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The string section forms the bulk of the orchestra and sits at the front of the stage. All string instruments use a bow to move over the string, which makes it vibrate and produce a sound, although they also pluck the string to make a more percussive sound. The exception is the harp, where all the strings plucked. Usually, there are five main parts written for strings:
Often one or two harps are added to this.
In a symphony orchestra, a typical string section is made up of 16 first violins, 14 second violins, 12 violas, 12 cello's, 10 double basses. Chamber orchestras use much smaller string sections, but the proportions between the instruments generally remain the same.
The strings need many players to each part to balance the noise of the woodwind and brass sections. The standard layout of the section has first violins on the left of the conductor, then seconds, violas and cello's on the conductor's right with double basses sitting behind them. However, conductors do make changes, such as sitting both the violin sections opposite each other with violas and cellos in the middle.
The string section often sustains the bulk of a piece of music, especially in music from the Baroque and Classical periods.
Did You Know?
String instruments have only used metal strings in the last 100 years; before this, strings were made from gut.
The instruments of the orchestra are divided into four main sections. Each section has a distinctive sound and role in the orchestra.
To see how a full symphony orchestra looks when on stage, take a look at this poster from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.