Home > Leaving Cert Music > Aural > Know Your Instruments

Know Your Instruments

Be able to identify families of instruments and individual instruments by ear. It's helpful to listen to each instrument and note what that instrument reminds you of, e.g. the oboe reminds me of the character Janice from FRIENDS or a duck with a sinus infection; the viola makes me think of Norah Jones.

NOTE: Making up your own memory aid is more effective than borrowing someone else's.

Listen to each instrument and write a note of what you think of when your hear it. Don't force it - if you can't think of something, move on and come back.
Alternatively, some people find it helpful to look at a picture of the instrument as they listen to it.

Where can you listen to individual instruments? Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten exibits each instrument of each family of the orchestra (available on iTunes among many others). You'll also find helpful recordings on the CD's that accompany Junior Cert. Music books such as Tuned In. Alternatively, search youtube or check out the Youtube Symphony Orchestra .

There's a few other facts about instuments which you should familiarise yourself with:

Transposing Instruments:
Most instruments are tuned to C. Certain instruments are tuned to a different key e.g. Clarinet in A, Horn in F. These instruments must have their part written in a different key, and therefore at a different pitch, on paper as the rest of the orchestra so that when they play they sound at the same pitch as everybody else. This came up in 2003 Q.3! Also note that the piccolo sounds and octave higher than written and the double bass sounds an octave lower than written.

While you're learning about each instrument note what order the instruments of each family go in from highest-sounding to lowest-sounding and note what clef each instrument uses. This is not something that is put to you directly as a leaving cert. question, however it is very helpful indirectly e.g. if you are asked to identify an instrument and you are given part of the score as part of the question, you can confirm or eliminate instruments by checking the clef.

Note that woodwind and brass insrtuments can only play one note each at a time. If you see more than one note on their stave you should also see the word divisi (div. for short) or numbers 1. and 2. beside each note indicating that the group of instruments should split in two and play one note each.
String instruments can play more than one note at a time provided those notes are on seperate strings. Tuned percussion instruments can play more than one note at once also as can keyboard instruments.