The Makings of an Orchestra: A Guide to String Instruments

String Instruments
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String Instruments
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Photo Credit: Musik-Tonger (CCO)

The oldest string instruments are from 2,500 years ago — and yes, they’ve captured our imaginations and hearts for that long.

There’s something about a vibrating string that resonates deep within the soul. That’s the magic of string instruments. They’ve been part of history and your musical memories.

It turns out that there are many types of string instruments. Of course, the guitar comes to mind, but there are so many other wonderful instruments to explore.

What are some of the string instruments that you should know? Read on to learn more about the string family of instruments.

The Guitar Family

One of the most interesting things about the guitar family of stringed instruments is that it likely started with a one-stringed instrument. The ektar is an instrument from Pakistan. It’s made of a single string and played for religious purposes.

The instrument made its way to Persia and became the two-stringed dutar. The stringed instrument migrated to India and became the sitar.

Once it went to the Middle East, it evolved into the four-stringed qatar. From the Middle East, the instrument went to Italy and Spain and became the five-stringed guitar that we know of today.

The guitar reached America where it became the rock and roll electric five-string guitar.


This is the most unique string instrument because of its size and shape. It’s closely related to the piano because it has the same tuning as piano strings. The harp has a pedal that changes the pitch of the sound, which makes strings sound like black keys on a piano.

The harp is nearly six feet tall. You play it by putting your legs to one side of the instrument and leaning it back against your right shoulder.

You pluck the different colored strings with your forefingers and thumbs to produce the sound.


The violin is the most played instrument in an orchestra. There are often as many as 30 violinists in an orchestra, which is pretty remarkable.

This is the smallest of the string musical instruments but the sound it produces has no comparison.

One of the little-known parts of the violin is the neck. You’ll notice the top of the neck finishes in a beautiful spiral. That’s actually not a coincidence.

The Stradivari family of Italy made the finest violins in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, these violins are worth millions of dollars.

The Fibonacci sequence, or Golden Ratio, is a pattern of numbers. These numbers form the Fibonacci Spiral. You see this spiral in art, nature, and in music.

The master violin maker used this sequence to make various parts of the violin, including the spiral at the top of the neck.

That spiral got duplicated by other string instrument producers, and it’s the standard on violins, cellos, and other orchestra string instruments.


What instrument comes to mind when you think of Hawaii? No doubt that it’s the ukulele. One of the most fascinating things about the ukulele is that it’s not a true Hawaiian instrument.

The ukulele’s journey is similar to other guitar instruments. It was an invention of migration.

Portuguese immigrants went to Hawaii to work on sugar plantations. One of the instruments from home was the Machete de Braga.

It slowly evolved into the ukulele we know today. These are often made of Hawaiian koa wood, which gives the instrument a rich sound.


You’ve seen a lyre before. Not in person, but in ancient imagery. It’s an instrument played in ancient Greece around 1400 BC.

The Greek god Apollo was known to play the lyre and you’ll see that in images of him. The mythology says that he learned to play the lyre from his brother.

Some legends say that Apollo gave a lyre to Orpheus.

The lyre is an instrument shaped like a U. It has four strings that go from top to bottom. The strings get plucked like a harp.

Is the Piano a String Instrument?

There’s a long-standing debate about the piano. It’s an instrument that makes sound by vibrating strings. It’s how those strings vibrate that cause the debate.

When you hit a key on a piano, a hammer comes down and strikes the string. The striking motion makes the piano a percussion instrument.

The fact is that most musicians agree that the piano, harpsichord, and related instruments are both percussion and string instruments.

What about a pipe organ? That produces sound by producing air and blowing it through organ pipes. Since strings aren’t involved, it’s more along the lines of a woodwind instrument.

How to Buy a String Instrument

Now that you know some of the types of string instruments, how do you go about buying one?

Start by trying different string instruments. There are plenty of options and trying the types of string instruments helps you find the one that you love.

Once you have the instrument that lights you up, learn as much as you can about that particular string instrument.

You may start by renting a string instrument at first to make sure you’ll play it often enough to make the investment worthwhile.

You can find that the violin is the string instrument for you. According to this guide from Ted’s List, the Stentor Student 2 is the best choice for beginners.

It’s affordable and easy to tune and best for beginners to manage.

The Types of String Instruments

Out of all of the musical instruments, the string family of instruments are the ones to pick up and play.

The types of string instruments listed in this article have been played throughout history.

You can connect to that history when you make music with these marvelous instruments.