How Well Do You Know These Words From Orchestra Class?


By: Teresa McGlothlin

6 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

When we were young and in orchestra class, we were changing our brains and learning a whole other language. Musical notation is full of words, instruments, and phrases that only other musical people would know. After you answer your way through this quiz, we think you will impress yourself by the musical terminology that you remember. 

While we won't ask you to read from a piece of sheet music, we will ask you about words you might have learned during your days as a music student. From stanzas to crescendos, you might even relearn a few things you have forgotten. In order to keep you entertained, we have not taken the easy route, and we think you'll feel challenged by our questions. 

Tune up the strings of your brain and get your reeds wet! In order to pass this orchestra class quiz, you are going to have to lead your thoughts like a conductor leads an unruly string section. You have our every confidence that you'll be able to reprise your knowledge from the things you were taught, and you'll leave yourself feeling proud. 

Do you know these orchestra words as well as you think you do? Now is a great time to find out! 

Which of the following words is a tempo instruction?

When it comes to musical tempos, largo is one of the slowest. Things marked with the word largo should be played slowly and with dignity. The opposite tempo of largo is presto.


Which of the following instruments is not a woodwind instrument?

Although you would find the oboe, the clarinet, and the bassoon in the woodwind section, the euphonium is a member of the brass section. It is popular in military bands and resembles a small version of the tuba.


What kind of instrument is like a heckelphone?

The heckelphone might sound like it belongs in the brass section, but it is, in fact, similar to a bass oboe. The only difference between a heckelphone and an oboe is that the heckelphone is pitched one octave lower.


What is the orchestral music at the beginning of an opera called?

Before an opera really kicks into action, it begins with an overture. One of the world's most famous overtures, the William Tell Overture, was composed by Rossini in 1829.


What is the first note conducted by the leader called?

Once the conductor or leader is ready to begin, they use an upbeat to signal the orchestra or ensemble. The downbeat is the very first note of any orchestral piece.


Which symbol tells a performer they may hold a note as long as they like?

When a performer sees a small arch with a dot underneath, they are granted the expressive moment to hold a note as long as they would like. The fermata symbol slightly resembles an eye.


What does crescendo mean?

The crescendo might look like an enlarged mathematical symbol, but in musical terms, it means to grow louder in volume. If the volume were supposed to decrease, musicians would see the decrescendo symbol.


Which word indicates something should be performed sweetly and delicately?

The musical term dolce means that something should be played sweetly and delicately. Extra care should be taken to ensure that portions denoted with the dolce mark are played expressively.


What kind of instrument is a marimba?

Although the marimba's wooden keys are laid out like a piano, it is a member of the percussion family. The marimba is played with mallets that strike the keys causing vibration in metal tubes underneath.


Which word means to be played at a walking tempo?

When a piece should be played at a brisk walking tempo, it is marked with the term adagio. If a piece were played in a lento or a largo fashion, it would be slow.


What is it called when the notes of a chord are played individually rather than together?

When three or more notes are played together, they form a chord. When each note of the chord is played individually and in succession, it is called an arpeggio.


Which punctuation mark does a breath mark resemble?

As orchestra members read along the score, they might see a large comma at the top of the staff. This symbol is called the breath mark, and it tells those playing brass or wind instruments when to take a breath between notes or phrases.


What is another name for 4/4 time?

At the beginning of a piece of music, you will see the time signature indicated. In this instance, 4/4 time, also called common time, would indicate that there are four beats per measure.


At which volume level does fortissimo tell players to play?

Indicated by the marking of ff, fortissimo tells performers to play very loud. Fortissimo is the next to loudest of all dynamic musical instructions.


What sort of instrument is a guiro?

When you hear the guiro in songs, it really stands out. It is a percussion instrument popular in Latin music. Made from a gourd and played by scraping a stick along the grooved outer sides, the guiro adds great texture to a beat.


What is the name of the second-lowest brass instrument?

A little larger than the heckelphone but smaller than the tuba, the baritone is the second-lowest brass instrument. Baritone is also a term used to describe the second-lowest male singing voice.


What musical term means to decrease both tempo and volume?

Performers begin to decrease both the tempo and the volume when they see the calando marking. While a decrescendo only indicates a decrease in volume, calando also includes the speed at which the music is played.


What is the name of the scale with 12 semitones?

A standard major or minor scale is comprised of eight notes. The chromatic scale includes the semitones found between the eight notes of any other scale.


Which instrument works like an accordion?

Like the accordion, the concertina is played by squeezing two ends together. The push of air is turned into musical notes by pushing buttons or covering holes on the instrument.


Who leads the orchestra?

The person you see instructing the orchestra through a series of timed arm movements is the conductor. The conductor controls the flow and the volume of the musical piece.


When sounds are not harmonious, what are they?

To add flair and drama to a piece, composers will often add dissonant parts to the score. Dissonant notes are notes that are not harmonious with the others. It can also happen when a performer hits the wrong note.


Which musical form has a repeated theme?

During the performance of fugues, performers can expect to repeat passages throughout the piece. The repeated part is usually the most memorable, or as we call it today - catchy.


Which note of a scale is known as the leading tone?

The leading tone is the note that leads the key in which a piece is composed. In a diatonic scale, the leading tone is the seventh note.


What is it called when a passage switches to another key?

When a musical passage gently switches to another key, it is called modulation. Modulating during a piece adds to the drama and interesting sound of a musical composition.


Which term tells string players to pluck the strings?

Pizzicato is the term that tells string players to lightly pluck the strings in a quick, staccato fashion. Instead of using a bow for pizzicato sections, string players use their fingers.


Which composer composed "Moonlight Sonata"?

Beethoven (1770 - 1827) was a composer who defined the era between romantic and classical. Beethoven composed many beautiful pieces, including the Moonlight Sonata, all while losing his hearing,


How many performers are in a quintet?

A group with four performers is called a quartet. When you add another performer, it becomes a quintet.


Which of these is a reed instrument?

Reed instruments are played by passing air over a bamboo or wooden reed. In addition to the clarinet, other reed instruments include the oboe and the bassoon.


When an earlier part of a song repeats, what is it called?

Composers will often repeat the early part of a composition later in the work. The repeated part of the song when performed later in a piece is call the reprise.


What is the last movement of a sonata called?

As a sonata comes to a close, you will notice a specific movement called the rondo. Rondos are a movement within a piece of music that set the tone for the ending.


Which drum has wires on the bottom head?

The rat-a-tat sound you hear coming from a snare drum is caused by the wires fastened across the bottom drum skin. Drummers can flip a switch on the snare drum, making the wires tighter or loser, depending on the desired sound.


What is another name for the timpani?

The large, free-standing drum you see in the percussion section is known as the timpani. However, some folks prefer to call it the kettledrum because of its appearance.


What are the five lines containing musical notes called?

The five lines upon which musical notations are written are called the staff. The treble and the bass clef have their own staff.


What is the first note of a diatonic scale called?

Of the eight notes on a diatonic scale, the first note is called the tonic note. The tonic note is also known as the root note of chords.


Which note has the longest time value?

The note with the longest time value is called a whole note. A whole note takes up all the beats within a measure. All of the other notes are held to a length a fraction of the whole note.


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