Kinds of Stringed Instruments

by Steven J. Miller
Stringed instruments have a series of strings used to create sound.

Stringed instruments have a series of strings used to create sound.

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Several kinds of string instruments exist that use the same basic mechanism to create sound. A stringed instrument can be any manner of instrument that uses a bow, plectrum or finger to create sound. The piano, while consisting of strings, does not qualify as a stringed instrument since the hammers initiate the sound. To qualify as a stringed instrument, the string must be directly acted upon and provide the sole impetus for creating vibrations and sound.

Orchestra Strings

The orchestra string section consists of four types of stringed instruments that span the entire range of the orchestra. The violins have the highest range in the orchestra and consist of four strings tuned in fifths. Violas constitute the next highest instrument with a range that starts approximately five pitches lower than the violin but with the same relative range. The cello starts an octave below the viola and tunes in fifths as well. The bass is the lowest stringed instrument in the orchestra and starts on an E one octave below the bass clef.


Harps come in several forms and sizes. There are curved harps, T-shaped harps and orchestral harps. The harp consists of several strings that are plucked by the hand to create sound. The two main categories of harps include pedal and lever harps. The pedal harp consists of a series of pedals that can be adjusted in a performance to change the tuning of individual strings. Pedal harps mostly appear in orchestras and are upwards of 5 feet tall. Lever harps do not have the ability to change individual strings and, when used, the lever will change all of the strings at the same ratio. Lever harps are often referred to as Celtic or folk harps.


Guitars come in both acoustic and electric varieties. Acoustic guitars typically consist of six stings that are each tuned to a specific pitch. The thickest and lowest string tunes to E; the remaining strings tune to A, D, G, B and another E an octave higher on the thinnest string. Electric guitars come in standard treble guitars and bass guitars. Electric guitars use an amplifier to amplify the sound, while an acoustic guitar doesn't need an amplifier.

Other Stringed Instruments

Mandolins, banjos and ukeleles are less commonly used stringed instruments. All of these instruments come in several varieties, but they all rely on plucking and frailing to create sound. Frailing involves striking the string in a downward motion and then rebounding quickly to play a succession of notes. Bows are not typically used when playing one of these string instruments, although in some situations, the player may elect to use a bow on a mandolin. A banjo has a rounded bottom and has four to five strings. The ukelele is a Hawaiian miniature guitar that is played close to the body. A mandolin looks like a guitar, but it has a rounded body and creates a more dense sound. In addition to these instruments, a whole host of stringed instruments exist from cultures all over the world.


About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.

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