Musical Ensembles

A musical ensemble can be defined as a group of several or many musicians that are playing a piece of music together. There are a few types of ensembles named according to their size and the instruments used.

The terms duet, trio, quartet, quintet, sextet, septet, octet, and nonet describe an ensemble by its size. The names range from duet meaning 2 musicians to nonet meaning 9 musicians. Some of these are found more often than others, below are some of the more common ones:

  • String Quartet

    • 2 Violins

    • A Viola

    • A Violoncello

  • String Quintet

    • 2 Violins

    • 2 Violas

    • A Violoncello

  • Piano Quintet

    • 2 Violins

    • A Viola

    • A Violoncello

    • A Piano

When an ensemble has more instruments it is usually called an orchestra, with a small orchestra known as a chamber orchestra. Symphony orchestras have more than 20 and often over 100 musicians, divided into groups of instruments:

  • Violins (I and II)

  • Violas

  • Violoncellos

  • Basses

  • Woodwinds

  • Brass

  • Percussion

  • and more

The terms symphonic and philharmonic are mainly used to distinguish different symphony orchestras from each other.

Some other terms you may encounter are:

A smaller orchestra that is not as small as a chamber orchestra.
String Orchestra
An orchestra that only has strings, i.e., violins, violas, violoncellos and basses.
Concert or Pop Orchestra
An orchestra concentrating mainly on the light classical and more popular repertoire.
A group that plays more popular music composed in the last 50 to 100 years.
A choir is a group of voices. Sometimes the group of similar instruments in an orchestra are referred to as a choir. For example, the woodwind instruments of a symphony orchestra could be called the woodwind choir.
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