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What Are the Different Types of Orchestras?

An orchestra can have as many as 100 musicians.
orchestra image by Pedro Luis from Fotolia.com

Orchestras are as diverse as the music they perform, from opera and classical to modern jazz and movie themes. An orchestra is an ancient art form that started with small groups of musicians more than 2,000 years ago and evolved into a company up to 100 players. Three distinct types of orchestra--symphony, chamber and string--expose audiences around the world to new cultural and musical experiences each year.


A symphony orchestra consists of a group of 50 to 100 musicians. It contains string, brass, woodwind and percussion instruments. The average size of a full orchestra is about 80 players. A modern orchestra may consist of nine woodwind instruments, 10 brass instruments, 12 percussion and 50 to 60 string instruments. It is not uncommon for a city to have more than one orchestra--New York has a symphony and philharmonic, which have the same structure but different names to tell them apart. Symphonies play various types of music from classical to film scores and jazz. They are always led by a conductor.


A chamber orchestra is a smaller version of a symphony and has less than 50 musicians. The name means the orchestra is small enough to fit in the chamber room of a private home or public hall. It uses one musician per musical part, unlike the two to three musicians playing the same part in a symphony. An exception is the amount of string instruments, which are generally the same in chamber and symphony orchestras. The type of music played is identical to a symphony orchestra. They are also led by a conductor.


The smallest orchestra is the string orchestra, which is comprised solely of string instruments such as the violin, viola and cello. The size of a string orchestra averages eight instruments, though it can reach 12 to 18 with the addition of more violins. The repertoire of a string orchestra consists of special musical compositions written exclusively for string instruments, mostly in the classical or baroque styles. A string orchestra does not require a conductor because of its smaller size.

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