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Discovering the Instruments of the Orchestra

Juilliard via edX

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Overview

The world’s greatest orchestras have the incredible ability to sound so unified they feel like one single instrument. Listening to the music of an orchestra can feel invigorating, exciting, and life-affirming all at the same time. But how do you learn to hear and appreciate the nuances of each instrument? How have the instruments that make up an orchestra evolved and improved over time?

Dr. L Michael Griffel, Chair of Juilliard’s Music History Department, takes you on a journey into the orchestra and introduces you to the history of its principal instruments.

You will learn about each instrument, from violin to timpani, and will gain the ability to recognize their individual sounds and textures when listening to any orchestral music.

Through four modules you will discover the four families of instruments: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion, giving you confidence to further discover the music of the orchestra. No prior musical experience necessary.

Syllabus

Week 0: Introduction
After completing this module, you should be able to:

  • Categorize orchestral instruments into four families;
  • Summarize the evolution of the orchestra.

Week 1: String Instruments
After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • Identify the sound of the violin, viola, cello, and double bass in orchestral, chamber, and solo music;
  • Describe the historical evolution and construction of each string instrument;
  • Discuss the experience and technical aspects of playing string instruments.

Week 2: Woodwinds Instruments
After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • Identify the sound of the flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon in orchestral, chamber, and solo music;
  • Describe the historical evolution and material make-up of each woodwind instrument;
  • Discuss the experience and technical aspects of playing woodwind instruments. 

Week 3: Brass Instruments
After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • Identify the sound of the horn, trumpet, trombone, and tuba in orchestral, chamber, and solo music;
  • Describe the historical evolution and material make-up of each brass instrument;
  • Discuss the experience and technical aspects of playing brass instruments.

Week 4: Harp and Percussion Instruments
After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • Identify the sound of the harp, timpani, cymbals, triangle gong, snare drum, bass drum, celesta, piano, and harp in orchestral, chamber, and solo music;
  • Describe the historical evolution and material make-up of the harp and select percussion instruments;
  • Discuss the experience and technical aspects of playing harp and percussion instruments.

Taught by

Dr. L. Michael Griffel

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Review for edX's Discovering the Instruments of the Orchestra
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Pat B
3.0 a year ago
by Pat completed this course, spending 12 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.
This was a good course, but a few tweaks could have made it a great course. Many students (myself included) had trouble with question 5 of the first week's quiz and there were many comments in the class forums about it. No action was taken. No responses from staff were posted as far as I could ascertain. When I did the course a few months ago, the answers were available, so I knew how the question should have been answered. Now the Show Answers button seems to have disappeared, adding to current students' frustration.

Another thing that would have improved this course would be to simply add a short closing video. It really felt unfinished.
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