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 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 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.


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

The string section

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

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

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

The percussion section

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

Conductors and conducting

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


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

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.



Delivery style

This course is richly illustrated with musical examples, illustrations and video clips. Susan Deas uses the piano to demonstrate musical concepts to the everyday listener. Questions are encouraged, and there will be room for discussion throughout the course.


Handouts are provided electronically.


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

Music Appreciation Course: The Orchestra

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