Instruments of the Modern Symphony Orchestra








Carl Fischer Wordmark.png
Boylston Street
So. Wabash Ave.
Copyright 1917

International Copyright Secured

• • • CONTENTS • • •


• • • PREFACE • • •

IN view of the rapidly increasing number of Symphony Orchestras throughout the country, and the consequent wide-spread interest in the better class of orchestral music, a demand has arisen among music-lovers and students for information concerning the instruments that constitute the modern symphony orchestra. The purpose of this little book is to supply such information as is really needful to the intelligent concert-goer. It is designed to occupy a middle place between the profound technical treatise on the one hand and the insignificant handbook on the other. Its scope covers briefly the construction, tonal qualities, range, and special uses of each instrument, not in its solo capacity, but rather as part of the orchestral ensemble.

Through the courtesy and co-operation of artist members of the New York Philharmonic Society and the Metropolitan Opera House Orchestras it has been possible to illustrate not only the proper manner of holding the various instruments, but also to give a correct idea of their relative sizes—impossible when instruments alone are depicted.

A few words concerning the orchestra as a musical unit may prove of interest. The orchestra as a whole may be regarded as a single, great instrument possessing almost limitless musical possibilities. When one considers that each individual member of an important orchestral organization is an artist who devotes his life to an instrument which, like the human voice, is capable of producing but one tone at a time (double-stopping on the strings need not here be considered), it is not surprising that the results obtained by the intelligent co-operation of seventy-five to a hundred such artists under masterful leadership easily transcend the efforts of the greatest pianist or organist, who is called upon to render with ten fingers all the harmonies and simultaneous melodies which may occur in a piece of music.

Not only is the orchestra capable of rendering at one time a multiplicity of independent themes, but by virtue of the many different tone colors which characterize the various instruments, the melodic line traced by each individual voice may be easily followed by the attentive ear, while all the voices blend in one harmonious whole. It is this complete independence of each voice in respect to power, tonal quality, and style of phrasing which makes the orchestra unapproachable as a means of musical expression.

Many volumes have been written concerning the varying excellence of instruments of the string family, but it does not seem to have been recognized that both woodwind and brass instruments vary greatly in quality of tone, accuracy of intonation, ease of blowing, and perfection of mechanism—all of which depend upon the skill of the makers. Moreover, each individual instrument, be it flute, oboe, bassoon, horn, trombone, or what not, has its own faults and its merits.

Of the wind instruments it has often been said that the slide trombone excels all others in accuracy of intonation, and in this respect is unique in being the equal of the stringed instruments. This statement must not be taken too literally. An artist possessing a fine instrument—be it woodwind or brass with valves—can play perfectly in tune by delicate regulation of lip tension and manner of blowing. Thus all good instruments are susceptible of being played in tune if the player is skilled and his ear is perfect.

In giving the range of the different instruments, it has not been possible to indicate a precise upper limit. The trend of modern orchestration is to extend the upward range of all instruments. This is no doubt due to constantly increasing efficiency on the part of orchestral players. Nevertheless, the skillful orchestrator refrains from imposing needless difficulties on his performers. Simple, idiomatic scoring is likely to yield more beautiful results because the player is free to concern himself with shading and phrasing and is not distracted by uncomfortably high notes or inconveniently devised passages.

It is worthy of note that no absolute novelties in orchestral instruments have been invented for several hundred years. Combinations of previously existing types have been devised, such as the Saxophone. There have also been many improvements in mechanism, such as the Boehm flute; valves have been added to horns and trumpets—greatly to their advantage, but despite the inventive genius which has been directed toward the subject of orchestral instruments, no essentially new form of tone-producing device has been evolved. Perhaps the reason for this is not far to seek. The instruments of the orchestra of even Mozart's day afford such a variety of colors that may be exploited separately or in infinite combination, that, under the hands of a master of orchestration, the wealth is so great as to leave practically nothing to be desired.



Maximilian Pilzer
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

The violin is the leading instrument of the orchestra, it owes its preeminence to the fact that while its tone-qualty is sufficiently indefinite to admit of its use for long periods without palling. It is also capable of expressing the widest possible range of emotions.

Throughout its entire range of over four octaves the most rapid passages may be executed with all degrees of power, from the faintest whisper to the most brilliant fortissimo.

In symphony or grand opera orchestras there are likely to be about thirty violins in all, grouped in the proportion of sixteen first and fourteen second violins.

The four strings are made of sheep-gut. The lowest of these—the G string—is overspun with wire, either pure silver or silver-plated copper.

Plucking the strings is known as pizzicato playing.

The bow is strung with a fine quality of white horsehair.

The range of the violin with all chromatic intervals is: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 g1_"G"\glissando \ottava #1 b''''_"B"^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \bar "||" }

The four strings are tuned in fifths. Thus: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 4/1 g1_"G" d'_"D" a'_"A" e''_"E" \bar "||" }

Instruments Modern Orchestra p012.jpg
The mute (sordine) placed on the bridge subdues the vibrations and creates a mournful, mysterious effect.


In England
Tenor Violin
Tenor • sometimes Alto

Joseph J. Kovarik
Principal Viola
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

In appearance and in the manner of holding and playing, the viola is essentially the same as the violin. It is, however, a trifle larger, and its longer, heavier strings are tuned a fifth lower than those of the violin. The lowest two—the C and the G—are wire-spun.

The use of the viola as a solo instrument is rather rare, but its timbre (tone quality), veiled and somewhat nasal, is admirably adapted to the rendition of strains where a certain quality of sadness prevails and where the more open and brilliant tone of the violin would be far less appropriate.

In large orchestras about three-quarters as many violas as second violins are employed. They are most frequently used as harmony instruments, either alone or in combination with the second violins.

Viola parts are written in the alto clef—middle C on the third line. This clef is best suited to the compass of the instrument, leger lines being seldom required. For very high passages the treble clef is employed.

The pizzicato is used exactly as with the violin; also the mute, which is a trifle larger.

The viola is tuned: { \clef alto \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 4/1 c1_"C" g_"G" d'_"D" a'_"A" \bar "||" }

The range of the viola with all chromatic intervals is: { \clef alto \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 c1_"C"\glissando \clef treble e'''_"E"^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \bar "||" }



Leo Schulz
Principal Cello
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

Although the principal use of the cello in the orchestra Is to supply the bass part of the harmony—with the double-bass usually an octave below—its full, rich penetrating tone, combined with an unusually large range, renders the Cello one of the most frequently used voices in solo passages. It is equally telling in the bass, tenor, and soprano registers.

It is tuned in fifths, one octave below the viola, and its lowest two strings, the C and the G, are wire-spun. In Symphony and grand opera orchestras the number of cellos is likely to be slightly more than half that of the first Violins.

All the effects in bowing, pizzicato, use of the mute, etc., May be advantageously employed on the cello.

Cello parts are usually written in the bass clef, but the Tenor Clef—middle C on the fourth line—is frequently employed where the parts run rather high. For the highest Solo passages the treble clef (the G clef of the violin, piano, etc.), is used.

The cello is tuned: { \clef bass \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 4/1 c,1_"C" g,_"G" d_"D" a_"A" \bar "||" }

The range of the cello with all chromatic intervals, is: { \clef bass \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 6/1 c,1_"C"\glissando b_"B" \clef tenor c'_"C"\glissando g'_"G" \clef treble a'_"A"\glissando a''_"A" \bar "||" }

  1. This instrument is frequently miscalled the "violincello." Its derivation (italian) is "violone"—double-bass; "Cello"—small.



Umberto Buldrini
Principal Bass
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

To this instrument are assigned normally the deepest bass parts of the score. Basses are mounted with three, four, or five strings. The four-string variety is most widely used, having almost completely supplanted the three-string instruments. In modern symphony orchestras the five-string bass is making rapid headway, its special advantage being the downward extension of its compass to low (16 foot) C—one octave below the C string of the cello.

As tuning in fifths would be impracticable on this large instrument. A series of fourths is employed in order that scale and passage work may lie more conveniently under the hand. Usually there are two less basses than cellos in symphony and grand opera orchestras.

Parts for the double bass are written an octave above their actual sound in order to avoid the constant use of leger lines below the staff. The bass is thus one of the so-called "transposing instruments" whose pitch differs from its staff representation.

The two lowest strings are wire-spun. The bow is short and sufficiently sturdy to suit the requirements of the heavy strings. The pizzicato is very effective, and the use of the mute is by no means uncommon.

The four-string bass is tuned: (sounds an octave lower) { \clef bass \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 5/1 \parenthesize c,1_"C"_"(Five String)" e,_"E" a,_"A" d_"D" g_"G" \bar "||" }

The range of the bass with all chromatic intervals is: { \clef bass \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/1 \parenthesize c,1_"C"_"(Five String)" e,_"E" a'_"A" \bar "||" }



Charles Schuetze
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

Although of great antiquity, the harp has only recently attracted the attention of serious musicians. It was originally a diatonic instrument and modulation out of the key was not possible. Its adoption as an art instrument dates from the year 1810, when Sebastian Erard invented the double-action harp, the mechanism of which has hardly been improved to this day. In fact, it may be said that Erard left this instrument as complete as the Italian luthiers left the violin.

The harp is tuned to the scale of C flat major, but by the use of the seven pedals, each scale tone may be raised one or two semitones, depending upon whether the pedal is depressed one or two of the notches provided. Thus it is possible to play in all keys, though the instrument remains essentially a diatonic one, chromatics being available only at moderate tempo and under conditions which must be studied before attempting to write for the instrument.

The strings are of gut, those of the lower register spun with metal wire. To assist the eye all the C's are colored red and the F's blue. The notation of harp parts is the same as that of the piano. Although the harp is hardly a regular member of the orchestral family, one or more harps are frequently called for in modern scores. Their brilliant, scintillating effect is too well known to require description. Harmonics are possible and are of ethereal beauty in soft passages.

The range of the harp is: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 \clef bass ces,,1\glissando \ottava #1 \clef treble ges''''^\markup { \halign #3 to } \bar "||" }



Ernest F. Wagner
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

The flute and the piccolo are the only wood-wind instruments played without a reed, the performer blowing across a hole in the side instead of into the end of the tube. As in all other wood-wind instruments, differences in pitch are obtained by opening and closing the finger-holes and keys.

The flute is usually made of wood, though metal flutes, provided with various and elaborate key-systems, are by no means uncommon. The most perfect modern type is known as the Boehm flute. Named after Theobald Boehm, who in 1832, modified and greatly improved its construction and intonation. Boehm flutes are made of wood or of silver—either solid or plated.

The flute is the most agile of all the wind instruments, and with the exception of the piccolo, the highest in pitch. It is equally effective in staccato and legato passages. Repeated notes may be rapidly executed by "double-tonguing."

The sombre, low notes are very characteristic, but are useful only in solos or in soft combinations. The medium register, is sweet and liquid; the highest notes, brilliant and piercing.

Symphony orchestras usually require three flute players, the third of whom is provided also with a piccolo, to be used when required by the score.

The range of the flute is: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 c'1_\glissando c''''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \bar "||" }


Italian German French
Flauto Piccolo
Kleine flöte Petite flûte

Ernest F. Wagner
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

The piccolo flute (italian "Piccolo" small) or piccolo is slightly less than half the size of the ordinary flute. Its technic is the same, but its range, an octave above that of the flute, is also slightly restricted at both ends of its compass, the lowest note being D and the highest useful note B flat.

The first octave is weak and of little effect, its tones being better replaced by the second octave of the flute. The second octave of the piccolo is useful for imparting brilliancy in fortissimo passages, or it may be used for extending the upward range of the wood-wind, either forte or piano, by continuing a passage when it passes above the compass of the flute. The highest notes are shrill and piercing; they are excellent for tearing, whistling effects in music of a stormy or terrifying character.

The use of the piccolo in the orchestra is incidental rather than normal. When three flutes are employed, the third, or the second and third players, take the piccolo part or parts where indicated in the score.

Parts for the piccolo are written an octave below their actual sound in order to avoid the constant use of leger lines above the staff. It is therefore a "transposing instrument."

The range of the piccolo is: (sounds an octave higher) { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 d'1\glissando bes'''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \bar "||" }



Frederick de Angelis
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

The oboe is a reed instrument of conical bore terminating in a small flaring bell. It is played with a double reed consisting of two blades of very thin cane bound together, in such a manner as to leave a small opening through which the air is blown into the instrument. The vibration of this reed sets the column of air in motion, thus producing the tone, the pitch of which is controlled by opening and closing the finger-holes and keys.

The characteristic tonal quality of the oboe is reedy and somewhat nasal. Its lowest tones are loud and strident, and must be used with the utmost discretion. The highest tones are difficult of production and are of doubtful utility, the flute taking these pitches more effectively. It is in the medium register, comprising about an octave and a half, that the oboe excels in charm and flexibility. Its voice is pastoral, tender, and not without a touch of sadness, but it may also express joyous and graceful phrases with excellent effect.

The oboe is the most assertive of the wood-wind instruments, owing to its incisive tonal quality. Two, and often three oboes are employed in symphony orchestras, the third performer being also provided with an english horn to be used when required by the score.

The range of the oboe is: { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 bes1\glissando f'''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \bar "||" }


Corno inglese
Cor anglais
Englisches Horn

Romeo Boninsegna
Metropolitan Opera House
Orchestra, N.Y.

The name of this instrument is misleading, as it is neither english nor a horn, but simply an enlarged or alto oboe, fingered and blown the same as the ordinary oboe. It has the same range (thirty-two notes), but is pitched a fifth lower. The two or three highest notes are seldom used, as they are difficult of production and of inferior quality to notes of the same pitch taken on the oboe.

Its tonal quality lacks the artless gayety and sprightliness obtainable on the oboe. It is nobler, richer, and somewhat veiled. It blends admirably with all the other instruments of the wood-wind group, even its lowest tones being available in soft combinations without fear of cutting through the tonal mass.

The english horn, in reality, is a transposing instrument in F, though not so designated in the score. It speaks a fifth lower than its notation, so that, for instance, the sounding scale of C would require the notation of the scale of G. Hence it follows that the english horn calls for one more sharp (or one less flat) in its signatures than do violins, violas, flutes, and other instruments pitched in C. The english horn part is usually played by the third oboist.

The range of the english horn is: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 bes1_"Written"\glissando f'''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } | ees_"Sounds"\glissando bes''^\markup { \halign #3 to } \bar "||" }



Gustave Langenus
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

Unlike the oboe, english horn, and bassoon, the clarinet is of cylindrical bore, and is played with a mouthpiece to which is bound a single flat reed of cane.

Owing to its large range, variety of tone colors, facility of execution, and power of swelling and diminishing its tones, the clarinet is generally conceded to be the most useful, as well as the most beautiful, of all the wood-wind instruments.

The clarinet comprises four registers, which can be blended without perceptible break by the skillful performer. The first or lowest is dark and ominous. The second consists of four or five dull, weak, notes of inferior quality. The third or medium register is of singular beauty, combining nobility, tenderness, and that limpid quality for which the clarinet is distinguished. The highest register is brilliant, but difficult to subdue, hence useful mainly in forte passages.

Clarinets are made in five or six different keys. All except the clarinet in C are transposing instruments. In the modern symphony orchestra the two (or three) clarinets are pitched in A or in B flat. The latter sounds one tone lower than written; the former, in A, sounds a tone and a half lower than written. Compositions in sharp keys are usually scored for the a clarinet in flat keys for the B flat instrument.

The range of the clarinet is: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 e1_"Written"\glissando c''''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } | d_\markup { \center-column { Sounds "(B♭ Clarinet)" } }\glissando bes'''^\markup { \halign #3 to } | cis_\markup { \center-column { Sounds "(A Clarinet)" } }\glissando a'''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \bar "||" }


Corno di Bassetto
Cor de basset

Jan A. Williams
Metropolitan Opera
House Orchestra N.Y.

The name basset-horn, like english horn, is misleading. The instrument was invented in the year 1770 by a german clarinet maker by the name of Horn. He called his invention basset—"Horn," which means "Little bass (clarinet made by) Horn." the Italians and french, unaware of this circumstance, translated the name "horn" literally, hence the designations "corno di bassetto" and "cor de basset," both of which are misnomers.

The basset-horn is a tenor clarinet in f provided with additional keys which extend its downward range to C instead of E, as in ordinary clarinets. The bell joint is made of metal and is more flaring than that of other clarinets. Owing to the wide bore of the instrument, the tone of the basset-horn is particularly rich and agreeably reedy.

Among the great composers, Mozart stands foremost in his appreciation and use of this beautiful instrument, having employed it in several of his operas, in chamber music, and in his requiem. Since his time it has gradually fallen into disuse, for what reason it is difficult to conjecture, but on account of its fine tone and facility of execution it is again attracting the attention of serious orchestral composers. It is written in the treble clef as a transposing instrument in F, its tones sounding a fifth lower than its notation.

The range of the basset-horn is: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 c1_"Written"\glissando g'''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } | \clef bass f,_"Sounds"\glissando \clef treble c'''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \bar "||" }


Clarinetto basso
Clarinette Basse
Bass klarinette

Jan A. Williams
Metropolitan Opera
House Orchestra N.Y.

This instrument is pitched an octave lower than the ordinary clarinet. Its peculiar form has been adopted for convenience in playing, and has no influence on its tonal quality, which (as in the case of the English horn when compared with the oboe) is similar to, though not identical with, that of the regular clarinet.

It has neither the liquid quality in the medium, nor the menacing quality in the low register that distinguish the ordinary clarinet, but its full, rich, organ-like tones form excellent basses for the wood-wind section, especially in sustained legato passages. In the execution of rapid staccato notes it cannot compete with the bassoon. It is one of the most eloquent of solo voices, standing pre-eminent in the rendition of motives expressive of dignity and nobility.

Although the bass clarinet is made in A as well as in B flat, it has been found that, owing to its slowness of speech, no passages are likely to be written which require execution too rapid for convenient performance on the B flat instrument. One B flat bass clarinet is therefore all that is required in the symphony orchestra. It is usually provided with a low E flat key. This gives the instrument the same downward range as the bass clarinet in A.

The range of the bass clarinet is: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \cadenzaOn \accidentalStyle forget \parenthesize ees4_"(Usually)" e1_"Written"\glissando g'''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \bar "||" \clef bass \parenthesize des,4 d,1_\markup { \center-column { Sounds "(Bass Clarinet" "in B♭)" } }\glissando \clef treble f''^\markup { \halign #3 to } \bar "||" }



Auguste Mesnard
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

The bassoon is the natural bass of the oboe family, it is a double-reed instrument of conical bore with a tube about nine feet long, doubled upon itself for convenience of handling. It has an extreme compass of three and a half octaves, of which, however, the four, of, five highest notes are seldom used.

The tones of the lowest octave are full and rich and of ample power to form a foundation for the entire wood-wind section. The medium register is not especially resonant but is characterized by an agreeable dryness which is absolutely unique. Possessing neither the incisive bite of the oboe nor the liquid beauty of the clarinet, and with limited capability for swelling and diminishing the tone, the bassoon rivals the flute itself in the rendition of staccato passages. Thus employed, its dry croaking tones are irresistibly comic and are of great service to the composer in depicting the humorous or the grotesque. When used in combination with clarinets or horns, the bassoon is extremely valuable for supplying a harmonic middle to the orchestral mass. The high notes from E flat up to B flat are of singularly appealing beauty and have been called "vox humana tones."

The bassoon is a non-transposing instrument. the bass, tenor, and treble clefs are used in its notation. Symphony orchestras usually require three players, the third of whom is also provided with a contra-bassoon to be used when required by the score.

The range of the bassoon is: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \cadenzaOn \clef bass a,,4_"Sometimes" bes,,1\glissando b_"B" \clef tenor c'_"C" g'_"G" \clef treble a'_"A" e''_"E" \bar "||" }



Max F. Wenning
Metropolitan Opera
House Orchestra N.Y.

This ponderous instrument, also called contra bassoon, is pitched an octave below the bassoon, to which it bears the same relation as does the double bass to the cello. It is usually about sixteen feet long, but is doubled on itself four times to make it less unwieldy. Although it has a possible range of three and a half octaves, its principal use is to extend the downward range of the bassoon, thus supplying a solid, deep-pitched foundation for the wood-wind section.

The tones comprising the two lowest octaves are the most valuable. They are employed both in forte and piano passages, though the subduing of the deepest tones requires great skill. The soft attack is all but impossible. The tonal quality differs little from that of the ordinary bassoon.

Although not a modern instrument, its use was long restricted, owing to imperfections in intonation. Recent improvements have made its use more general, and the third bassoonist of symphony and grand opera orchestras is always provided with a double bassoon to be used when required by the score. It is a transposing instrument in the same sense as is the double bass, parts being written an octave above their actual sound.

The range of the double bassoon is: (sounds an octave lower.) { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \cadenzaOn \clef bass \parenthesize bes,,4_"Seldom" c,1_"C"\glissando f'_"F"^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \parenthesize a'4 \bar "||" }



Ben Vereecken
Sousa's Band

This instrument was invented in the year 1840 by the eminent Belgian instrument-maker and inventor, Adolph Sax, from whom it derives its name. Its novelty consists in the use of the clarinet single reed applied to a tube of extreme conical bore. The instrument thus combines important features of the clarinet and the oboe families—the single reed of the one with the taper bore of the other.

The saxophone is made of brass, frequently silver-plated, and comprises a family of seven different sizes, of which the most generally used are the soprano in B flat, alto in E flat, tenor in B flat, baritone in E flat, and bass in B flat. Of these five the soprano is the least pleasing and the alto and tenor the most.

In quality of tone the saxophone possesses the characteristic reediness of the clarinet, to which, however, is added a certain brazen tinge, combined with a string quality akin to that of the cello. The volume is greater, but the flexibility inferior to that of the clarinet or the bassoon.

Saxophones are of greater utility in military bands than in the orchestra, though modern composers, particularly the French, are introducing two, three, or four of them into their scores. They have an extreme range of two and one-half octaves, and are all written in the treble clef as transposing instruments in B flat or E flat.

The ranges and actual sound of the saxophones most used are:

<< \new Staff { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \cadenzaOn bes1^"Soprano (B♭)"\glissando dis''' \bar "||" bes^"Alto (E♭)"\glissando f''' \bar "||" bes^"Tenor (B♭)"\glissando f''' \bar "||" bes^"Baritone (E♭)"\glissando ees''' \bar "||" bes^"Bass (B♭)"\glissando ees'''! \bar "||" }
\new Staff { \clef bass aes_"Actual Sound"\glissando \clef treble cis''' \clef bass des\glissando \clef treble aes'' \clef bass aes,\glissando \clef treble ees'' \clef bass des,\glissando \clef treble ges' \clef bass aes,, \clef treble des' } >>



Frank Corrado
Metropolitan Opera
House Orchestra, N.Y.

The original form of french horn (hand horn, waldhorn, cor du chasse, etc.) consisted of from nine to eighteen feet of coiled brass tubing, the precise length of which depended upon the key in which the horn was pitched. This instrument possessed very limited chromatic possibilities and it has become practically obsolete. In its place the modern valve horn in F is used almost exclusively. Its tube is about twelve feet long, and by virtue of its valve mechanism it can produce all chromatic tones within its range of three and one-half octaves. As in all brass instruments, the tone is produced by the vibration of the lips pressed against a mouthpiece, which in the case of the horn, is small and funnel rather than cup-shaped.

The tone of the horn, except when forced and rendered "Brassy" for the production of dramatic effects, is pure and noble. Its lovely, mellow tones blend as perfectly with the wood-wind as with the brass choir. The horn thus forms a connecting link between these two sections of the orchestra.

The horn is of inestimable value, both as a melody and as a harmony instrument. Its soft notes possess a remarkable pervading quality which is felt rather than heard, while a unison passage played ff by the four horns with which every symphony orchestra is provided, will cut through the entire orchestral mass.

The horn is probably the most difficult of all the wind instruments, and that it is the most treacherous is evidenced by the slips occasionably made by even the finest performers. The F horn is a transposing instrument. Both treble and bass clefs are used. F horn parts in the treble clef sound a fifth lower; in the bass clef, a fourth higher, than written.

The range of the F horn is: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 \clef bass fis,,1_"Written"\glissando \clef treble c'''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \bar "||" \clef bass b,,_"Sounds"\glissando \clef treble f'' \bar "||" }

(The five highest and the five lowest notes are difficult of production)


Tromba clarino

Edwin Franko Goldman
Metropolitan Opera
House Orchestra, N.Y.

The trumpet is a brass instrument, the tube of which is one-half the length of that of the french horn in the same key, and it therefore sounds an octave higher, than the horn. The modern orchestral trumpet is provided with the usual three valves, which give it a complete chromatic scale within its compass of about two and one-half octaves. The mouthpiece differs from that of the horn in being cup-shaped rather than conical.

Although the older scores and indeed many modern ones call for, trumpets in a variety of keys—C, D, E flat, F, etc., the trumpets in B flat and A are used almost exclusively, the trumpeters, like hornists, transposing their parts at sight when transposition is necessary. These two instruments offer, the same facility as B flat and A clarinets for playing in flat and sharp keys. In the case of the trumpet, however, only one instrument is necessary—that in B flat—as its pitch may be instantly lowered to a by drawing a telescopic slide or by employing a special valve mechanism.

The quality of tone of the trumpet is brilliant, noble, and wonderfully penetrating in FF. Its softer accents are clear and pure, still retaining the characteristic nobility and incisiveness of the louder tones. Trumpets, like cornets and horns, may be muted by means of a pear-shaped device set in the bell. Two, and often three, trumpets are required in a symphony or grand opera orchestra.

The range of the trumpet is: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \cadenzaOn fis1_"Written"\glissando c'''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \parenthesize e'''4 \bar "||" e1_\markup { \center-column { Sounds "(B♭ Trumpet)" } }\glissando bes''^\markup { \halign #3 to } \parenthesize d'''4 \bar "||" dis1_\markup { \center-column { Sounds "(A Trumpet)" } }\glissando a''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \parenthesize cis'''4 \bar "||" }



Edwin Franko Goldman
Metropolitan Opera
House Orchestra, N.Y.

This instrument is similar to the valve trumpet in all respects except that its bore is slightly conical instead of cylindrical the mouthpiece also differs from that of the trumpet in being less cup-shaped, thus tapering more gradually into the main bore of the instrument. These two features combine to render the tone of the cornet coarser and thicker than the clear, brilliant tone of the trumpet.

The cornet is rare in the modern symphony orchestra, though it was of undoubted utility during the period prior to the introduction of valve trumpets. Two cornets in addition to two trumpets, were then employed, their special function being to supply the chromatic tones lacking on the plain trumpet.

Owing to its ease of blowing and its pleasing, mellow tone, the cornet is still much used in amateur and in professional small orchestras; also in military bands. It is made in B flat and is provided with a slide or a valve mechanism which instantly transforms it into an "A" instrument. In compass and in the manner of writing it is precisely like the valve trumpet. Cornets, like other similar brass instruments, may be muted by means of a pear-shaped device set in the bell.

The range the cornet is: { \override Staff.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \cadenzaOn fis1_"Written"\glissando c'''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \parenthesize e'''4 \bar "||" e1_\markup { \center-column { Sounds "(B♭ Cornet)" } }\glissando bes''^\markup { \halign #3 to } \parenthesize d'''4 \bar "||" dis1_\markup { \center-column { Sounds "(A Cornet)" } }\glissando a''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \parenthesize cis'''4 \bar "||" }



Fred L. Blodgett
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

This instrument differs radically from the other brasses in its possession of a free-running telescopic slide instead of valves. This slide enables the performer to adjust the speaking length of his instrument and its consequent pitch to a nicety. In fact, the precise manipulation of the slide of the trombone is analogous to the correct location of the finger on the fingerboard of stringed instruments. There are also trombones with valves, but as they possess no advantage beyond mere facility of execution and are inferior, in tone and precision, they are not used in first-class orchestras.

The tone of the trombone is akin to that of the trumpet—less brilliant, but somewhat richer, and fuller. This difference in tonal quality is due in part to the inner, formation of the mouthpiece which, though cup-shaped, is less shallow than that of the trumpet. Although the fortissimo of trombones surpasses that of any other instrument, an exquisite pianissimo is also obtainable. The former, is gorgeously majestic; the latter, mysteriously solemn. Trombones may be muted like trumpets and horns.

Of the three trombones used in a symphony orchestra, all may be tenor, instruments (in B flat) or, the lowest part may be played by a bass trombone (in G). The range of the latter is from low C sharp up to G, a minor third below that of the tenor instrument. All trombones are treated as non-transposing instruments. Both the tenor, and bass clefs are used in the notation.

The range of the tenor trombone is: { \clef bass \cadenzaOn aes,,4_\markup { \center-column { "Pedal Notes" "(Seldom Used)" } } a,, bes,, \bar "||" e,1\glissando \clef tenor bes'^\markup { \halign #3 to } \bar "||" }



Fred. Geib
N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra

The tuba is the double bass of the brass section of the orchestra. It differs essentially from the trumpet in that its tube is conical and not cylindrical—that is to say. It gradually widens from mouthpiece to bell. The tuba is usually provided with four valves, the fourth of which gives the instrument an extended and valuable downward range.

Prior to its introduction into the orchestra by Wagner the tuba was used only in military bands. It is now a recognized member of the orchestral family, having entirely supplanted the ophicleide, the deep-toned brass instrument formerly used.

Although tubas are made in several different keys—F, E flat, C, and B flat, they are invariably treated as non-transposing instruments when used in symphony or grand opera orchestras.

The tone-quality of the tuba is full and organ-like in soft and medium passages. When played to the limit of its power it takes on a brilliancy and "Snap" akin to that of the trombone. It blends exceedingly well with the string basses, the effect of the combination being to impart to the very low tones a clarity and definiteness of pitch unattainable by any other means.

The range of the tuba is: { \clef bass \time 2/1 \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f f,,1\glissando f'^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } \bar "||" }


André Benoist

This instrument was invented in 1886 by Mustel, of Paris, the eminent manufacturer, of harmoniums. It is a small keyboard instrument and consists of a series of steel plates suspended over, accurately tuned wooden resonators. The plates are struck by small hammers and damped when the keys are released by an action similar to that of the pianoforte.

The tone of the celesta is of exquisite purity. While lacking the power, and the sparkling brilliancy of the glockenspiel it excels that instrument in mellowness and refinement of tone as well as in facility of execution.

Until comparatively recent times the celesta was little used by other than French composers, though Tschaikowsky was early attracted to it and promptly introduced it into several of his ballets. Of late years, composers of all nations, notably Puccini and Richard Strauss, have included parts for this instrument in their orchestrations. The celesta is especially effective in combination with harps, supported by the soft chords in the woodwind. It is usually treated as a transposing instrument, the celesta part being written an octave below the actual sound.

The range of the celesta is: { \clef bass \time 2/1 \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f c1_"Written"\glissando \clef treble \ottava #1 c'''' \ottava #0 \bar "||" c'\glissando \ottava #1 c'''''^\markup { \halign #2.5 to } }



Chris. Chapman
Metropolitan Opera
House Orchestra, N.Y.

The kettle-drum consists of a hemispherical bowl of brass or copper, over which a parchment head is stretched. By varying the tension of the head by means of six or eight screws working on an iron ring, higher or lower tones of definite pitch are obtainable. Various mechanical means have been devised for changing the pitch of the drum by a single screw or lever (after equalizing the tension of the head by separate screws), and only the high cost of drums so equipped has prevented their general adoption.

Timpani are played with two drumsticks, the heads of which are usually solid balls of felt. Such sticks produce a velvety, musical quality of tone not unlike that of the double bass pizzicato. For dramatic effects, where harshness and terrifying noise are the aim of the composer, the use of wood-headed sticks, sometimes covered with leather, is indicated.

Timpani possess an almost unlimited dynamic range, from the faintest tap or rumble to a thunderous fortissimo. Detached notes are used for accentuating the rhythm, and the roll is invaluable for adding life and motion to sustained chords.

A pair of timpani consists of a large and a small drum. Three or more drums are employed with additional drummers on exceptional occasions. As the timpanist must be prepared to vary the tuning of his drums during performance, he must possess a fine ear, if not, indeed, absolute pitch.

The range of the timpani, with all chromatic intervals, is: { \clef bass \time 2/1 \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f f,1_\markup { \column { Large Drum } } c \bar "||" bes,_\markup { \column { Small Drum } } f \bar "||" }


Italian German French
Gran Cassa Grosse Trommel Grosse Caise
Cassa Grande
Or Simply Cassa

This instrument gives a deep, booming sound of no definite pitch. It is played with a single, soft-headed drumstick with which tolerably close rolls are possible by the skillful performed in loud passages its function is to augment the general volume of sound and especially to accentuate the rhythm. Struck softly it produces a dark, ominous effect which may be well employed in certain dramatic situations.


Italian German French
Tamburo Militare Kleine Trommel Tambour (Militaire)
    Caisse claire

This small drum derives its name from the thin strings of gut, called snares, which are stretched across its lower head. The peculiar rattling sound characteristic of this drum is due to the vibration of these snares against the lower head when the upper head is beaten. The snare drum is played with two sticks of hardwood. The pitch is indefinite.

The technic of the snare drum is a difficult one to acquire, many years practice being required to produce a close, even roll this is obtained not by rapid single strokes, but by the alternation of double strokes with each hand. The use of this drum in the orchestra is chiefly confined to the production of a military atmosphere.


Italian German French
Campane Glocken Cloches

Orchestral chimes consist of a series of accurately-tuned tubes of steel or bell-metal. They are graduated in size like organ pipes and are suspended from a suitable framework of wood. Their tone effectively simulates that of deep-pitched cathedral chimes and they serve in the orchestra to produce an atmosphere of solemnity, especially in music of a religious character. The tubes are struck near the upper end with a wooden mallet.


Italian German French
Piatti Becken Cymbales
Cinelli Cinellen

A pair of cymbals consists of two discs of resonant metal formed not unlike large dinner plates and about twelve inches in diameter. They are held by means of a loop of leather attached to the center of the instrument and passed around the hand of the performer. Cymbals are played, not by clashing them together, but by striking their edges with a sliding movement. Like other art instruments, cymbals may be of fine or of poor quality, producing a brilliant, lasting. And terrifying tone, or an impotent, dull smash, like broken crockery. The pitch is indefinite.

From motives of economy, one of the cymbals is often attached to the bass drum, the two instruments being played by the same performer; but as the cymbals lose much of their characteristic clash by this treatment, it is not followed in first-class orchestras. One cymbal is sometimes held in the hand and struck with the bass drumstick a single stroke or even a roll. Thus used the cymbal takes on something of the character of the gong. When short notes are required, the tone is damped by quickly bringing the cymbals against the chest.


Italian German French
Tam-tam Tam-tam Tam-tam

This instrument has come to us from China and is a round plate of hammered bronze with the edges turned up like a large tambourine. It is struck with a soft bass drumstick. Its effect in fortissimo is that of a terrible clangorous uproar which is of the utmost service to the composed when depicting scenes of horror. Struck more gently, or pianissimo, its effect varies between the solemn and the lugubrious. It is used mostly in connection with deep chords sustained by the brass instruments or by the lowest tones of clarinets and bassoons. It is an instrument without definite pitch.


Italian German French
Triangolo Triangel Triangle

This instrument, as its name implies, consists of a bar of steel bent in triangular form with one angle open. It is hung by a cord to a music stand or any suitable bracket and is struck with a small steel rod. It produces a bright, tinkling sound, without definite pitch, and is used to enhance light, fairy-like movements by marking the rhythm. The trill is of frequent occurrence and is executed by alternately striking two sides of the triangle.


Italian German French
Campanetta Glockenspiel Carillon
    Jeu de timbre

The orchestral glockenspiel consists of a series of from twenty-seven to thirty-seven graduated bars of steel, chromatically tuned, and mounted and played in similar manner to the xylophone. Its possibilities of execution are the same as the xylophone, but in the absence of any method of damping the tone, passages in too rapid tempo sound confused and are of poor effect. The clear, bell-like tones of this instrument are sparkling in their brilliancy and are of an incisive quality that penetrates the entire orchestra. A noteworthy use of the glockenspiel by a great composer is in the last act of Wagner's "Meistersinger;" also in "Siegfried," and especially in the magic fire scene in "Die Walküre."


Italian German French
Xilofone Xylophon Xylophon
  Strohfieldel Claquebois

This is an instrument of great antiquity. It consists of twenty-seven (or a few more) hardwood blocks, graduated in length mounted on taut cords, and all set in a suitable framework. The blocks are arranged in two rows, like the keys of a piano, and are accurately tuned. The instrument is played by striking with two light, flexible beaters of willow or boxwood.

The tone of the xylophone is hard, dry, and rather hollow in quality. Very rapid passages, including trills, are possible by the skillful performer. Its use in the symphony orchestra is occasional and solely for the production of unusual—especially humorous effects.


Italian German French
Castagnette Kastagnetten Castagnettes

A pair of castanets consists of two shell-like pieces of hardwood hinged together by a cord. The pair played by the left hand is usually the larger and is used to mark the main time. The smaller right hand pair executes embellishments on the main rhythm, some of which are extremely complicated in character. The castanet is of Spanish origin, and is used in the orchestra to impart local color in compositions of a Spanish character. It produces a characteristic, dry click, without definite pitch.


Italian German French
Tamburino Baskische Trommel Tambour de Basque
  Schellen Trommel  

This little instrument is said to have been in use practically unchanged for the past two thousand years. It consists of a small wooden hoop, on one side of which is stretched a parchment head, the other side being open. The hoop is cut away at intervals to allow the insertion of small pairs of metal plates called jingles. The head, when struck by the hand, gives forth a treble drum-like sound without definite pitch. The jingles may be trilled by shaking the instrument without striking the head. The use of the tambourine in the orchestra is confined mainly to the production of oriental effects, though the jingles alone are sometimes employed in connection with other percussion instruments in music of a violent or barbaric nature.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1944, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.