The Different Types of Orchestral String Instrument

The orchestral string family is made up of five instruments; the violin, the viola, the cello, the double bass, and the harp. The main group is the violin family, these four instruments were first developed in the 16th century and with regular use in orchestras, string quartets, and jazz bands their popularity has continued to grow since then. In this post we are going to look at the different types of orchestral strings: 


The violin is the smallest instrument in the orchestral string family and produces the highest pitch. The violin is played by resting it under the chin and is typically held with the left hand and bowed with right hand. They are available in a variety of sizes, from 1/16 to 4/4 Full Size, allowing even children of a young age to play - find out more about the violin sizes here


The viola is the older sibling to the violin. Not only is it larger than the violin but it also produces a pitch that is one fifth lower. Like the violin, the viola is played by resting it below the chin, holding with the left hand and bowing with the right. Find out more fun facts about the viola here.


Say 'cello to the third in the violin family! The cello is a bass member of the family and is tuned exactly one octave below the viola. Whilst similar in appearance to both the violin and viola it is much larger in size. Cello players sit and hold the instrument between the legs, with the neck typically rested on the left shoulder and bow held with the right hand. The cello also features a rod at the end called the end pin that the instrument rests on (find out more about the anatomy of the cello by clicking here). The cello comes in a variety of sizes from 1/10 right up to 4/4 Full Size.

Double Bass

The largest member of the violin family is the double bass. With its sloping shoulders it has a distinctive look.  Like the cello, the double bass is played by resting the instrument on the floor, however the player can choose to play either stood up or sat down. Players typically either bow the bass or pluck strings using their right hand. The double bass is the only member of the violin family to be tuned in fourths. It comes in a range of sizes from 1/16 to 4/4 full size; with the 3/4 size being the most commonly played. 


The harp differs somewhat from the instruments in the violin family. This large instrument sits at around 6ft tall and features 47 strings of varying length. The strings of the harp are tuned to the white keys of the piano. The player can change the pitch of the strings to that of the black keys of the piano by using the food pedals at the base of the instrument. Harpists typically play sat down, with their legs either side of the instrument and the neck rest on their right shoulder using their fingers to pluck the strings. 

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