Centre for Continuing Education

Exploring Music Course: The Symphony Orchestra

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

The sound of a symphony orchestra in full flight is one of the most thrilling sounds in all of Western classical music. This music course explores the instruments of the orchestra and the variety of sounds they can achieve, and examines the growth and development of the symphony orchestra. It also explores the kind of music written for the orchestra, by examining some of the greatest composers and compositions of all time.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • list the main families of instruments in the orchestra
  • list some specific examples orchestral instruments
  • describe some of the features of the instruments of the orchestra
  • identify some of the different instrument families of the orchestra by their sound.


Topics we will cover:

  • What is a symphony orchestra?
  • Symphony Orchestra versus Philharmonic Orchestra
  • How sound is made
  • The instrument families
  • The layout of an orchestra
  • The string section
  • The woodwind section
  • The brass section
  • The percussion section
  • Conductors and conducting
  • Orchestration

Music we will listen to:

  • Britten: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
  • Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusic
  • Ravel: String Quartet in F
  • Bach: Cello Suites
  • Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite
  • Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
  • Mozart: Flute Concerto No. 1
  • Vaughan Williams: Oboe Concerto
  • Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3
  • Stravinksy: The Rite of Spring
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 40
  • Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Gershwin: An American in Paris

Intended audience

Designed for fans of classical music, beginners and experienced listeners alike. No prior musical knowledge is required.

Delivery style

This course will be richly illustrated with musical examples, illustrations and video clips. The tutor will use the piano to demonstrate musical concepts to the everyday listener. Questions from participants will be encouraged, and there will be room for discussion throughout the course.


Handouts will be provided in class.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

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