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Composition II
Classification Essay
19 October 2015
The Three Categories of Orchestral Instruments
The orchestra is a large, organized group of musicians who perform a broad variety of
musical works, such as symphonies, concertos, or more recently, soundtracks. For someone who
is not well acquainted with orchestral instruments, it can be confusing to attend an orchestra
concert and see so many musicians playing on various instruments across the stage. Paul

Commented [A1]: Good job explaining the sources credentials.

Mathews, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Johns Hopkins Peabody Conservatory, writes

Commented [A2]: Great claim that is narrow enough to support


in the body paragraphs.

that the orchestra can be viewed as a human organism, so that the strings form the nervous
systemthe brass and woodwind form the blood system under its double classification of
arteries and veins, and finally the percussion instruments form the lymphatic system (93). Of
the several ways orchestral instruments could be classified, arguably the clearest divisions fall
into three groups by evaluation of melodic importance and instrumental similarity: strings, brass
and woodwinds, and percussion.
Stringed instruments form the largest and most important instrument group within the
orchestramore than half, according to David Ewen (381). The string sections are truly the
core of the orchestra and tend to carry the melodic line most frequently. In fact, some musical
pieces are written only for string orchestra, meaning only these instruments are used. A viewer

Be sure to create a thesis with a narrowed claim and/or some type


of parameters, which can help set the stage for the essays
organization. In addition, your claim must be arguable/debatable;
otherwise, you wont be able to support it/prove it true. For
instance, are your classifications the three most recognizable? Are
they the three worst kinds? Are they the only three in your opinion
within particular confines? Example 1: The three most recognizable
mothers are the perfectionist, best friend, and me-first. Example 2:
Regardless of location, any given baseball game will find among its
fans the following three types: the fair weather fan, the die-hard
fan, and the newbie.
Then, you could list them from most to least liked in the thesis and
in the body paragraphs. Remember, your topic sentences should
express a logical order for your subtopics. Each topic sentence does
not need to note the order, but at least the first body paragraphs
topic sentence and every other one or every few should make that
claim to help the reader stay on track.
*Remember, the support rubric section is tied to the thesis section.
Without a clearly written and developed thesis, it is difficult to
determine if and to what degree your arguments and content
support your thesis. In many cases, the support section will not
score higher than the thesis score because the two components
work together to form a whole unit. Therefore, be sure to spend
ample time developing the thesis so that you earn credit for strong
support if and where applicable.
Commented [A3]: Nicely organized via topic sentences.

will recognize them surrounding the conductor in a semi-circle arrangement on stage, including
violins, violas, cellos, double basses, and harps. All of these instruments possess fine strings
stretched over or across wood to create sound, giving them a striking similarity to the range and

Be sure your topic sentences denote which order you chose for
your subtopics, which should be related the claim in your thesis. For
instance, if your thesis says, The three most recognizable teachers
are (add three most recognizable types), your paragraph order
might descend from most to least popular. You can also go from
best to worst, etc. Each topic sentence does not need to note the
order, but at least the first body paragraphs topic sentence and
every other one or every few should make that claim to help the
reader stay on track.

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inflections of the human voice, and extraordinary ability to communicate emotion. A total of four
strings are used on violins, violas, cellos, and double basses, with each respective instrument
possessing a lower note range than the one before. A separate part of the instrument, called the
bow, is made of wood with horse hair stretched across it. This is artfully drawn over the
instruments strings to create music. The harp is the only instrument among the strings that
differs radically in shape, and in number of strings. It utilizes around forty-six strings, plucked
or swept over to create intricate tones (Ewen 382). The emotional power and large presence that
the string section possesses give a solid core to the modern orchestra.
After the strings, brass and woodwinds form the second most important group of
orchestral instruments. Although they do not possess the all-important melody line as frequently
as the strings, they still wield great influence over tone and mood. Similar to each other, yet still
different, they are both played by forcing air through brass or wooden apparatuses, but are placed
in two distinct, neighboring sections within the orchestra. Stops, placed over air holes on the
instruments, such as on the trumpet or flute, help create the different pitches of sound. The brass
section, including trumpets, French horns, trombones, and tubas, is the most brilliant in
resonance, since the air forced through these metal instruments creates great volume (Ewen
383). Trumpets blare fanfares and French horns broadcast heroic themes, which soar high above
the lush strings. But the eight woodwind instruments bring a contemplative variance of sound
that comes with lower volume capacity, like the clarinet airing a flowing melody line that passes
between the woodwinds and strings. Together, the brass and woodwind sections create
dimension and give strength of sound volume to the orchestra.
Although the strings, brass, and woodwinds may enjoy higher importance and frequent
possession of the melody line, the percussion instruments form an impressive group of odd-

Commented [A4]: Very strong support for the two claims in this
paragraph.
Each body paragraph should support two claims: 1) the claim in
your thesis (The three most popular heroes are; regardless of
location, any given basketball game will find among its fans, etc.)
and 2) the claim in your topic sentence, which relates to how you
choose to organize your essay (best to worst, most recognizable to
least, etc.).
Sample thesis: Regardless of stadium location, any given basketball
game will find among its fans the following three types: the fairweather fan, the die-hard fan, and the newbie. I would organize
my paragraphs from the most to least recognizable, so I would first
change the order of the fans in the thesis to the order in which I
present them in my essay according to most to least recognizable:
die-hard fan, fair-weather fan, and newbie. Remember, each topic
sentence does not need to note the order, but at least the first
body paragraphs topic sentence and every other one or every few
should make that claim to help the reader stay on track. Review the
sample shortened paragraph below for at least four points each
paragraph should contain: 1) a topic sentence that specifies or hints
to the order, 2) characteristics of your subtopic, 3) examples of your
subtopic (optional but helpful support), 4) why/how your subtopic
supports the thesis, and 5) a concluding sentence.
Sample paragraph: 1) The die-hard fan is by far the most
recognizable fan in a sports stadium. 2) He or she is likely dressed in
as much team gear as possible, and 60% of these die-hard fans sit
within the 25% of seating nearest the playing field (Smith). 3)
Producer, director, writer, and actor Spike Lee is considered a diehard New York Knicks fan because he is almost always sitting
sideline at Knicks games, wearing Knicks attire or colors, and
drawing attention by speaking with the players and acting out after
unfavorable calls. 4) These die-hard fans are clearly noticeable, and
although Spike Lee may be one of the more extreme cases, major
sporting events have die-hard fans because these fans are not likely
to miss their teams games, especially the home games, because
70% of die-hard fans live in the same cities as their favorite teams
(Doe & Anderson 57). 5.) Because these distinct fans enjoy the
game on a much more extreme level than casual fans, this latter
group is best suited enjoying the game in the second level section
of the stadium behind the die-hards.

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shaped mechanisms. This loudest section of the orchestra, David Ewen writes, gives stress to

Commented [A5]: The sources appear throughout the essay.

the rhythm and plays an important role in building up powerful sonorous effects and climaxes
(383). Their infrequent possession of the melody line makes them the least influential of the
three groups. Nearly all are played by some kind of striking or hitting of the instrument, and
nearly half utilize metallic tones. The percussion section boasts a large diversity in style, shape,
and number of instruments, ranging from huge gongs producing ominous crashes to small
triangles and chimes boasting delicate, high-pitched metallic tones. Even pianos are considered
part of the percussion section when they are called for in specific orchestral pieces. It is common
for some percussion instruments to vary in number at any given orchestra concert, since not all
pieces require the same ones. Instruments in this section are less likely to be spotlighted often or
for long lengths of time, since their main role is normally rhythm and dramatic effects. However,
instruments such as the xylophone or marimba may take up the melody occasionally. With its
wide variety of instruments, the percussion section unites to provide rhythmic stability and extra
flashes of flare and power that enhance the orchestras performance.
In summary, an orchestra creates masterful sounds with the many and diverse instruments
it employs. Strings form the heart of the orchestra with lush tones from vibrating strings and their
emotional differentiation. Brass and woodwinds bring height of sound and variance of color by
utilizing air and stops. Finally, percussion instruments give a foundation of rhythm and shape to
the orchestras sound through the striking of objects. Put together, the three classifications of
orchestral instruments form a powerful musical force, enthralling the novice as well as the most
experienced listener.

Commented [A6]: Strong ending sentence.

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Works Cited
Ewen, David. The Home Book of Musical Knowledge. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1954.
Print.
Mathews, Paul. Orchestration: An Anthology of Writings. Google Books. London: Routledge,
2006. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.