This is the fourth of our instructor-led online discussions for Mu 101 (Fall 2019). Refer to the handout you received the first day of class (click on this highlighted text to go to that page our class website) which describes the amount and kinds of contributions you’re expected to make to these online discussions — they’re all the same parameters of good conversation that happens offline, too!
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.
Before we begin: A reminder about effective discussion forum participation
Most importantly for blog-style discussions, do not try to answer all of the questions I’ve posed. Focus on the ones that you have a strong reaction to, and learn from other people’s comments that address the other questions. Leave space for others to move the conversation along. There is no prize for trying to do it all yourself.
Limit each of your comments to addressing a single question or topic. By doing so, you make it easier for others to see your point quickly and easily, rather than letting your good idea get lost in the middle of a long, multi-topic post. If you have several different ideas you want to share, make several different comments. Let each idea speak for itself.
The goal of this discussion
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!
Links to instrument families and voice types
Instrument families (each family name below is a link to a web page with videos of instruments in that family):
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 (from the links to videos above) 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.