Friday, January 5, 2018

Secrets of the School Orchestra

Has your child been chosen to do music at school this year?

First of all, congratulations! And second, this is a wonderful journey that will benefit your child - and all those around them - for years to come. And there's no rule that says only children can learn these instruments - they can be a fulfilling part of life for people of any age. So let's take a closer look at some of the ins and outs of the School Instrumental Music Program - this week we'll have a look at the Orchestra.

Photo by woodleywonderworks on Visualhunt / CC BY

The Orchestra is made up of stringed instruments - Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass. You might recognise these as the instruments that send chills up your spine in scary movies, or make you cry in rom-coms, or generally just move your emotions in whichever way they want you to go. The string section is always in demand, and a Violin can make rock, pop, hip hop, jazz - anything you can think of - as well as classical music.

 Photo by Mathias Gawlista on Visual hunt / CC BY
So the Violin is the smallest of the String Family, and the most popular - the school orchestra will have lots more Violins than Violas, Cellos and Basses. Violins are played by holding the instrument on your shoulder under your chin, holding down strings with fingers on your left hand and sweeping a bow across the strings with your right hand. The bow is made of horsehair, so to get it to grip the strings enough to cause the vibration that makes the sound, you will need to purchase rosin. To get it sitting right on your shoulder, you will need to purchase a shoulder rest. The Violin usually comes with a case and a bow, so those are really all you need to get playing.

Photo by Joni.Maccheroni on Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

The Viola is slightly bigger than the Violin, and just to be different - very different - it uses the Alto Clef. That's a weird kind of clef in between the Treble and Bass clef, so the bad news is that you would need to learn a different clef if you wanted to play any other instrument. The good news is that not many people choose to take this challenge - so if you become a reasonably good Viola player, you will be well sort after - much less competition than for Violin. Like the Violin, you need rosin and a shoulder rest, and they usually come with a case and bow.

Photo by limaoscarjuliet on / CC BY

The next biggest is the Cello. This is a sit-down-type affair, typically played by sitting in a chair and holding the instrument in front of you. They make beautiful deep, soulful music that can really stir the emotions. Like all string instruments, rosin is a requirement, but you don't need a shoulder rest for this one - rather, you will need a small black rubber thingy to stop it sliding all over the floor while you're trying to play. Called a rubber stop, end pin holder or even black hole, they go by many names but serve a simple, but essential, function.

Photo by garryknight on Visual hunt / CC BY

The big boy of the family is the Double Bass, also known as String Bass and Upright Bass. Played standing up and either plucked like a Guitar or bowed like a Violin, these guys are synonymous with jazz, blues, drum-and-bass, all kinds of cool music. Like all the others in the string family, they come typically come with a case and bow, but like the Cello you will need to purchase rosin and a rubber stop.

If your child is doing Orchestra at school, they will be instructed to purchase a book and music stand, along with the aforementioned accessories. We also have spare strings for each instrument.

Our Orchestral Instruments cabinet

At The Music Spot we have been looking after local schools for over 25 years now, and understand the needs of new students very well. If you need any instruments, accessories, books, service or advice, pop into the shop at 129 Browns Plains Rd, Browns Plains QLD, or give us a call on 07 3800 5229, text on 0411 088 440, or email on and we will help you with all your music needs.

And remember: it's never too late to learn, if you would like to embark on this magical journey yourself ;)

PS. Tune in next week to explore some of the other instruments that are played at school!

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