Music | The Orchestra

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What is this episode about?

Learn about the orchestra and its sections in this new Music episode from English Plus Podcast.

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The sound of an orchestra playing is a thrilling experience. An orchestra is a group of musicians who play musical instruments. Some orchestras have more than 100 musicians. Yet when they play together, the orchestra sounds like one mighty musical instrument.


Most of us think of a symphony orchestra that plays classical music when we hear the word orchestra. But there are other kinds of orchestras in different parts of the world. Indonesia, for example, has the gamelan. The gamelan is an orchestra made up of drums, xylophones, gongs, chimes, and other percussion instruments. In Russia, a balalaika orchestra includes many different sizes of stringed instruments called balalaikas.


The instruments in a symphony orchestra belong to four different groups. These groups are known as the string, woodwind, brass, and percussion sections.

More than half the instruments in an orchestra belong to the string section. The instruments in the string section are violins, violas, cellos, and double basses. The violin can play the highest notes of all the stringed instruments, so the violins often play the tune. The violins are split into two groups known as first and second violins.

The woodwind section is usually made up of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons. The woodwinds sometimes carry the melody. The sounds of the woodwinds also blend and contrast with the sounds of the strings. Some composers have written music for additional woodwinds, such as the piccolo, bass clarinet, or double bassoon.

The brass section is made up of French horns, trumpets, trombones, and a tuba. The brass instruments play loud peaks in the music and impressive solo (single instrument) passages.

The most important members of the percussion section are the drums. Orchestras usually have several kettle drums. Each kettle drum sounds a different note when it is played. Other percussion instruments include the snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, xylophone, and triangle. The percussion instruments are used to produce loud sounds and to emphasize rhythms.

In addition to these four main sections, the symphony orchestra often has extra instruments such as a harp or a piano.


The musicians in an orchestra have to play together. A conductor stands in front of the orchestra. He or she directs the players with hand movements to keep them in time. Most conductors hold a short white stick called a baton. The baton makes it easier for the players to see the conductor’s movements.

The conductor decides where everyone in the orchestra will sit. The usual seating arrangement has the string section at the front. The violins sit to the left of the conductor. The violas, cellos, and double basses sit to the conductor’s right. The woodwind and brass sections sit behind the strings. The percussion section is at the back.


There are different kinds of orchestras. A symphony orchestra plays symphonies and other classical music at performances called concerts. An opera orchestra accompanies the singers in an opera—a drama where words are sung rather than spoken. Ballet orchestras play the music for a kind of dance called a ballet.

Opera orchestras and ballet orchestras have the same sections as symphony orchestras. A standard symphony, opera, or ballet orchestra has about 100 musicians.


Something that is thrilling is very exciting and enjoyable.

very exciting or stimulating

I have seen them play many times, but never as thrillingly and flawlessly as tonight.


mighty is used to describe something that is very large or powerful.

mighty is used in front of adjectives and adverbs to emphasize the quality that they are describing.

having or indicating might; powerful or strong


A symphony is a piece of music written to be played by an orchestra. symphonies are usually made up of four separate sections called movements.

an extended large-scale orchestral composition, usually with several movements, at least one of which is in sonata form. The classical form of the symphony was fixed by Haydn and Mozart, but the innovations of subsequent composers have freed it entirely from classical constraints. It continues to be a vehicle for serious, large-scale orchestral music

an extended composition for full orchestra, usually having several movements


The strings are the section of an orchestra which consists of stringed instruments played with a bow.

The strings on a musical instrument such as a violin or guitar are the thin pieces of wire or nylon stretched across it that make sounds when the instrument is played.

violins, violas, cellos, and double basses collectively


The woodwind is the section of an orchestra which consists of woodwind instruments such as flutes and clarinets.

woodwind instruments are musical instruments such as flutes, clarinets, and recorders that you play by blowing into them.

of, relating to, or denoting a type of wind instrument, excluding the brass instruments, formerly made of wood but now often made of metal, such as the flute or clarinet


The brass is the section of an orchestra which consists of brass wind instruments such as trumpets and horns.

brass instruments are musical instruments such as trumpets and horns that you play by blowing into them.

the large family of wind instruments including the trumpet, trombone, French horn, etc, each consisting of a brass tube blown directly by means of a cup- or funnel-shaped mouthpiece


The percussion is the section of an orchestra which consists of percussion instruments such as drums and cymbals.

percussion instruments are musical instruments that you hit, such as drums.

the family of instruments in which sound arises from the striking of materials with sticks, hammers, or the hands


If something splits or if you split it, it is divided into two or more parts.

If an organization splits or is split, one group of members disagrees strongly with the other members, and may form a group of their own.

A split between two things is a division or difference between them.


A conductor is a person who stands in front of an orchestra or choir and directs its performance.

a person who conducts an orchestra, choir, etc

On a bus, the conductor is the person whose job is to help passengers and check tickets.


A baton is a light, thin stick used by a conductor to conduct an orchestra or a choir.

A baton is a short heavy stick which is sometimes used as a weapon by the police.

In athletics or track events, a baton is a short stick that is passed from one runner to another in a relay race.


If someone makes an arrangement of a piece of music, they change it so that it is suitable for particular voices or instruments, or for a particular performance.

An arrangement of things, for example flowers or furniture, is a group of them displayed in a particular way.

An arrangement is an agreement that you make with someone to do something.


If you accompany a singer or a musician, you play one part of a piece of music while they sing or play the main tune.

If one thing accompanies another, it happens or exists at the same time, or as a result of it.

If you accompany someone, you go somewhere with them.

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