When we think of orchestral instruments and what type of music they are part of, we tend to jump straight to Western classical music. While a popular genre for violins, violas, cellos, and basses in the U.S., it is important to recognize the many other styles played here and around the world. Although not an extensive list, it's a great place to start learning!
Living in the United States, Western classical music is likely the type of orchestral music you are most familiar with. This type of music is composed or created in Europe, the U.S., or another country colonized by European settlers. Western classical is typically written for full orchestras including violin, violas, cellos, basses, brass, woodwinds, percussion, etc. One characteristic that separates Western classical from many other genres is the fact that it is written down and composed rather than improvised. This was historically due to the fact that church leaders wanted consistency and accuracy in their hymns. Classical music has evolved over time and gone through several stylistic periods including medieval, baroque, romantic, and modern. Because of the vast history and evolution over time, it is hard to characterize Western classical music by any one trait. The genre does tend to be fairly complex in sound and polyphonic, layered with melodies, harmonies, textures, etc. One example of Western classical music is Edward Elgar's popular piece, Enigma Variations performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. Take a listen!
Irish & Scottish Fiddle
Violins, or in this style, fiddles, are often the centerpieces in modern day Irish and Scottish fiddle music. Traditionally, bodhrans (drums), fiddles, whistles, pipes, concertinas, and harps are key instruments in the style. Much of Irish music consists of either slow ballads or upbeat music for dancing. Originally, pipes and whistles were used as warning signals, but as the instruments evolved, people began to make music with them. When the Celts arrived, they also showed the natives how to perform, and thus fiddling evolved. Fiddle music is often played in 6/8 time or 2/2 time with bowing and accents being a large part of the style. Some violinists will switch out their bridge for a fiddling bridge as well. The Swallowtail Jig is a well known tune that exemplifies the fiddle style on violin.
Bluegrass music originated in the Appalachian region of the U.S. in the 1940s. Typical instrumentation consists of acoustic instruments including violins, double basses, banjos, guitars, mandolins, harmonicas, and vocals. Bassists often play in a slap style with an emphasis on the off beats. Violins can take the part of the melody or harmony, often with the vocals taking the lead. Bluegrass music is often narrative, telling the story of everyday life. The style was created with many influences including European music, fiddle tunes, jazz, and blues. Take a listen to this example of Bluegrass music!
Jazz music originated in the late 1800s in the black neighborhoods of New Orleans. Largely expressionist, jazz tends to be improvised and soulful. Ensemble composition varies, but percussion, upright basses, and brass are common. The example below is more orchestral in nature, and is a great example of how your instrument can play this genre. Jazz comes in many different forms, and thus can be difficult to characterize, but influence from the blues and gospel music are evident throughout. Much of jazz is rhythmic, features swing notes, and is free style. Take a listen to world renowned bassist Esperanza Spalding's performance.
Indian classical music comes in two main styles- Northern Indian (Hindustani) and Southern Indian (Carnatic). Although very similar, they do have a few distinct characteristics. One such difference is that Hindustani music tends to be more improvised whereas Carnatic is typically composed. But what makes Indian classical music different than Western classical music? There are actually many notable differences, one of which being instrumentation and playing techniques. Indian classical often features sitars, percussive instruments, and violins. Despite having the violin in common, the instrument is held and played much differently than in Western classical. They are also tuned differently, often in octave 5ths. Indian classical music tends to be homophonic, focusing around a melody, rather than polyphonic, like in the Western style, will many layers, harmonies, and textures. Take a listen to Charumathi Raghuramen performing in the Indian classical style!
Orchestral music can be found in all kinds of pop culture including movie scores, pop music, cover groups, and more! Sometimes the instruments are electric and other times they are acoustic and electrified with a pick up or microphone. Well known artists that include orchestral string instruments in their work include Lindsey Stirling, The Lumineers, and AJR. Some groups are entirely instrumental and do covers of popular songs. Such groups include 2Cellos and The Piano Guys. In terms of movies, John Williams is one of the most famous movie score composers and is featured in works like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and more. This inclusion of traditional string instruments into pop culture is a great way to exposure more people to the art and give people an idea of just how much these instruments can do. Take a listen to 2Cellos performance of music from Pirates of the Caribbean!
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