JOSH WINIBERG BA (Hons) DipABRSM (piano) is a UK based pianist, composer and producer who specialises in soundtracks. A relatively late starter on the piano, Josh began teaching himself to play in 2002, aged 14. What he lacked in experience and formal education, he made up for with an insatiable hunger for music. A year later, this drive intensified following the terminal diagnosis of his step father, who gave Josh his keyboard. After chancing upon Ludovico Einaudi on Classic FM, Josh was inspired to compose an album to give to his step-father before he passed away. Following an intense few months of non-stop work on this project, by 2004 Josh had composed and released his first solo piano album, ‘Sunrise’. Although very rough around the edges, it received positive feedback from Ludovico Einaudi who complimented the playing and described the album as full of character. As a result Josh was invited to perform his work at the prestigious Ravello Festival, Italy, where he debuted his second piano album, ‘Silent Embrace’. A year later, Josh received his first commission, composing the soundtrack for the cartoon platform game ‘Mr Smoozles Goes Nutso’ (by Steve Ince of ‘Broken Sword’ and ‘Beneath a Steel Sky’ fame). As of 2020, Josh and Steve are once again collaborating on the upcoming point-and-click game, ‘Crow Girl’. Upon finishing school, Josh began studying a BA in Music Composition at Dartington College of Arts. In 2008, he took part in an ERASMUS exchange program to Berlin, a city he returned to on a long term basis following the completion of his degree. While continuing to compose soundtracks for films, theatre productions and contemporary dance performances, Josh became increasingly inspired by the nightlife in his new home. Within a few months of sampling the Berlin scene, (and true to every cliché about the city), Josh was producing and performing electronic music, blending his classical flair with the hypnotic German flavour of after-hour techno. Since then, Josh’s productions have been supported by some of the world’s top DJs and electronic music magazines including John Digweed, Pig & Dan, Josh Butler, Faze Magazine and DMC Word Magazine. Returning back to the UK in 2013, Josh was approached by American Film Institute alumnus and long term collaborator Quan Zhou to provide the soundtrack for his next film, Woman in Fragments. This powerful drama went on to be screened at film festivals internationally, including Cannes. The soundtrack to Woman in Fragments, as well as the narrative themes running throughout the film, formed the basis of a new instrumental album, Change, which was released in 2017. This album was featured by the HDSounDI YouTube channel and has since received over a million streams. In 2018, Josh turned his attention to the traditional piano repertoire, taking part in classical festivals and competitions, winning the 2018 Southend Music Festival piano section with three gold medal performances of Beethoven, Chopin and Schubert. A year later, he gained the DipABRSM performance diploma in piano. The last two years have seen Josh return more extensively to soundtrack writing, scoring three short horror films (‘Off the Hook’, ‘The Woods Near Jacob’s Farm’ and ‘See What She Did’), as well as the drama ‘Paradise’. Other notable credits include a commission for the National Lottery’s 20th Anniversary (2014), and a spot on BBC’s ‘The One Show’ directing the Fishwives Choir (2013) alongside Jon Cohen and Phil da Costa (Military Wives Choir). Music from his 2009 album, ‘Those Nights’, was used in the BBC radio documentary, ‘A Fishwives Tale’. In 2009, hang drum pioneer Manu Delago premiered one of Josh’s compositions for hang and string quartet. As of 2020, Josh is working on a series of new releases, re-works and remixes, with a busy release scheduled line up for 2021.

Last week we covered a brief history of classical music, looking at how it developed over the centuries. This week we will take a similar journey but focusing on popular song (which includes ‘pop’ music, as well as traditional folk music). This is a big topic that will take more than one lesson. Today we will look at traditional popular song, up until rock’n’roll. We will cover modern pop music next week.

You only need to listen to a few minutes of each video to the idea. There will be questions at the end of this lesson, where you will be asked to say which genre (style) a song is. You should also write down interesting facts or new words as you go.

Popular Music vs Art Music
To help us understand what is meant by popular music, let’s compare it to classical music. We will look at the differences between them, as well as how they are related and influential on each other.

Western classical music is a kind of art music that developed in the churches and palaces of Europe from around the 1400s. Classical music was mostly learned from notation (sheet music), which required musical training to understand. The music could be complex, long, and difficult to perform. It was often written for large orchestras, which meant that hearing a large-scale work like a piano concerto or a symphony would be a rare experience for most people.

The 18th century version of Spotify

Popular music of the same era was very different in these respects. There are exceptions to many of the following rules, but together they give an idea of what makes music popular.

  • It was usually taught orally (by showing and copying rather than through reading sheet music).
  • It tended to be built around the human voice and/or simple, affordable instruments, rather than large orchestras or expensive and complicated instruments like grand pianos.
  • Songs are normally short, lasting just a few minutes each, with a repetitive structure.
  • Musically easy to understand (though not necessarily easy to perform).
  • Pleasant on the ear, often with a catchy melody or ‘hook’. Not experimental or challenging.

Together, these traditions that define popular music make it accessible – more people will be able to listen to, perform, and enjoy popular song.

Irish trad (short for traditional) is a form of popular song. You may also know it as folk music. Folk music has a strong connection to its native land, using sounds and instruments common to that area. Here’s an example.

And some Scottish traditional music, featuring an instrument that is strongly associated with that Scotland – bagpipes.

Nursery rhymes and lullabies are also forms of popular song, written especially for children. The famous ‘Pat-a-Cake’ is at least 320 years old, possibly older.

Although we talk about popular music being accessible and art music being more complex, there are lots of exceptions. Some classical music is very straight forward and easy to perform (sometimes called pop-classical), and some pop music is incredibly complicated and experimental (sometimes called art-pop or art-rock).

Yiruma is an example of pop-classical. He writes very uncomplicated music that gets called classical because it’s written for solo piano. However, in most ways his music closer to Celine Dione than Beethoven.

There is also a lot of crossover between art and popular music – classical composers taking inspiration from pop and folk music, and vice versa. When a classical composer writes music inspired by the popular music of their native land, it is called nationalist music – folk music, re-written in a classical style. Some famous nationalist composers include Ralph Vaughn-Williams (English), Béla Bartók (Hungarian and Romanian), and Frédéric Chopin (Polish). Let’s compare some of this traditional music to the ‘classical’ versions.

Greensleeves (England)

Romanian Christmas Carols

Mazurkas (Poland)

Sometimes the opposite happens, and pop or rock bands take inspiration from classical music. One famous example is the band Queen, who blend operatic singing and writing with rock instruments.

For the rest of the lesson, we’re going to look at the development of modern, western, pop music, and how traditional popular music led to the sound we recognise today. It all started with the blues.

African-American Music
In the 1800s, a style of music emerged out of the African-American communities in the US. This genre, called the blues, went on to have a strong influence on the popular music that followed, and eventually led to the sounds we now recognise as pop. The blues originated from a style of music called spirituals – music sung while working or in church. Slaves were often banned from using instruments, so spirituals would have been sung acapella (just voices, without instruments). Here is an example of a spiritual.

As the slave trade came to an end, instruments were more regularly incorporated into these songs, and the blues emerged.

Another style, called ragtime, also had a huge impact on popular music. Here’s a song by the famous ragtime composer, Scott Joplin.

And another by Lyons & Josco.

The upbeat rhythms of ragtime, along with the harmony and structure of blues, led to jazz and rock’n’roll, which in turn led to the pop music we know today. Here is some very early jazz from 1925. Can you hear the mixture of bluesy melodies and ragtime rhythms?

The history of pop is complicated, with lots of different styles branching out of jazz and the blues at the same time. On one hand you have music such as Motown and soul, which – via disco – led to the dance music we have today: house, techno, EDM, etc. On the other, you have rock’n’roll and its various offshoots: punk, metal, grunge, etc.

The development of rock and dance music are are big topics that will require a lesson each to cover. Let’s complete today’s journey from spirituals to rock with some early rock’n’roll from the ‘king of rock’, Elvis Presley.

You can clearly hear the blues and early jazz influences in this early rock’n’roll.

Now you’ve heard some examples of traditional popular music, let’s see if you can recognise the genre of these songs just by listening.

Is this song ragtime, spiritual, or rock’n’roll?

Is this song pop-classical, blues, or folk music?

Is this song blues, spiritual, or Irish-trad?

Is this collection of pieces an example of nationalist music or pop-classical?

And finally, is this song a spiritual, ragtime, or rock’n’roll?


  1. This famous piano piece is called The Entertainer, and is by the famous ragtime composer Scott Joplin.
  2. The band in the Irish pub are folk musicians. You may have thought it was classical because of the violin, but the violin (or fiddle, as it’s called by folk musicians) is common in lots of traditional music.
  3. This old song was an example of the blues. The guitar playing indicates that it’s probably not a spiritual.
  4. The Romanian Folk Dances by Bartók are famous examples of nationalist music.
  5. And finally, the last song by the Rolling Stones is rock’n’roll.

Music History – Introduction
Today we are moving onto a new topic – looking at different genres (styles) of music (for example, pop, classical, rock, dance music, jazz, hip-hop etc). In each of these lessons we will look in depth at one genre, understanding how it developed, and listening to examples. Your aim is to be able to identify a song’s genre and era by listening to it, and to be able to name some famous examples of music within that genre.

Before we look at specific genres in depth, we’re going to spend a couple of lessons looking at the progression of music from pre-historic times all the way through to modern day. First, we will look at the history of art music (classical). Next week we will look at the history of popular music

You only need to listen to 3-4 minutes from each video. There won’t be any questions this lesson, but you should write down facts about the different styles as you go along, as well as explanations of any new words you learn.

Pre-Historic and Ancient Eras
Humans have been making music for tens of thousands of years. The oldest musical instruments ever discovered were flutes made from bones and ivory over 40,000 years ago.

Around 1400 BC (2000 years after the invention of writing), humans began to notate (write down) music. Thanks to this ancient notation, we have some idea how this very early music would have sounded. This is the oldest song known to mankind, from an area we now call Syria. It’s a hymn for Nikkal, the wife of their ancient moon god.

Unfortunately, musicologists (people who study the history and theory of music) can’t even agree on how music was performed 300 years ago, let along 3000 years ago. It’s impossible to say exactly how this would have sounded, but we do have a very rough idea. Here is one interpretation:

Medieval Era (c.400-1420 AD)
Around 2,000 years later, in 1,000 AD, we begin to see the beginnings of modern sheet music – staff notation, which uses lines and dots to indicate pitch. Although it looks very different to today’s music and is very basic, musicologists can understand it well.

Left: early staff notation. Right: modern staff notation with exact notes, rhythms, and dynamics.

Renaissance Era (c.1400-1600)
As notation developed over the next few hundred years, so too did music theory. Some combinations of notes that used to be considered harsh sounding (or even evil) became accepted into the mainstream. Arising from these changes was a new harmonic language based on major (happy sounding) and minor (sad sounding) chords. These developments, along with increasingly precise notation, allowed complex new forms of music to emerge, and remain the foundation of music we listen to today.

Interesting fact: A pair of notes called a tritone was known as the “devil’s chord”. It was considered so evil sounding that the Catholic church banned it. Now we hear the tritone all the time, like in the first two notes of The Simpsons (the notes on “The Si” form a tritone).

Here’s a sample of some Renaissance music.

The Common Practice Period (c.1600-1900)
The next few centuries are known as the ‘common practice period’. This period, which gave rise to composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, is often referred to broadly as ‘classical music’ (spelled with a small ‘c’). Within the common practice period, we have three main eras: Baroque (c. 1580-1750), Classical (spelled with a big ‘C’, c.1750-1820), and Romantic (c. 1800-1910).

Baroque Era (c.1580-1750)
Baroque music is generally considered the earliest form of classical music as we know it today. There was an explosion of fantastically complex music during this era. Pieces of music would contain many musical themes all playing at the same time (counterpoint), while also adhering strictly to the newly established principles which had developed out major and minor harmony.

Orchestras were very small in comparison to later eras. Very little percussion was used in Baroque music, and the piano had not yet been invented. There was another invention in the Baroque era though, the pipe organ, which was used to great effect. These days, it’s common for Baroque music to be performed on a piano. Some people don’t like this because they say it isn’t authentic (it’s different to how it originally would have been performed). However, there is little doubt that Bach would have used a piano if he’d had access to one.

Music was generally for religious purposes or for dancing to. As a result, Baroque music often had a steady rhythm so that large groups of people could sing or dance to it. Composers would often take a very short musical idea and develop it with increasing complexity, such as JS Bach’s fugues (pronounced ‘fyoog’), are some of the most intricate pieces of music ever created.

Classical Era (c.1750-1820)
The Classical era (not to be confused with ‘classical music’ more generally), is most commonly associated with Mozart. Pieces from this era contained more contrasting moods and tended to focus on elegance and clarity (a step away from – or maybe even a rebellion against – the mind-boggling complexity of Baroque music). There tended to be a clear ‘melody’ which stood out, rather than lots of themes happening at the same time. Although it was simpler in this respect, composers were still pushing the harmonic language to discover new ways of expressing themselves through sound.

The orchestra expanded in size with more performers of each instrument taking part, and started to include percussion more regularly. The piano was also invented around this time and was used extensively by composers, although it sounded quite different from the piano we know today. You can hear Mozart’s actual piano being played here in the first minute:

Here’s a recording of a piano concerto by Mozart, performed on period instruments (instruments that the composers would have used, i.e., from their time period).

Despite composing some of the most beautiful music ever written, Mozart famously found poo hilarious and even wrote songs about it.

Romantic Era (c.1800-1910)
The Classical era was short lived, in no small part due to innovations by Beethoven, who’s increasingly dramatic and emotional music broke free from the delicacy of Mozart’s time.
Beethoven’s visionary approach, pushing the boundaries of harmony and increasing the size of the orchestra, ushered in the Romantic era. His Ninth Symphony was regarded as a kind of miracle by composers who followed him. As well as inspiring a new generation of composers, the shadow of Beethoven loomed large, setting the bar terrifyingly high for those that followed (unlike Bach and Mozart who fell out of fashion and were not fully appreciated until after their death).

While the previous generation of composers had been considered staff by their wealthy (and often regal) employers, Beethoven insisted on being treated as a peer. He demanded status for his genius, and he was given it – the superstar musician was born.

The word ‘Romantic’ doesn’t mean lovey or soppy – Romantic era music often focused on dramatic themes that cover all sorts of emotions – love and loss, pleasure and suffering, life and death, comedy and tragedy. Music was often composed to tell a story (program music) and could be inspired by poetry and literature. Harmony was complex and took many unexpected twists and turns as composers pushed the 12-note scale to its limits.

Composers that followed Beethoven took these Romantic ideals to ever greater extremes – using increasingly complex and dramatic harmony – and began composing virtuosic (incredibly difficult) music to show off their superstar technique. Here’s a concerto written by Rachmaninoff, one of the last Romantic composers. It’s worth watching this one for a bit longer so you can see the virtuosic piano writing.

The Modern Era
In the 1900s, the Common Practice Era came to an end – musical language had been pushed to its extremes to the point that the rules that had governed the previous 300 years fell apart. It’s difficult to create something when there are no rules or boundaries to work with and to rebel against. Composers began experimenting with all sorts of different systems to establish new musical languages. The result is 100 years of music very different to anything that had come before.

Some composers continued to push harmony by creating their own rules compositional rules, for example serialism – a technique that meant every note must be treated equally, with no ‘main’ note. This contrasts with most (possibly all) music which came before, which would centre around a clear home key. The result is an alien sounding music that never quite resolves.

Some composers experimented with chance, others took inspiration from other cultures, or from technology and warfare. Some even began to question what the difference is between sound and music and would compose music which broke down this barrier. Here’s a snippet of a composition by the furturist composer Russolo.

John Cage famously wrote a piece called 4’33” (Four Minutes, Thirty-Three Seconds), in which the performers didn’t play anything. You can see an explanation and performance here.

Composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass took inspiration from traditional African and Indian music, using their rhythmic patterns and the concept of repetition to create minimalist music.

Unlike some of the other modernist pieces we’ve heard today, minimalist music was easy for the wider public to understand and enjoy, and as a result has had a huge impact, inspiring composers such as Ludovico Einaudi and Yann Tiersen, as well as influencing film scores and popular music.

Post-classical Music
It’s not easy to define what our period of music is. There are no longer commonly accepted rules for music making – some continue to compose extremely complicated or experimental music like the Schoenberg piece we heard earlier, others have fused minimalism, electronic, and pop music together to create something that isn’t quite any of them. In this sort of music, the lines between classical and popular music have broken down completely. For this reason, some people it Post-classical music (meaning ‘after classical’).

Well, that was a long lesson – we’ve covered 40,000 years of music making, so well done for that!
I hope you now understand that ‘classical’ music covers many different styles, many of which sound nothing alike. Each era had its own character, defined by the accepted musical language of the day, as well as technology (new instruments, and the discovery of electricity). Next week we will take a similar route for pop music.

If you enjoyed any of the music we looked at today, I have a playlist for my students which features music from the Baroque era all the way through to contemporary, Post-classical music.

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.


In today’s lesson we are going to look at last major family of instruments, the string family (chordophones – instruments that produce sound by vibrating a string).

There are three main types of string instrument: bowed (played with a bow), plucked (pulled), and struck (hit with ‘hammers’ or beaters).

Bowed Strings

The first group of instruments we will look at are the bowed strings – specifically, the orchestral strings that make up the viol family.

From left to right (smallest to largest): violin (x2, in this picture), viola, violoncello (usually abbreviated to cello), contrabass (often called double bass).
Unless they’re all next to each other so you can see the size difference, it can be very confusing to tell some of these instruments apart. However, you can get a very basic idea with this video (ignore the harp for now):

As a composer (somebody who writes music) I do a lot of string writing myself. I would like to share some with you today so you can hear the string section in action! Here is a song I wrote for a film a few years ago, for piano and string quartet (two violins, one viola, and one cello). It’s called The Dancer.

In this composition I only used 4 bowed strings, but orchestras often use 60, which results in a different sound texture. Check out the first two minutes of this next video, and then skip to 15:56 to hear some other ‘techniques’ (ways of playing string instruments), for example: tremolo (fast repeated notes), pizzicato (plucked, like a guitar).

Here’s another song of mine called Amor Fati. This one also features a guitar and a double bass alongside the piano and string quartet. That’s six different instruments altogether, some of which produce very different sounds: piano, guitar, violin (x2), viola, cello, and double bass. You only need listen to the first four minutes or so. When you get to 2:48 listen carefully – can you hear the string quartet playing pizzicato (plucked)?

Plucked Strings

Another string instrument that is a common feature of modern orchestras is the harp. These are plucked rather than bowed. See one in action here (watch to 2:38, then again from 5:27 to 5:57).

It’s common for bowed instruments like the violin to be plucked, but less common for plucked instruments to be bowed. It is possible though! Here’s a rare but famous example of a bowed guitar, by Sigur Rós (starting at 1:48).

Of course, guitars are usually played with fingers – the left hand presses down strings, which makes them sound higher by shortening the length of the strings, while the right hand pulls the strings to make them vibrate, which is what produces the sound.

We’ll come back to electric guitars soon. First, let’s see the original, acoustic (non-electric) guitar. Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo is an example of the acoustic guitar being played in classical music.

Acoustic guitars are also used a lot in flamenco music – a type of folk music from Spain – like this song by Cameron de la isla and Paco de lucia, called Bulerias.

Here’s an acoustic guitar playing a completely different type of music, with a cover of Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd.

Electric guitars work much the same way as acoustic guitars, except they can go through amplifiers to make them much louder and to add effects. This means it’s possible to make it sound nothing like an acoustic. Here’s a song called Violet Hill by Coldplay, which uses a acoustic guitar and an electric guitar.

The bass guitar is an electric guitar which is much lower sounding and has fewer (four) strings. In bands it often has a supporting role (rather than being a lead instrument), but here’s a solo which shows off what it can do!

And here it is in a band setting in the song Hysteria by Muse, which voted the best bassline of all time! The bass in this song is heavily processed with effects to make it sound like a synthesiser, but it is a live bass (contains flashes).

There are too many guitar-like instruments for us to look at all of them here, but here’s one more before we move one: the ukulele, which is like a small guitar with only four strings. Here’s a mashup of Stairway to Heaven and Fuer Elise by ukulele virtuoso Taimane.

Struck Strings

Finally let’s look at some struck strings. These aren’t as varied as their bowed and plucked counterparts, and really consist only of piano and dulcimers. The piano is very commonly used, and we’ve covered that in previous lessons, but dulcimers aren’t seen that much in bands or orchestras.

Dulcimers works in much the same way as a piano, except the performer hits the strings with the ‘hammers’ themselves instead of using keys. Here’s some traditional music on the Santouri (Greek hammered dulcimer). If the performer uses soft hammers it sounds very similar to an upright piano, but usually dulcimer hammers are a harder than those used in pianos. The result is a more metallic sound than the piano.

Have a quick look at how it works here, just for a minute or so.

And here is a full CD so you can hear it in better quality (just a couple of minutes is fine).

Although the dulcimer isn’t used as often as other string instruments in music we hear in the UK, electronic musicians do occasionally use it in their tracks to great effect. Here’s one such track by Four Tet (one or two minutes is enough).

And another by Lamb (again, one or two mins):

If we continue doing video lessons next term, we will look a bit more at traditional instruments from other countries then.


Now you’ve been introduced to the string family, let’s see how many you can pick out in these songs! Some are quite long, you only need to listen to 3 or so minutes from each but can listen longer if you’re enjoying it!


In this song, Primavera by Ludovico Einaudi, the entire orchestra is made up of string instruments – how many different types can you find?


Which string instrument is being played here in this song by George Formby called “When I’m Cleaning Windows”?

Is it just me or does it sound like he’s singing “When I’m Cleaning Winders?” 😁


One of mine written for a film – there’s no video here so you’ll just need to use your ears. Can you guess which 3 string instruments are playing in this song?


Which four string instruments that we’ve looked at can you hear Resist by the band Rush?


What are the two string instruments heard here in Fratres by Arvo Pärt? (just need


This song – Blurred by Kiasmos – is an example of orchestral instruments being used in electronic music. Which string instruments can you hear?


Finally, how about this song by the Beatles, called Here Comes the Sun? You’ll need to use your ears for this one!


I hope you enjoyed looking at the different instrument families this half term! Here’s the answers for this lesson.

  1. Primavera is written for piano, harps (which you can see but are quite hard to hear on this recording), and string orchestra (violins, violas, celli, and double basses).
  2. George Formby was a famous ukulele player.
  3. One Last Time features piano, guitar, and viola (you can also have a point if you said cello instead of viola, since they sound quite similar and have the same range it would be extremely difficult to tell the difference. You can also have a point if you said violin – again, the sounds is similar but a violin can’t actually play notes that low).
  4. Resist featured acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, and – if you listen very carefully to the beginning – a hammered dulcimer.
  5. Fratres, by the minimalist composer Arvo Pärt, is performed here on piano and violin. This composer is also very well known for the song Spiegel im Spiegel (for piano and viola), which you may recognise.
  • Blurred is built around a piano and violins.
  • Here Comes the Sun features lots of strings: acoustic guitar, electric guitar,and bass guitar, as well as orchestra strings: violas, celli, and a double bass. You can also have a point if you said violin.

Have a lovely Easter!


In today’s lesson we are going to look at percussion instruments.

The percussion family is huge and includes many different types of instruments. Percussion instruments (often called drums) are those that produce sound by being hit, for example by hands, sticks, or beaters, or by beads that are inside the instrument (like shakers).

Some percussion instruments are categorised as non-pitched percussion – these instruments don’t make a precise note when you hit them, for example shakers and cymbals.

Other percussion instruments, like xylophones, timpani and bells, are called pitched percussion since they produce definite notes of the scale and can be used to play melodies. Pitched percussion can also include keyboard instruments like the piano and celesta, which we looked at last week: when you play them, a hammer hits a string or piece of metal, to produce sound. This means a piano is a keyboard instrument, a percussion instrument AND a string instrument! Percussion sounds can also be created by synthesisers called drum machines, like the Roland 808 and Roland 909 which are used in dance music.

Percussion instruments make up the ‘rhythm’ section in orchestras and bands, and can be described as the ‘heartbeat’ or ‘engine’ of a piece of music, that keeps a song driving forward. Let’s look at some different types of drums.

Orchestral Percussion

This video introduces you to lots of different instruments (pitched percussion: vibraphone, xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel, and non-pitched percussion: bass drum, tam-tam, snare drum, cymbals, triangle, crotales and tambourine):

Another type of orchestral percussion which isn’t included in this video is the timpani, which you can see here (you need only watch the first couple of minutes):

Drum Machines

Here are a couple of very famous drum machines, the Roland 808 and 909, which defined dance music through the 80s and 90s, and are still used a lot today, for example in house, techno, drum and bass, and trap/drill.

Here is the 808 in action – this is a very deep sounding drum machine that was used in Chicago house in the 80s, hip hop and jungle in the 90s, and is now used a lot in trap and drill (start watching from 2:58):

And here is its more aggressive sibling, the 909, which defined dance, house and techno from the 90s onwards and is still used a lot in that music today (just the first couple of minutes is fine):

Drum Kits

Finally, here is the drum kit, which is used more in band contexts like jazz, rock and pop. The core parts of the drum kit are the bass drum, snare, toms, hi-hat, and cymbals.

Musical Examples

Now you’ve been introduced to the different drums, have a look at the following examples and see if you can tell which type/s of drum is being used.


In this video is Mike Portnoy playing orchestral drums, a drum kit, or a drum machine?


Which type of drum does Evelyn Glennie play first in this video?

Evelyn lost her hearing at eight years old, and was completely deaf from aged 12. She uses senses other than hearing to ‘hear’ the sound, like the vibrations she can feel coming from the instrument. Despite not being able to hear what she’s playing she is one of the best percussionists in the world.


Here’s a classic 90s dance track, I Love U Baby. Dance music usually uses drum machines, one of which is particularly famous for this style of music. Can you tell if this uses the Roland 808 or the Roland 909? You may wish to check it against the examples shown earlier in the page.


Which pitched percussion instruments can you see and hear being used in this piece by Steve Reich, Music for Eighteen Musicians? Can you also name the woodwind instruments? Start at 4:34 and watch for as long as you like (at least three minutes).

This is an example of a genre called minimalism, which is a type of modern classical music. Minimalism uses lots of repetition, with very gradual changes over a long period of time.


This next snippet is from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which opens with a piece of music called Also Spoke Zarathustra by the composer Richard Strauss. Which type of orchestral percussion can you hear?


Can You Feel It by Mr Fingers is often called the first ‘deep house’ track, released in 1985. Which drum machine is being used here?


Can you name three types of non-pitched drums (not including drum-kit) used by this marching band?


Here is the Bill Evans Trio, performing Autumn Leaves. Which two percussion instruments are played here?


Which type of drum is being used in this live jam at a Muse concert? (Contains flashing images).


Which type of drum machine is being used in Doin’ it Right by Daft Punk – an 808 or 909? Again, you may wish to check the early examples near the top of the page.


In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins changed the way drums were used forever, and has one of the most famous drum fills (short solos) of all time. Can you tell which sorts of drums are being used here (beginning at 3:43)?


Which pitched percussion instrument can you hear being used in this song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – is it a) celesta, b) tambourine, or c) xylophone?

Now check your answers below?

  1. Mike Portnoy is a drummer famous for his huge drum kit, seen above.
  2. Evelyn Glennie uses a snare drum in this video.
  3. The Roland 909 was responsible for this classic dance sound throughout the 80s and 90s, and is still used a lot today.
  4. The Steve Reich piece uses marimbas, xylophones, pianos, and  type of vibraphone called a metallophone. You can also hear and see clarinets and bass clarinets being used.
  5. Timpani are used to famous effect in Also Spoke Zarathustra.
  6. Again, you can hear the 909 in this house track by Mr Fingers.
  7. Besides the drum kit and the piano, the marching band can see heard using snares, cymbals, and bass drums.
  8. The two percussion instruments that are used in this jazz trio are the piano and the drum kit.
  9. This Muse clip is a duo featuring bass guitar and drum kit.
  10. The Daft Punk song features the Roland 808 – you can tell it by its deep bass and sharp hi-hat sound that is still heard a lot today in trap and drill.
  11. In the Air Tonight features a drum kit that is produced in a special way to make it sound more electronic. You may also have heard a drum machine being used very, very quietly in the background.

In the Air Tonight was one of the first songs to make use of ‘gated’ drums, a production technique that was discovered by accident, and went on to define the 80s. You can hear more about the mistake that went on to define a decade of music here (watch up to 3:03):

People are still using this technique in songs today – it just goes to show how important accidents and mistakes are in the creative process. Some incredible innovations were the results of mistakes, so don’t be afraid to make them!

12. Finally, Willy Wonka’s song features a celesta. A tambourine isn’t pitched percussion, and the sound is too metallic sounding to be a xylophone (which is made from wood).


In today’s lesson we are going to look at keyboard instruments.

As you can see, there are many different types of keyboard instruments. Unlike other families we have looked at, keyboard instruments produce sounds in vastly different ways. For this reason, they often sound nothing like each other. The only thing which connects keyboard instruments within one family is the keyboard itself – a repeating pattern of 12 keys arranged from low pitch (left) to high pitch (right) that you press down to make a sound.

What happens after you play a key is what gives the instrument its identity.

Inside Keyboard Instruments

Let’s take a look inside a grand piano so we can see what actually happens when you press a key on piano-type instruments.

The hammer strikes (hits) the string to produce the sound. This is what makes the instrument a piano. However, there are many ways that keyboards can produce sounds:

striking strings (piano, clavichord)
plucking (pulling) strings (harpsichord)
striking metal (celesta)
key allows air to flow through pipes (organs)
key allows air to flow across reeds (accordions)
key touches circuit to generate or playback sound (synthesiser, sampler)

With the exception of synthesisers and samplers, all these instruments are acoustic (the sound is physically produced within the instrument itself, no electricity). Electronic keyboards are a whole different topic, so we will look at these in more depth another day. For now, it’s enough to know that they produce sound when the key connects to an electronic circuit.

For this lesson we will focus on acoustic keyboard instruments, but here you can see an example of a digital (electronic) keyboard being used to play back samples (recordings) of acoustic instruments. You can start the video at 3:35.

Because digital keyboards and synths can be used to play back or create any type of sound there is no limit to the sounds the keyboard family can produce. They also have the largest range of possible notes they can play, and the possibility to play multiple notes at the same time. For these reasons, keyboards are by far the most versatile instrument group. This is why they are used in most styles of music, from classical and jazz to rock and dance.

Let’s have a look at some of the other acoustic keyboards.

The most well-known keyboard instrument is the piano, however this was only invented around 1770, and modern pianos weren’t developed until a hundred years later. Before the piano came the clavichord (1300s) and the harpsichord (around 1450), which looks like a piano but sounds completely different.

Unlike the piano, which strikes strings, the harpsichord produces sound by plucking (pulling) the strings with plectra. Here is a look at the harpsichord.

Do you notice that it sounds more like a guitar than a piano? This is because guitars also produce their sound by plucking strings. Quickly compare it to this video (you don’t need to listen to the whole thing).

Not all keyboards use strings. The celesta (which looks like an upright piano and was invented in the late 1880s) sounds like a glockenspiel. This is because, just like a glockenspiel, the sound is produced by hitting metal bars instead of strings. Compare these recordings of the same song.

Entirely different to what we’ve seen so far are keyboard instruments that use air to produce their sound like wind instruments. The pipe organ is an example of a wind keyboard instrument. They work by allowing air to travel through pipes, which makes them more like series of giant flutes than pianos.

Finally, we have squeezeboxes like accordions, which push air across reeds (similar to clarinets, which we looked at last week) by pushing and pulling bellows – start at 3:45.

We’ve already had a look inside a piano but there are some other interesting things to know before we move on. The early keyboard instruments like organ and harpsichord only played at one volume – it didn’t matter how hard or soft you pushed the key. The piano (full name: ‘pianoforte’) got its name because, unlike the older instruments, you could make individual notes louder or quieter depending on how hard you play them. Pianoforte literally means ‘softstrong’ (ie. quietloud), so a ‘piano’ is actually called a ‘soft’, or ‘quiet’. This is not the strangest instrument name of all – that probably goes to the cello (full name: violoncello – ‘small big violin’)!

Because the piano was invented quite late, all the music written by early composers like Bach would have been played on a harpsichord or organ. Even famous ‘piano’ composers like Mozart did not have access to pianos as we know them. Here is a short snippet of Mozart (at 3:10) played on a ‘fortepiano’ (a very early type of piano that he would have used).

Compare that to the sound of a modern grand piano – here is Yuja Wang playing a virtuosic (very, very difficult!) arrangement the same piece by Mozart, the Turkish March. It sounds much softer, has greater contrast in volume, and has many more notes.

Musical Examples and Questions

Now you’ve been introduced to the different keyboard instruments, see if you can figure out which ones are being used in these videos.

Sonata in Dm K.141 by Scarlatti, famous for its tricky, fast, repeating notes.

Schubert’s Moment Musicaux No. 3

A very famous piece by JS Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor. It’s quite long, but it’s worth watching at least the first 4 minutes to see this instrument in all its glory. Of course, if you like it watch more!

Some jazz now, Autumn Leaves featuring Beegie Adair on which keyboard instrument? Another long one, you can just watch the first few minutes.

Music from the film Amelie, by Yann Tiersen: La Valse d’Amelie.

Which keyboard instrument is Ludovico Einaudi playing in this song, Experience?

Here’s an unusual example of a pop song using a particular keyboard instrument, Golden Brown by the Stranglers.

Which non-piano keyboard instrument can you hear in Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy?

Some traditional music from Hungary for the next song.

Here’s some music by the band Muse, with their song Butterflies and Hurricanes. Which keyboard instruments can you see being used here? Be sure to check out the solo (3:45-5:05)!

Finally, to finish here’s some more jazz with Masahiro Sayama’s trio performing James by Pat Metheny. Which keyboard is being used here? Watch at least to his solo which finishes at 3:46. Can you also name the other instruments?

Okay, are you ready for the answers? Here they are!

  1. Harpsichord – you can tell because it sounds metallic like a guitar.
  2. The famous pianist Vladimir Horovitz is using a piano here.
  3. This huge instrument is a church organ.
  4. This jazz trio uses a piano.
  5. French music like this often uses an accordion, which is what you see here.
  6. Einaudi is a contemporary (modern) composer, using a piano as part of his ensemble (band).
  7. This song is famous for its unusual use of the harpsichord in a pop setting.
  8. An exemplary use of the celesta.
  9. This Hungarian Dance showcases the accordion.
  10. Matt Bellamy uses the grand piano for his solo. If you were watching carefully you will also have seen digital keyboards/synths being used in the background.
  11. Finally, Masahiro Sayama is on piano, accompanied by drums and the double bass (which is the huge, stand-up violin).

I hope this shows just how versatile keyboard instruments are – they can be used in many types of music, either as the solo instrument or as part of an ensemble or band.

Here are the answers to the questions:

  1. The main (‘lead’) instrument is the clarinet. There is also a drummer, a double bass player and an electric guitarist.
  2. Debussy’s piece begins with a flute solo. At 7:50 an oboe plays a short melody.
  3. The piece featured on the dance track is a saxophone.
  4. Finally, the lead instrument playing in Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits is the flute. The accompanying instruments are from the string family which we will look at next week (violins, violas, cellos, and doubles basses).
    Here is a solo piano version of the same track, performed by Yuja Wang. It’s one of my favourites!


In today’s lesson we are going to look at the woodwind family of instruments, specifically the flute, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, and bassoon.

The woodwind family are types of aerophones – instruments which produce sound by focusing air through a metal tube. There two main groups of aerophones within the woodwind family are ‘flutes’ and ‘reed instruments’. The sound of flute instruments (such as the flute and its smaller cousin the piccolo) is produced by blowing air over a mouthpiece. Reed instruments are produced by inserting the mouthpiece into the mouth and blowing air which vibrates a reed – a small piece of wood which is connected to the mouthpiece.

Flute mouthpiece (top), and clarinet/saxophone type mouthpiece with reed (bottom). Note that the flute is made of metal – confusingly, woodwind instruments do not have to contain any wood!

Similar to the brass family which we looked at last week, the speed of the air and vibrations can produce jumps in pitch along the harmonic series – this is controlled by the player’s mouth and breath, and produces only a few of the 12 notes we normally use in western music. As with brass instruments like the trumpet and tuba, by pressing keys woodwind players can change the length of the tubing the air travels through, allowing them to play the rest of the notes.

The brass family had different ways of changing the length of the tubing (valves and slides), but they all relied on lips being placed inside the same sort of mouthpiece.

All brass mouthpieces work the same way and look like this.

Just as with brass, the smaller the woodwind instrument the higher sound it makes. However, there are different sorts of mouthpieces for different instruments, which gives each of them a more unique identity.

A ‘double reed’ mouthpiece used for oboes. Bassoon mouthpieces are also double reed.

Instrument Demonstrations

Before we look at the individual instruments, let’s quickly check out the orchestral woodwind section (which doesn’t include saxophone).

And here are some saxophones in action.

Now to look at how each instrument works. Some of the videos are quite long, you don’t need to watch them in their entirety, but if you’re interested then of course feel free!

Flutes and piccolos work the same way and produce a similar sound. The difference is that the piccolo is half the length of a flute and so produces a higher pitch. We will just look at the piccolo because the video is more interesting!

Just for fun, here is a very rare type of flute, which is absolutely massive and sounds very low. You don’t really see this in orchestras.

The next video shows you about the clarinet. As with flutes, clarinets come all types of sizes, which play at different pitches. You don’t have to watch the whole thing. The explanation of reeds begins at 4:40, and you can hear some playing at 11:50.

The oboe and bassoon are double-reed instruments, which use two reeds (unlike the clarinet’s one reed). This produces a very different sound that can be both comical (sounding like a duck) and tragic depending how they are used.

Here is the oboe. You can begin watching from about 2:25.

And the bassoon, which is a deeper double-reed instrument. You just need to watch the first five minutes or so, but of course you can watch more if you’re interested.

Finally, here is the saxophone, another single reed instrument. These don’t tend to feature as much in symphony orchestras but are used in lots of other types of bands. You can watch the first minute then skip to 8:20 to see how the instrument can be used. Some examples of playing begin at 12:40 – this section is very long, just watch as many as you like to get an idea of how the instrument sounds.

Music Examples and Questions

Now you’ve been introduced to the woodwind family, let’s listen to some music. There are also some questions for you to answer as you go.


Which woodwind instrument is featured in this jazz video?
Can you name the other instruments too?
Write down at which time the music diminuendos (gets quieter)


Which woodwind instrument has a solo at the beginning of this piece by Debussy?
Can you name the woodwind instrument which comes in at 7:50?


Can you name which instrument features in this deep house track?


Just using your ears, which instrument plays the main melody throughout this piece, beginning at 1:50?
Which type of instruments are accompanying in the background? Are they brass, strings, woodwind, or drums?

Now please click here to get the answers.


The trumpet section plays the melody during the introduction.
During his solo, the lead plays a soprano trombone. It is smaller and higher sounding than the trombone we looked at, but the slide is a giveaway.

The famous piece of music is known as Flight of the Bumblebee. It was a very short section in an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov. It didn’t originally have a name since it was only a short interlude. However, Rachmaninoff’s arrangement for piano established it as crowd pleasing favourite in its own right.

If you look it up you can see people playing it on other instruments as well!

The instrument featured in Havana is a trumpet.

The piece by Mozart is his Horn Concerto No. 4
It is in a major (happy/bright) key, and is classical music.


In today’s lesson we are going to look at the brass family of instruments, specifically the trumpet, French horn, trombone, and tuba.

The brass family are types of labrophones. The word labrophone comes from the Greek words ‘labro’ (lip) and ‘phone’ (sound). Sound is made by vibrating one’s lips into the mouthpiece. The air passes through the metal tubing to make a note. Different pitches (notes) are produced two ways: by changing the embouchure (shape of the mouth), and by changing the length of the tubing that the air passes through.

Changing the embouchure can make the lips vibrate faster or slower. Faster vibrations produce high pitches, slower vibrations produce low pitches. By controlling the lips, we can produce different notes along the harmonic series. Watch this video for a demonstration.

Just using the harmonic series isn’t enough to produce all the different notes we use in music. By changing the fundamental, we can fill in the gaps. On most brass instruments, we do this by pushing down valves (buttons), which changes the length of the tubing the air travels through.

Here you can see how trumpet valves work, and listen to how the instrument sounds:

The tuba works the same way as a trumpet, except due to its size it sounds much lower. As it works the same way as a trumpet you only need to watch the first 2-3 minutes.

The French horn also uses valves, although changes in pitch can also be produced by inserting the hand into the bell to change the airflow. You need only watch the first 6 minutes or so.

The odd-one-out of the brass family is the trombone. Instead of using valves, trombonists slide the tubing in and out to make it longer or shorter. You can find out about the trombone here. You can get trombones in all sorts of sizes, including very small ones called soprano trombones.

Videos and Exercises

Now you’ve been introduced to the brass family, let’s listen to some music. There are also some questions for you to answer as you go.

The first video is a swing band.

Which brass instrument plays the main melody during the introduction?

In jazz and swing there are moments where band members take it in turn to play solos. Which instrument does the lead singer play during his solo (beginning around 3 minutes)?

This next video features a very well-known piece of music by Rimsky-Korsakov that virtuosos (masters of their instrument) often use to show off their skill. It’s named after an insect. Can you guess which one?

Brass is also used in pop music, especially in Latin influenced pop. Just using your ears, can you tell which brass instrument features in the following song at 2:38?

Which instrument features in this next concerto (piece of music for soloist and orchestra) by Mozart?

Is this song in a major key or a minor key?
Can you name the genre (style) of music?

Now please click here to get the answers.