Strings are the largest family of instruments in the orchestra. There are four instruments in the string family: Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass. In addition, the harp is also considered a part of the string family.
The violin has the highest voice and the viola, followed by the cello which can sing with either a tenor or a bass and then double bass. All these instruments have 4 strings and the bodies are hollow inside to allow the sound of the vibrating strings to resonate. The musician plays the instrument by drawing a bow across the strings, making them vibrate, and then producing a sound. The bows are usually made of wood, strung with horse tail hair. The string instruments can also be played by plucking the strings with fingers.
The violin is the soprano voice of the orchestra and also a well-known solo instrument that is able to express every mood and shade of emotion. It is tuned to G, D, A, E Violin parts are written in treble clef. The pitch range of the violin in orchestra (as shown), the lowest note is G3 below the middle C (C4) and the highest note is E7, two octaves higher than the open string E (E5).
The viola is the brother of the violin and is slightly larger, longer than the violin. Compared with the bright-voiced violin, the sound of the viola is veiled and often sad. It has a richness of tune which is peculiarly beautiful. It is tuned to C, G, D, A. Viola parts are written in alto clef. The pitch range of the viola in orchestra (as shown), the lowest note is C3 (an octave lower than middle C) and the highest note is E6.
The cello is also called a violoncello. It has longer, thicker strings than viola and therefore plays lower notes. Its size compelling the performer to rest it on the floor while playing. The cello has a deep manly voice, which is frequently heard in solo passages. Its full, rich and penetrating tone. It is tuned an octave lower than the viola, C, G, D, A. The cello parts are written in bass clef. The pitch range of the cello in orchestra (as shown), the lowest note is C2 (two octaves lower than middle C) and the highest note is A5.
The double bass is the grandfather of the string family and also sometimes called the contrabass. It is so big that the players have to stand up to it. Its gruff voice can sound very comical, especially in quick passages. The strings of this instrument are often plucked instead of bowed. Most of the time the double bass is often found in dance bands. It is tuned to E, A, D, G and is written in bass clef. It is written an octave higher than it actually sounds. The pitch range of the double bass in orchestra (as shown), the lowest note is E1 and the highest note is A3.
The harp is a plucked and unique string instrument. The modern harp has 47 strings and 7 foot pedals. The long strings are for the lower notes and the short ones for the higher notes. The strings vary in thickness; the thickest the strings, the lower the notes. To assist with the play, all the C strings are colored in red while the F strings are in blue. By using the 7 pedals, which the player operates with his feet, it raises or lowers each pitch-class of the strings. There are three left pedal operated by left foot (D, C and B strings) and four right pedal operated by right foot (E, F, G and A strings), as shown in the pictures below. When the pedals are raised, the strings are in their flat position: Cb, Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab, Bb. Each pedal controls a different pitch so by altering the C pedal only, it will be: C, Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab, Bb.
Music for the harp is written in treble and bass clef like piano music and both hands are used to play it. The strings are normally plucked but sometimes the player sweeps his finger across the strings. This is called a “glissando”. The pitch range of the harp in the orchestra (as shown below), the lowest note is C1 (three octaves lower than middle C) and the highest note is G7.