Orchestral String Instruments: What Are They & What Should You Play?

Orchestra string instruments are an integral part of classical music and have been played for hundreds of years. The four main string instruments in an orchestra are the violin, viola, cello, and double bass. Each instrument has a unique sound, technique, and role in the orchestra. When people think of an orchestra, they often picture violin-like instruments playing beautiful classical music. Choosing which instrument to play can be a challenging decision, but it ultimately depends on personal preferences, physical attributes, and goals. Let’s explore the characteristics of each instrument and provide some guidance on how to choose which one to play.

Main Types of Orchestra String Instruments

The four main types of orchestra string instruments are the violin, viola, cello, and double bass. The violin is the smallest and highest-pitched instrument in the string family, with a sweet, bright sound. The viola is slightly larger than the violin and produces a deeper, richer sound. The cello is much larger than the viola and has an even deeper, warm sound that can also be expressive and lyrical. The double bass is the largest instrument in the string family, with a deep, resonant sound that provides the foundation of the orchestra’s harmony and rhythm. Each instrument has its unique characteristics, but they all work together to create the rich and full sound of the orchestra.


The violin is the smallest instrument in the string family and has the highest pitch. It has four strings, which are tuned in fifths (G, D, A, E). The violin’s sound is bright and clear, making it well-suited for solo passages and melodies. Violinists will learn a wide range of techniques, including vibrato, glissando, and pizzicato, which are used to add expressive nuances to the music. This versatile instrument can be used in a variety of genres, from classical to folk to jazz. The violin can be challenging to play, especially for beginners. Its small size and high-pitched sound require precise technique and intonation, which can take time to master.


The viola has a lower-pitched sound and is slightly larger than the violin. It has four strings as well, but they are tuned a fifth lower than the violin (C, G, D, A). The viola’s sound is warmer and darker than the violin, making it well-suited for playing harmony and countermelodies. It has a unique voice in the orchestra, providing a rich and full sound that bridges the gap between the violin and the cello. Its larger size makes it more comfortable to play for some musicians. The viola also requires a specific bowing technique, which can be challenging to master.


The cello is a larger instrument compared to the viola and violin, and it produces a low, warm sound. It has four strings, which are tuned an octave lower than the viola (C, G, D, A). The cello’s sound is expressive and lyrical, with a wide range of dynamics and techniques. Along with the violin, the cello is often used to play the melody in orchestral pieces, and its rich sound can add depth and emotion to the music. The cello is a large instrument and can be difficult to transport. Its size can also make it challenging to play for some musicians, especially those with shorter arms.

Double Bass

The double bass is the largest instrument in the string family and has the lowest-pitched sound. It has four strings as well, but they are tuned an octave lower than the cello (E, A, D, G). The double bass sets the rhythm and harmony for the orchestra, with its deep, resonant sound filling out the lower register of the music. It is often used to play the bass line in orchestral pieces, and its versatility allows it to switch between playing rhythmically and melodically.

As the largest instrument in the string family, the double bass can be challenging to transport. It also requires a specific technique to play, which can be challenging to master.

How to Choose What String Instrument to Play in the Orchestra

Choosing a string instrument to play in the orchestra can be a difficult decision, but here are some factors to consider:

Personal Preference

The most important factor is to choose an instrument that you enjoy playing. It’s essential to try out each instrument and see which one feels the most comfortable and enjoyable to play. You can also listen to recordings of each instrument and attend live performances to get a sense of their unique sound.

Physical Attributes

The size and shape of your body can also affect which instrument is best suited for you. For example, a taller person may find the cello or double bass more comfortable to play, while someone with smaller hands may find the violin or viola more manageable.

Musical Goals

Consider what kind of music you want to play and what role you want to have in the orchestra. If you enjoy playing melody and solos, the violin or cello may be a good choice. If you prefer to play harmony and support the melody, the viola or double bass may be more suitable.


Finally, you may also want to consider the availability of the instrument. Some schools or orchestras may have a limited number of instruments of the orchestra for kids available, so it’s essential to check if the instrument you want to play is available.

Benefits of Private Lessons for Orchestra Members

In addition to participating in your school or local orchestra, private lessons can provide numerous benefits for string musicians of all ages and skill levels.

Individualized Attention

In a private lesson, the teacher has the time and space to focus solely on the needs of the student, providing personalized instruction and feedback. This allows you to progress at your own pace and receive guidance specific to your unique playing abilities and goals.

Improved Technique

A private teacher can also help identify areas of weakness in a student’s playing and provide targeted exercises and techniques to help them improve. This can lead to better intonation, tone production, and overall technical proficiency.

Performance Preparation

Private lessons can help prepare students for auditions, concerts, and other performances. Your teacher can provide feedback on your interpretation, phrasing, and musical expression, which helps you have your best performance.

Confidence Building

Private lessons can also boost students’ confidence in their playing abilities, as they receive positive reinforcement and personalized instruction. This can lead to a greater sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue playing and improving.

Greater Musical Understanding

A private teacher can provide a deeper understanding of music theory, history, and interpretation. This can enhance a student’s musical knowledge and appreciation while also making them a more well-rounded and informed musician.

Lessons In Your Home offers private orchestra lessons for violin, viola, cello, and double bass, along with a wide variety of other instruments. Experience the benefits of private lessons for orchestra members when you get started today with a private teacher near you who can work with your schedule and meet you in the comfort of your home.

FAQs: Orchestral String Instruments

What is the most popular orchestra string instrument?

The most popular orchestra string instrument is the violin. It is widely considered to be the lead instrument of the orchestra’s string section and is played by many musicians around the world. Other popular string instruments in the orchestra include the viola, cello, and double bass.

What is the best instrument to play in the orchestra?

Each instrument in the orchestra brings its own unique sound and contributes to the overall harmony of the ensemble. It ultimately depends on what instrument an individual is most passionate about and dedicated to practicing and performing with proficiency.

What type of music does the orchestra normally play?

Orchestras are known for performing classical music, which can include symphonies, concertos, overtures, and other works written by composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky, among others. Some orchestras may also perform more contemporary pieces or arrangements of popular songs.

Learn Any String Instrument with Lessons In Your Home

At Lessons In Your Home, we offer private string instrument lessons that are tailored to meet the individual needs and goals of each student. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced player, our experienced and highly qualified instructors can provide you with the personalized guidance and support you need to improve your skills and reach your musical potential. With flexible scheduling and the convenience of in-home lessons, we make it easy for you to fit music into your busy lifestyle. Contact us today to learn more about our private string instrument lessons and how we can help you achieve your musical goals. 

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