The most common connotation with orchestras and symphonies is that most of the musicians are playing stringed instruments, particularly violins. Violins in an orchestra are usually placed in front, moving in a synchronized pattern which carries the harmony or leads the symphony as one group or a unit.
String instruments are also called chordophones, which is one of the four categories of classifying musical instruments in the Hornbostel-Sachs scheme. Chordophones or stringed instruments make use of strings or cords as the player either by stretching, plucking, or bowing to vibrate the strings to create a sound.
The instruments listed below are probably the most seasoned instruments made for the advanced ensemble, and some early symphonic music is even composed exclusively for this area. Finally, the harp and the piano are instruments that are time tested in the string family, merely relying upon the timespan when the music was being played.
What is the Stringed Instrument?
String instruments are classified into subcategories: there are bowed instruments like the violin, viola, cello, and double bass, also viols, gambas, and fiddles, which was used during the Baroque period and in many types of folk music.
Though, these instruments are not strictly for bowing movements only but can also be plucked with fingers. This technique of plucking is called pizzicato. There is a wide variety of techniques like in electric guitars or electric violins, where a “plectrum” is used for strumming, or even a tapping movement on the instrument’s fingerboard to create vibrations is amplified electronically to produce a sustained sound. A “plectrum“, also called a “pick“, is a small flat tool usually made of plastic, that is used to pluck or strum stringed instruments like the guitar or mandolin.
Stringed instruments that are mainly plucked is the harp and electric bass. In many other cultures, chordophones come in shapes and forms like the sitar in India, rebab in Muslim countries, banjo with African origins, mandolin from Italy, ukulele in Hawaii, and bouzouki in Greece.
Usually, we only often see five types of stringed instrument which take part in orchestras but with the advancement of contemporary music and popularity of world music genres, have changed the Orchestral 5.
How Do String Instruments Work?
Violin is the most commonly used among string instruments, next is the viola, cello, and the double (string) bass.
These four instruments are made by putting pieces of wood together to form a hollow box wherein sound would resonate and amplify in. Although this is a simple explanation, it is much complex than that. String instruments depend heavily on its shape, type of wood, the thickness of the wood at the top and bottom of the instrument, and also the varnish that its coated with. Another factor is the strings, which are arranged by the thickness, length, and tightness—these three things manipulate the pitch of the sound.
The action of creating sound using stringed instruments is that the vibrations created by strumming, plucking or bowing travel from the strings to the bridge of the instrument and transmitted to the body of the instrument, which is the soundbox, and within it, air particles vibrate. These minute actions in an enclosed or hollow structure of the instrument amplify the sounds to make it more audible to the audience and musicians.
So, a musician with the act of plucking, strumming, stretching, or with the use of another instrument like a hammer or bow, or even a combination of two actions, will be able to produce a sound or a harmonic sequence.
String Instruments List With Pictures
The most commonly used instrument in the string family, the violin is known as the soprano or the “star” of the orchestra. Along with its position in an orchestra and its role in it, the violin leads the symphony and has the greatest number of notes played per year.
The violin is also known for its byname, “fiddle“. The violin is set to be an offshoot of the medieval instrument fiddle and evolved continuously to the Renaissance era. The violin is considered to be the baby of the Stringed family because of its size and higher articulation. The length of a violin is approximately 14 inches, though variants, which are only a fraction of that length can be found such as ½, ¾ and 7/8 . These miniature violins are for kids since their fingers can barely reach all positions in a regular-sized instrument.
String instruments take the most significant shares in a lot of classical compositions, and there are cases when there must be at least 30 violinists alone in an orchestra, often in two groups having different roles—the first and second violins. These two groups vary—First violins play the melody, while Second violins play parts between harmony and melody.
In an orchestra, violas are the middle tone or Alto, although, it is shaped like the violin, with its larger stature, it produces a deeper and warmer voice.
The violin and viola are mostly the same; it is played with the same action as bowing or plucking, as well as the tuning principles. It is also held by holding the body of the instrument with the use of the chin, neck, and shoulder, the left hand is used for fingering notes, while the right hand usually holds the bow. Though the violin is held in this position, manufacturers have made it available for left-handers.
In particular, the viola has a lower pitch in range as follows—C3, G3, D4, and A4. In an orchestra, a group of violists is usually composed of 10-14 people. Violas usually play the harmony though many composers have written solo parts for violists, and is appreciated because of its rich and warm tones.
The cello, or violoncello, is also a bowed instrument. Contrasted with the violin and viola, this one is a lot greater in size (approximately 4 feet long). Due to its proportions, it is played in an upright position, supported by a steel peg, placed between the knees while the neck of the instrument rests on the shoulder of the cellist. In this way, the musician needs to play it in a sitting position. It is approximately four feet in length.
While mold in the same shape as the two-stringed instruments mentioned before, its stature makes the cello impossible to play if it’s carried. This instrument is also said to be the closest comparison to the tone of a human voice. Ensembles employ about eight to 12 cellists and play both the roles of harmony and melody.
4) Double Bass
The double (string) bass, which aligns itself as one of the bigger instruments in the Stringed family and the biggest stringed instrument in orchestras, is more than six feet in length. It is played in the same upright position as the cello because of its size; sometimes, the musician needs the support of a stool. In classical music, this instrument is also bowed, albeit, in different kinds of music genres, it is popular because of its unique sound and technique made from percussion-like activities.
The Double Bass’ sound follows the pattern of size—with the increase of size, there is a decrease in sound vibrations. It sounds in a strong octave well beneath the cello’s, which is a deeply-seated foundation where the ensemble is dependent on. Because of this reason alone, it is an indispensable piece in an orchestra.
It is like a cello, however, a lot greater. It is large to the point that you should stand when playing it. Besides, the requirement for those who would handle it is generally tall individuals, whose arms are sufficiently long to reach all the positions on the instrument. Mostly, there are 6-8 double basses, and every one of them plays harmony for the most part.
With its pitch and range in tone, the bass became mainstream outside the classical music genre. It is a fundamental instrument in jazz bands, and to a great extent utilized in modern, popular music. It is usually seen as being played with a bow, much as its string counterparts like the same cello, violin, and viola. Be that as it may, jazz bass players lean toward various systems, such as the plucking the strings. In jazz, the double bass plays both harmony and melody.
In contrary to other instruments in the String family, while not a fundamental feature in an orchestra, the harp is a unique instrument. It is molded with a frame that resembles the number seven (7). The harp’s 47 strings are attuned to the piano’s white keys, and with pedals at the foot of the harp, it permits players to move along the size of the harp (approximately 6 feet tall) to produce the “dark key” note sounds.
Usually, it is tuned in the C Major scale, which makes it suitable to the seven modes effortlessly, depending on the key it is accompanying. The seven modes in musical notation are Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian, which was established since the middle ages.
Harps are as tall of the double bass, towering around six-feet, harpists the instrument by sitting and placing it opposite to them; it is played by plucking the strings. Though in symphonies, harps aren’t composed to specifically, crowds acknowledge the harp because of its mitigating and divine sound.
The harp is likely to be one of the absolute first instruments in mankind’s history. It was mentioned in classical literature and poetry in names like the lyre from Greek Mythology’s Orpheus. It is also seen in a lot of antiquated Egyptian creations where they play this instrument in ceremonials. Centuries have passed, and yet, the harp remained to a great extent unaltered as its basic working principle remained unaltered—plucking is still the manner of playing this instrument.
The modern harp that is seen today is presumably created a couple of hundred years back. From that point forward, it is a fundamental piece of an ensemble, which gives it a one-of-a-kind texture and feel to the whole performance, on account of its form but also elegant tone color.
The significant differences between the musical instrument in the stringed family are its size and tones. The smaller its size, the higher its pitches. The bigger its size, the lower pitches it plays. In general, the violins are always arranged to play the melody, whereas, cellos, violas, and basses are typically arranged to play the supporting roles in the orchestral setting.