Instruments of the Orchestra The String Family | Sunday Observer

Instruments of the Orchestra The String Family

7 February, 2021

As most of you study music we decided to have a look at the compostion of an orchestra and its instruments. Srimal Weerathunge ,Musical Director of the Gustave Mahler Society takes you on this musical journey as part of the Society’s musical education program.

The String section of an orchestra

Have you ever performed with, or seen an Orchestra perform? If so, I’m sure you have noticed many different instruments being played by many musicians. Simply, an orchestra is a large collective of musicians performing together with many different instruments. A modern orchestra generally consists of four different families of instruments. They are the string instruments, woodwind instruments, brasswind instruments and percussion instruments.

Usually, in an Orchestra all these instruments produce their sound acoustically, meaning that they are unaided by electronic equipment for amplification. However, occasionally modern music is produced using electronic instruments, within an orchestra

This week, let’s learn about the string Instruments in the orchestra.

If we look at most orchestral music dating back to early 1600s, one can say that the 'String Family' is the most prominent section of an Orchestra, with several exceptions along the very long journey of orchestral music from then to now, being nurtured and evolved at the hands of many brilliant composers and musicians.


A typical Orchestral string section consists of four main instruments Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass. A string section can be as tiny as 10 players and large as 100 players depending on the type of music being performed.

Construction and sound production.

The construction of these instruments is basically similar to each other. The body of string instruments is made of wood, often different types of wood for different parts of the instruments. The strings held at the tailpiece are spread across the bridge and are connected to the tuning pegs at the opposite end. The strings can be tuned by turning these pegs and sometimes fine tuners.

String Instruments produce sound, by vibrating its string(s). This is done by either using a bow or by plucking the strings with the finger. The bridge helps to keep the strings in place and to transfer the vibrations into the body of the instrument, which then resonates the air inside and amplifies the sound. The strings run along the fingerboard which helps the performer to stop the strings by placing his/her fingers, altering the length of the string, enabling the player to produce different pitches.

The bow is a wooden stick which is connected using horse hair. Modern bows have a screw that enables the player to increase or decrease the tension of the horse hair. Different kinds of bows are used for different instruments. Early bows had a convex shape and looked like hunting bows, while the modern bows are made with a concave shape. A plant resin, 'rosin' is applied on the horse hair to increase their friction which helps the player to create a clean and strong sound. Strings in early periods were made using animal gut and were replaced by steel strings in the later stages.


To be continued next week…