Lockdown Lesson 10

Instrument Families – Recap

I hope you all had a lovely Easter Break! Last term we looked at different instruments and their families: keyboard, strings, brass, woodwind, and percussion. Before we move on to our next topic – different styles of music – we’re going do recap with one last lesson on ALL the instrument families.

Here are some questions to get you started. For each group, the instrument names are given but in the wrong order. You need to:
a) match the instrument with its correct name; and
b) name the instrument family

GROUP 1: tuba, trumpet, trombone, French horn

GROUP 2: organ, harpsichord, accordion, celesta, piano, keyboard

The next two groups are both from the same instrument family.

Group 3a: violin, harp ‘cello, double bass, viola

Group 3b: Ukulele, electric guitar, bass guitar, acoustic guitar

Group 4: Cymbals, xylophone, drum kit, glockenspiel, timpani

Group 5: Clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, saxophone

Answers (instrument names from left to right):

Group 1: Brass. trumpet, French horn, trombone, tuba

Group 2: Keyboard. Top row: celesta, organ, keyboard/digital piano/synthesiser
Bottom row: harpsichord, accordion, piano (or grand piano)

A bit tricky because harpsichords look like grand pianos, and celestas look like upright pianos.

Group 3a: Strings (orchestral string – the violin family and harp). Double bass/contrabass, cello/violoncello, viola, violin, harp.

This can be difficult to tell apart unless you have a form of reference – the main difference is their size, which you can see by comparing the instruments with each other or with their bows. A string quartet (group of four string players) doesn’t include all four of the violin-type instruments as you might it expect. Instead, it contains two violins, one viola, and a cello – no contrabass.

a string quartet – from left to right, two violins, cello, viola.

Group 3b: Strings (lute family). Ukulele, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar

Electric guitars and bass guitars look similar, but the bass has four strings to the guitar’s six. You can tell the number of strings by counting the tuning pegs on the head of the guitar.  The ukulele also looks like an acoustic guitar, except it is much smaller and only has four strings.

bass (four strings, left) and electric guitar (six strings, right)

Group 4: Percussion (or drums). Top row: drum kit, timpani
Bottom row: cymbals, glockenspiel, xylophone

The difference between a glockenspiel and a xylophone is the material they are made from: glockenspiels are metallic, xylophones are wooden.

Group 5: Woodwind. Flute, saxophone, oboe, bassoon, clarinet.

The most obvious difference between the oboe and the clarinet is the mouthpiece – the wooden reed sticking out of the top of the oboe makes it clear which instrument it is.

Mouthpieces for clarinet (single reed, left) and oboe (double reed, right).

How did you do? Now you’re warmed up, let’s listen to some music and see which instruments you can pick out.

Music Examples

How many instruments can you pick out from this disco song by The Brother’s Johnson, ‘Stomp’? You’ll need to use your ears as well as your eyes – I count 11, one of which can be heard but not seen.

Which instrument family is featured in this piece, ‘Company’ by Philip Glass? Can you name the three different instruments found in this quartet? (2:46-4:26 only)


Now for some jazz with Pat Metheny Group. Which instruments can you spot? Watch until least 5:06 to see all the instruments.


This next piece is quite long but I’m going to ask you to listen to the whole thing. Firstly, there are a lot of instruments to spot. Secondly, these classical pieces really need to be heard in full to appreciate them. Most music we hear on the radio is 3-4 minutes long, but classical pieces can last for much longer.

Back then, people didn’t have recordings, so the only music they would hear is if they played it themselves or if they went to a performance. Being able to hear music composed and performed by geniuses is something we take for granted today but then it was a real special occasion, and a luxury most people couldn’t afford.

If you’re used to only hearing short songs, listening for longer can take practice, but it is worth it to appreciate these incredible works of art. When you’ve finished identifying the instruments you could help yourself focus by drawing or writing about what you hear.

This is Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor and is made up of three movements (pieces). I’d like you to just listen to the first movement, which ends at 15:15.

Listen out for the section between 11:50 and 14:17, which is called the candenza – a section of music where the composer indicates for the performer to write or improvise a solo before the full orchestra returns for an exciting ending. The incredible cadenza in this performance was actually written by another great composer, Beethoven!


Well done for concentrating on that! It’s long but I think very exciting, and I hope you enjoyed it. Here’s something a bit different to finish with – Jess Glynne performing at the Brit Awards.


1. Electric guitar, bass guitar, two keyboards (one digital piano and one synth – if you put those as answers that’s great!), drum-kit, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, congas, tambourine, and violins (which can be heard but not seen in the video. If you put strings that’s fine too). The answer could be 12 instruments if you include vocals.

2. String family (or violin family) – this is multiple string quartets playing at the same time, but the instrumentation is string quartet: violin (x2), viola, and cello. No double-bass/contrabass.

3. Two guitars, double-bass (or contrabass, although it is usually called a double-bass in a jazz setting), piano, keyboards (or synths), drum-kit, shakers, congas, and a xylophone solo in the middle. Again, you could also include vocals as an instrument.

4. In this classical orchestra setup from the 1700s, we can see a string orchestra made up of violins, violas, celli, and contrabassi; a wind section made up of a flute, oboes, bassoons (all woodwind) and French horns (brass), timpani (percussion) and, of course, the piano, which is the soloist in this concerto.

5. Drum-kit (and also a drum machine), trumpet, trombone, saxophone, piano/keyboard, violin/strings (heard but not seen), bass guitar, electric guitar, and again a bonus point if you put vocals or singing.

Well done! You now know a lot more about the different instruments that exist and the ways they can be used musically. And hopefully you want to take one up and join us in School Orchestra when that starts again in the future! From next week, we will look at different genres (styles) of music so you can learn which is which based on how they sound.