends. She’s also works with services, home décor. She has previously worked as ESL teacher for English Tochka. Aleksandra graduated from the Comparative Literature department at the Faculty of Philosophy in Serbia. Aleksandra’s love for the environment, crafts and natural products over the years helps her continue to be a top expert at Wooden Earth.


Just added to your cart:
Excl. postage 
My Bag
Just added to your wishlist:
Excl. postage 
My Wishlist
You can contact us at info@woodenearth.com or use the live chat feature at the bottom of the website!
Spin to win Spinner icon