Centre for Continuing Education

Music Appreciation Course: The Orchestra

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses both online and in-person. Please check the delivery format for each class before you enrol.

Please note that course materials for all classes (excluding prescribed textbooks) are shared electronically within 48 hours of a course starting. Printing is not available.

The sound of a great symphony orchestra in full flight is one of the most thrilling sounds in all of western classical music. Your enjoyment of classical music can be enriched by deepening your knowledge and of the instruments of the orchestra.

This course will guide you through an exploration of each of the instruments of the orchestra, discovering their characteristics and personality, and the sounds they can achieve. We will also explore the music written for the orchestra through history, by examining some of the greatest composers and compositions of all time. No prior musical knowledge is necessary.  


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 development of the orchestra.


Session 1: Introduction to the orchestra

  • The glory of the symphony orchestra
  • Symphony orchestra versus Philharmonic orchestra
  • The families of orchestral instruments
  • The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, by Benjamin Britten
  • Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite

Session 2: The string section

  • Violin, viola, cello, double bass, harp
  • Interlude: The Baroque orchestra
  • The Four Seasons, by Vivaldi

Session 3: The woodwind section

  • Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon
  • Interlude: The birth of the Classical orchestra
  • The importance of Stamitz and Mannheim
  • C.P.E. Bach’s Oboe Concerto in E flat

Session 4: The brass section

  • Trumpet, Horn, Trombone, Tuba
  • Interlude: The Classical orchestra
  • The orchestral music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven
  • Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat

Session 5: The percussion section

  • Timpani, gongs, drums, cymbals, xylophones, and others
  • Interlude: The Early Romantics
  • Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3, "Scottish"

Session 6: Conductors and conducting

  • What the conductor does
  • Interlude: The Later Romantics
  • Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet

Session 7: Orchestration

  • How the instruments are used, separately and together
  • Interlude: The Post-Romantics
  • Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

Session 8: Favourite orchestral works

  • Participant choices
  • Interlude: The twentieth century
  • Favourite orchestral works
  • 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



Handouts will be provided in class.


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

We acknowledge the tradition of custodianship and law of the Country on which the University of Sydney campuses stand. We pay our respects to those who have cared and continue to care for the Country.