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Victoria Williams

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Next UK ABRSM theory exams
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C2a. Musical Instruments, Families and Names

Grade Six Music Theory General Knowledge, Lesson 2a.
Musical Instruments – Families and Names

 

For the grade six music theory exam you need to know several facts about musical instruments. You will need to know:

  • which are the standard instruments in each family, and which other instruments are commonly used in a symphony orchestra
  • the names of the instruments in Italian, German and French, including the plural forms and abbreviations (you only need to be able to recognise the names, not give them)
  • what key(s) transposing instruments are in, and how these keys are written in other languages
  • which instruments use a single or double reed to produce sound
  • what note each string is tuned to, for string instruments

 We’ll look at each of these points in turn.

 

a. Orchestral Families. The orchestra is divided into four families, the woodwind, brass, percussion and strings. The standard instruments and additional optional orchestral instruments in each family are:

  • Woodwind – flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon; plus piccolo, cor Anglais, bass clarinet, Eb clarinet and contrabassoon.
  • Brass – trumpet, French horn, trombone and tuba; plus bass trombone
  • Percussion – timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle; plus tambourine, glockenspiel, xylophone and gong
  • Strings – violin, viola, cello and double bass; plus harp

 

b. Instrument Names. Many instrument names in Italian, German and French are quite similar to the English – or close enough for you to be able to work out.

Some of them are, on the other hand, completely different. These are the ones you need to memorise!


Here are two tables of vocabulary – table 1 is “Easy” and table 2 is “Learn Me!”


Table 1 – Easy 

English

Italian

German

French

Flute

Flauto

Flöte

Flûte

Piccolo

Flauto piccolo

Kleine flöte

Petite flûte

Oboe

Oboe

Hoboe

Hautbois*

English horn

Corno inglese

Englischhorn

Cor anglais

Clarinet

Clarinetto

Klarinette

Clarinette

Bass clarinet

Clarinetto basso

Bassklarinette

Clarinette basse

Horn

Corno

Horn

Cor

Tuba

Tuba

Tuba

Tuba

Triangle

Triangolo

Triangel

Triangle

Tambourine

Tamburello

Tamburin

Tambour de Basque

Xylophone

Xilofono

Xylophon

Xylophone

Gong

Gong

Gong

Gong

Violin

Violino

Violine

Violon

Cello

Violoncello

Violoncello

Violoncelle

Double bass

Contrabasso or basso

Kontrabass

Contrebass

 

*the “h” and the “t” are silent, so in fact this is pronounced “obwa”.

 

 

Table 2 – Learn Me!

 
The words in bold are the ones which are likely to cause confusion!

English

Italian

German

French

Bassoon

Fagotto

Fagott

Basson

Double bassoon or contrabassoon

Contrafagotto

Kontrafagott

Contrebasson

Trumpet

Tromba**

Trompete

Trompette

Trombone

Trombone

Posaune

Trombone

Kettle drums

Timpani

Pauken

Timbales

Side drum or snare drum

Tamburo piccolo

Kleine Trommel

Caisse claire

Bass drum

Cassa or gran cassa

Grosse Trommel

Grosse caisse

Cymbals

Piatti or cinelli

Becken

Cymbales

Glockenspiel

Campanelli

Glockenspiel

Jeu de timbres

Viola

Viola

Bratsche

Alto

 

** Do not confuse Tromba with Trombone!

 

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