Order of Instruments

It is convenient for orchestrators to group instruments by section. The principal sections found in the orchestra are the woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings. Voices and electronic sounds are commonly combined with acoustic instrument families, but they are beyond the scope of this topic.

As a general rule, the instruments in each section are listed in the score from highest to lowest in pitch, top to bottom. They are ordered as follows, with typical numbers of each in an orchestra of moderate size. An asterisk (*) indicates that it is less likely to be used in every score, and that it will be played by a member of the same instrument family. For example, if there were an English horn part, it would be performed by the second oboe player. If this part were added to two existing oboe parts, a third player would be required. The staff of a professional orchestra includes a player pool large enough to accommodate the needs of expansive scores, such as the tone poems by Richard Strauss.

Orchestral Order

Picc. piccolo 1*
Fl. flute 2
Ob. oboe 2
E. Hn English horn 1*
Cl. clarinet 2
B. Cl. bass clarinet 1*
Bn. bassoon 2
C. Bn. contra bassoon 1*
F Hn. horn in F 4
Tpt. trumpet 3
Trb. trombone 3
Tuba tuba 1
Timp. timpani 1
Perc. percussion: 
nonpitched (drums, cymbals, triangle, tambourine)
pitched (xylophone, orchestra bells, chimes)
Others piano (Pno.), harp, celesta, organ, voices
all others, including solo instruments in a concerto
Vln. I violin I 12-14
Vln. II violin II 10-12
Vla. viola 8-10
Vcl. violoncello 6-8
Db. double bass 4-6

It is important to memorize the score order because many publishers do not print the names or even the abbreviations for instruments after the first page of a score. This could become confusing if instruments not used on subsequent pages are deleted from the score. At times, the order, clef, and transposition are the only clues the conductor has to determine which instruments are playing.

Chamber Quintet Order

Mixed chamber groups usually follow the same order, omitting instruments not used. The order for standard chamber wind quintets is as follows:

Brass Quintet
Woodwind Quintet
Trumpet I Flute
Trumpet II Oboe
Horn Clarinet
Trombone Horn
Tuba Bassoon
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