Unit: Instruments of the Orchestra

A unit about the instruments of the orchestra is frequently included in music education curricula around the world and there are lots of free resources online to help you introduce or expand upon the topic. Here are some of the links that I have found over the years.

How orchestral instruments work and sound: videos

1. The Philharmonia Orchestra’s online resources are possibly the most extensive and best quality. Excellent videos introduce each instrument – how they work, how they sound, how they are constructed and more.

2. The Blue Man Group’s video Pipes – a humorous demonstration of how pipe length affects pitch:

3. Toot Whistle Pluck Disney cartoon

4. The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra

5. Peter and the Wolf – a full version with picture book images and notation

6. Suzie Templeton animated version of Peter and the Wolf (part 1)

7. A while ago I wrote about 21+ Fantastic Free Peter and the Wolf Resources which includes a range of extra links and videos.

8. I also put together a collection of Carnival of the Animals resources.

9. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales has an engaging series of videos about each section of the orchestra. Here’s the brass section video:

And here you can find the strings, percussion and woodwind videos.

10. The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra as performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra


Orchestra Seating charts

11. Classics for Kids has an interactive orchestra map

12. The DSO Orchestra seating chart compares different styles and sizes of orchestras through the ages

Composer biographies

13. My first go-to place for composer biographies is the DSO Kids website because the biographies are simple and brief. Listening examples are also included.

The Conductor

14. Video of Esa Pekka Salonen on the role of the conductor:

Humour and Fun

15. The PDQ Bach version of Beethoven’s Symphony 5: a sports-themed version with narration (sports commentary!)

16. Cello Wars – The Piano Guys

17. Lemony Snicket The Composer is Dead (book and audio CD). I’ve just ordered my copy of this book and I’m waiting for it to arrive from Amazon! There’s an introductory video on Youtube here:

18. Greg Patillo beatboxing flute version of Peter and the Wolf

Games, Quizzes and Interactive Listening

19. Perfect Pitch game: instrument information and quizzes presented with a baseball theme

20. San Francisco Kids games for young students – listening and rhythm games that use music from the San Francisco Orchestra library.

21. Who Am I? Instrument ID Game – game overview by music teacher Tanya

22. Animated Science website’s orchestral quiz – hover your mouse over the picture to see each different section. Click on the section name to open an online quiz.


23. Scheherazade Interactive – an online storybook version of Sheherazade, with teacher lesson plan and more.

24. BBC Ireland Orchestra fact files – teach students about sections of the orchestra. Includes listening examples

25. For very young students, the San Francisco Kids website has an introduction to instruments, families, and composers (includes a composer timeline).

26. Also on the SFS Kids website: young students can also explore instruments and listen to examples.

Clip Art and Images

27. Phillip Martin has a collection of cartoon-style music images which are free to download and use in your own resources.

28. Another of my favourite sources of free images – Pixabay – also has a range of musical instrument images. Visit the website and type an instrument name into the search box.

Downloadable instruments of the orchestra resources

29. This SMARTboard file and craft activity by Cherie Herring includes facts about each instrument, sound samples and links to videos.

Saint Louis standup orch

30. Then there’s this lovely Saint Louis “Standup Symphony” craft activity.

iPad Apps

31. Earlier this year I shared my list of 7+ Free Apps for Discovering the Orchestra which included favourites such as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra app and the Young Person’s Guide to Orchestra app, plus others.

32. You MUST also take a look at The Orchestra app. You’ll need 2GB of space on your iPad, but it’s worth it. Read about the app here and here.

33. Naxos My First Classical app is an interactive app version of their book.

Any I’ve missed?

There are so many online resources that cover this topic that I even ended up leaving out a few. Do you have any that you use regularly that are not mentioned above?

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