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Cheat sheet:
Jay Laga'aia's Christmas orchestra

Your guide to classical instruments for kids

Miriam Rizvi
Sydney Opera House

Plagued with impossible questions from the little ones? Let’s face it, parenting is hard and you might not always have all the answers. If you're coming to Jay Laga’aia’s Classic Christmas we can help you get your classical music fun facts up to scratch.


These delicate instruments have been made out of lots of different things throughout history: bone, wood, glass, ivory, plastic, brass, silver and even gold. The Chinese dizi is made from bamboo with a vibrating reed (sometimes they’re even made of jade). 

The clarinet sometimes is referred to as a 'liquorice stick'. Next time you visit a music store give one a lick and see what you think!


A trumpet only has three buttons (called ‘valves’), but can play over 45 different notes by pressing these buttons in different ways and changing the shape of their mouth and lips (called ‘embouchure’).

The tuba is the lowest-pitched instrument of the brass instruments. Can you sing a note as low as a tuba?

The word trombone is made from two Italian words: tromba (which means trumpet), and one (which means big). Together these Italian words mean 'big trumpet', or trombone! When the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons speaks, her voice is the sound of a trombone.

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A musician who plays the violin is called a 'violinist' or, more traditionally, a 'fiddler'. There's one very famous fiddler from history you might know, but he's not exactly in an orchestra.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has 29 violinists amongst its ranks—and that's not including their fellow violists!

The plural of cello is either celli or cellos. Also, cello is just a nickname—their full name is actually violoncello, which translates to "small big viola". Instead of resting them beneath the chin, cello players hold their instrument between their legs. This is because they are so big and heavy!

Their bold, rich sound makes up the deeper end of the orchestra, along with the double bass. Can't name a cello piece off the top of your head? You're probably familiar with this one.

Jay Laga'aia's Classic Christmas in the Studio. Photo: Daniel Boud


Yespianos are technically percussion instruments! When you play a key, the sound is made by a tiny hammer hitting a metal string.

Did you know playing the piano is also called "tickling the ivories"? Have you tickled a piano lately?

Some pianos can get so big they weigh over five hundred kilos!

Drums are used to keep a steady beat in a song. Drums can make a song sound relaxed or really, really rushed! Why don’t you try being a drum? Clap your hands slowly, and then really fast—do you feel the difference?


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