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How to Choose an Instrument When You Compose?

A man playing the violin


When you want to listen to calming and quiet music, you probably won't pick marching band music because it's meant to be strong and energetic with steady beats to pump you up. Besides the overall structure and melodies, the choice of instruments matters a lot in creating the mood of music.

Each instrument has its own unique sound, kind of like a color. This sound is called "timbre," and it's crucial in deciding how an instrument makes you feel. Composers have to pick instruments carefully to create the right mood in their music.

So, in a nutshell, the sound of each instrument, or its "timbre," plays a big role in how music feels, and composers need to choose instruments wisely to get the right vibe. In this blog, we will delve into which instruments possess specific timbres and how composers select them, complete with musical examples.


Violin is perhaps the most widely used and listened to in all kinds of music. It is because its availability to cover such a wide range of pitches and convey different moods. Because of its infinite possibilities, violin has been used for centuries. While there are various reasons for composers to choose violin, we would like to introduce some of the violin’s abilities in which were gratefully used by composers.

In classical music, the violin is strongly associated with the concept of virtuosity. If you're familiar with the composer Niccolò Paganini, often referred to as 'The Devil's Violinist,' you'll understand what this means. The violin offers a wide range of techniques and skills that players can develop, making it the ideal instrument to showcase their virtuosity. Paganini, in this sense, was a perfect example of someone who chose the violin to demonstrate his virtuosity. He was not only a composer but also a violinist, and he became one of the most influential musicians of his era. His extraordinary and unparalleled violin skills led many audiences to believe that he might be a devil incarnate. Interestingly enough, he had physical features that contributed to this perception, and many modern music scholars have speculated that he may have used these features as selling points.


While cello is the same string instrument with violin, it has somewhat different timbre from violin. It is mostly because it has lower pitches, with its bigger body. It requires players to move their fingers faster and wider than violinists if they are given the same speed of the passage. Accordingly, it is natural for composers to consider the ability of instruments to play what they compose. For this reason, many composers have made peaceful and calming music with cello in particular.

Think about the movement of swans. Graceful and eloquent movements of swan can be shown in cello’s timbre effectively. Camille Saint-Saëns' "The Swan," from "Carnival of the Animals," is celebrated for its use of cello in accordance with its graceful and serene qualities. Saint-Saëns decided to compose the brief cello solo, which elegantly portrays a swan's smooth movements on water. Its simple yet emotionally resonant melody creates a sense of calm and imagery of a tranquil pond.


Flute, unlike the violin and cello, is under wind family. Unlike the violin and cello, which fall under the string family, the flute produces sound through the vibration of air rather than the vibration of strings. This means that when a flutist blows air across the edge of the flute's mouthpiece, it creates vibrations in the air column inside the instrument, resulting in musical notes. This unique method of sound production is a fundamental difference that places the flute in the wind family.Moreover, it is considered to be having the highest pitches among all orchestral instruments. It’s light and bright timbre make composers consider using flute when they compose.

This has led many Disney composers to choose the flute as their primary instrument. For example, in 'A Whole New World' from Aladdin, the romantic and ethereal sound is featured prominently. By using the flute in its introduction, the song transports us to the magical world where the protagonists can soar on the magic carpet. Unsurprisingly, it demonstrates how the brightness and lightness of the flute's sound can be effectively utilized.


While flute introduces magical and ethereal sound, here comes a completely different sound. The trumpet finds its place among brass instruments. Known for its powerful and brassy timbre, the trumpet stands out as a bold and commanding presence in the orchestra. Think about the marching band as mentioned earlier. Without the sound of the trumpet, it is almost impossible for composers to capture its regal and triumphant sound. For this reason, trumpet is often associated with fanfares and heralding grand entrances. Composers frequently turn to the trumpet to convey a sense of majesty, celebration, and triumph in their compositions.

There are two prime examples of the use of trumpet sounds. "Also sprach Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss, famously featured in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," employs the trumpet sound as a powerful and dramatic element that captivates the audience, helping them focus on the movie effectively. Another significant example is the "Star Wars" Theme by John Williams, where the trumpet plays a pivotal role in the iconic main theme of the "Star Wars" franchise. Its majestic sound aptly captures the heroic essence of the series, transporting us to the boundless and infinite expanse of space.

Likewise, the timbre of musical instruments plays a key role in shaping the atmosphere of music. There are other instruments that we have not introduced here, and we encourage you to explore and discover your favorite instrument's sound. If you're unsure where to start, here is our last recommendation: Ravel's "Bolero"! This piece is known for introducing the timbre of orchestral instruments by using the same melody played by different instruments. While listening to this music, make sure to find your favorite one! The next time you hear it, you will be thrilled to hear your favorite.

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