Strings (with a teacher)
This activity is for classroom use. Your teacher will have further material to use alongside the clips and information below.
SECTION 1: What is a string instrument?
String instruments are easy to identify because they all have strings! You are going to discover as much as you can about how a string works by using only a rubber band. Experiment with the rubber band to see whether you can answer the questions below.
- How can you make a sound from a rubber band?
- How can you change the pitch of the sound?
- How can you play only half the length of the rubber band when it is stretched out? What happens to the sound?
When you pluck the rubber band it only produces a short sound. What could you do to produce a continuous sound on the rubber band?
In order for a continuous sound to be produced the string must always be vibrating. So something is needed to make the rubber band continuously vibrate…
The two main ways that a string instrument is played is either by using a bow for a long continuous sound or by plucking the string for a shorter sound. Plucking the string is called pizzicato. Listen to these pieces of music. Which ones use a bow and which ones use pizzicato?
SECTION 2: Meet the family
Below are the main string instruments that make up the string section in an orchestra. They are the ‘violin family’ instruments. Can you write down the instruments in order of size, from the biggest to the smallest?
Courtesy of Yamaha (violin & viola), Hannah Whale (cello), Genevieve Helsby (double bass)
When a string is made shorter, the pitch gets higher. Using this information can you now list the four instruments in order of pitch, from the highest-pitched instrument down to the lowest-pitched instrument?
The violin and cello play more of the melodies in an orchestra. Watch these video clips and think about how you would describe the sound of each instrument and how you hold and play them.
Video 1: Violin
Video 2: Cello
The viola and double bass play more accompaniments and harmonies in an orchestra. Listen to these two pieces of music and decide which is the viola and which is the double bass.
SECTION 3: Which instrument fits?
With your new-found knowledge of the violin, viola, cello and double bass are you able to complete the quiz? Your teacher will hand this out to you.
SECTION 4: String ensembles
String instruments can be arranged in different combinations to form an ensemble (a group of musicians who play together). The most common form of string ensemble is the string quartet. This is a group made up of four musicians/instruments: two violins, one viola and one cello.
Listen to the music below. Which pieces are performed by a string quartet and which ones are performed by a string orchestra?
A string quartet has four players but a string orchestra has many players.
Double-stopping: Playing two strings at once
Pitch: Whether a note is high or low
Pizzicato: Plucking a string instrument instead of using a bow
String quartet: An ensemble of four instruments: two violins, one viola and one cello
All media credits – titles, composers, artists, sources etc. – may be found in the Teacher Sheet, accessed from the Info box at the top of this page.