This online discussion is open for comments February 25-March 3. An overview of these assignments and how you’ll be graded is available here.
The approximate reading time of this post is quite short (around 2 minutes), but that’s because almost all of the content is listening-based rather than text-based. Below you’ll find links to pages with videos demonstrating various common (and uncommon) musical instruments found in Western classical music, grouped by instrument family (i.e., all the instruments on a single page produce sound in a similar way). There are many more instruments in the world than are included here, but this is a good introduction.
As you read and watch, think about ways you can describe the timbre or sound quality of the various instruments you hear, or other ways to group their sounds besides instrument family—these sonic details, just like the distinctions in sounds you’ve been noticing as you completed your soundscape journals, are what bring all of our other musical elements to life.
Explore and enjoy!
You can hear various instruments combined on this page, which explores different ensembles.
Putting your attentive listening to work
In class, we’ll be listening to examples of symphonies, or large works for orchestra. What instruments a composer uses (or has available) doesn’t just reflect his or her taste or preferences; it’s also determined by the prevailing style of music when he or she was alive.
Here are three examples of symphonies from three different composers: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Classical era), Ludwig van Beethoven (early Romantic), Johannes Brahms (late Romantic). As you listen, use your attentive listening and knowledge of different instrument sounds to learn more about how the symphony orchestra has changed over time:
- What instruments are used: What instrument(s) do you hear? Are some instrument families missing from the complete orchestra?
- How those instruments are used: What instrument(s) are playing the melody? Which are playing the accompaniment? Which are added for color or flavor intermittently?
Mozart, Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201, I. Allegro moderato
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major “Eroica,” I. Allegro con brio
Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 3 in F Major, I. Allegro
As suggested by how many instruments are included in this lesson, and the fact that it barely scratches the surface of all the instruments people play around the world, the world of musical instruments is huge. You can find woodwind, brass, string, and percussion instruments all over the world, and there are infinite combinations out there for you to experience and enjoy.