Royal Philharmonic Orchestra


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The viola, like the violin, has four strings but it is slightly larger than the violin. It has a deeper tone, being tuned a fifth of an octave lower than the violin. Like the other stringed instruments, the viola is played with a bow but can also be played ‘pizzicato’ (when the strings are plucked).
(Number played in a concert: usually 8-12.)

The violin is the highest-pitched stringed instrument. In an orchestra, there are two groups of violins: the First Violins, which usually play the tune, and the Second Violins which play more of a harmonic role.
(Number played in a concert: usually 12-16 First and 10-14 Second violins.)

The cello, known in Italian as the ‘violoncello’, is deeper in pitch than the viola but higher than the double bass. Because of its size, it is played sitting down. The range of a cello is similar to the range of the human voice, from a man’s deepest note to a woman’s highest.
(Number played in a concert: usually 6-10.)

Double bass
The double bass is the largest, and lowest-pitched, member of the string family. It is also popular in jazz when it is usually played ‘pizzicato’ (i.e. plucked).
(Number played in a concert: usually 4-8.)