What Is A Music Ensemble? Endless Possibilities Explored

What is a music ensemble
“Concert Band” by Mark Kimpel – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by SreeBot.. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Concert_Band.jpg#/media/File:Concert_Band.jpg

What is a music ensemble is a question that many people new to music may ask at one time or another. When I left high school and entered university as a young music student I was unaware of the variety of musical groups that could be created. I knew of the common groups of instruments and the sound that they created but never realized that there was such a variety of possibilities. I was quickly introduced to the endless possibilities and opportunities that were available to me as an instrumentalist. I became aware that I could play my instrument in ensembles that had a variety of sizes and genres. I was no longer confined to the concert band that I knew as a young high school musician. 

 Most new musicians do not realize these possibilities. They often get fixated on a particular musical group and fail to discover the variety of musical experiences available to them. Discovering these possibilities may help many instrumentalists choose the direction they would like to take in there music study or practice.

Todays post will provide a clearer picture of the music ensemble by first discussing what a music ensemble is, followed by a discussion of the different types of music ensembles. Having a better understanding of the music ensemble can help many new musicians discover the endless possibilities available to them.

What is a Music Ensemble?

A music ensemble is basically a group of instruments and/or voices that are placed together to achieve a particular sound. There are literally hundreds of possibilities when determining the instruments that will be grouped together. Music ensembles may be identified and labelled in a variety of ways. These include:

  • Musical genre or the type of music they play
  • Instrument family – The types of instruments found within the ensemble
  • Size of ensemble or the number of instruments present in a particular musical ensemble

While there is an endless combinations that can be used to create an ensemble there are many ensembles that are commonly created and composed for by composers and arrangers. In the following section I will discuss some of the more common types of small and large ensembles. This large variety of music ensembles allows instrumentalists of all instruments to choose the direction they would like to take their music playing. Every instrument is capable of being apart of a music ensemble.

Types Of Music Ensembles

As mentioned above there are endless possibilities when it comes to the types of musical ensembles that can be created. For ease of classification I will discuss music ensembles using the 3 ways of identifying or labelling music ensembles mentioned above. 

Musical Genre or the type of music the ensemble plays

This is probably the easiest way to identify an ensemble. These groups perform a specific genre of music. There is a large array of music ensembles that can be identified by the type of music they play but some of the most popular ensembles are rock bands, jazz ensembles,  and marching bands. I am positive there are many more popular ensembles that I could add to this list but I think you get the point.

Rock Bands

Rock Band

Rock bands play rock music. They often consist of guitars, drums, and keyboards. However, there are a large variety of other instruments that are also included. Trumpets and saxophones are just a couple that have also found their way in to the rock band.

Jazz Ensembles

Jazz Band

 Jazz ensembles can consist of any number of instruments but all have one thing in common – they all perform jazz music. Trumpet, saxophone, trombone, guitar, bass guitar,  piano and drums are some of the more popular instruments found in these ensembles but other instruments are also possible.

Marching Bands

Marching Banad Marching bands normally play marches. Basically the players march while they play. They are commonly found in the military and can be seen and heard in parades all around the world. Instruments of the brass, woodwind and percussion family are commonly found in a marching band. There can be many different instrumentations in a marching band.

Instrument Family

There are many different ensembles that identify themselves by the instruments that is played in the ensemble. These ensembles will play many different genres of music that has been written or arranged for the ensemble. Some examples of ensembles identified by the instrument family are:

Saxophone Quintet/Quartet

Saxophone Ensemble
“Confraria do Sax” by Eugenio Hansen, OFS – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Saxophone ensembles are actually quite popular and create a beautiful sound. They lend themselves well to being ensemble instruments on their own because of the variety of saxophones available which cover all the voices required for a full ensemble. Click here to learn more about the saxophone.

Woodwind ensemble

A woodwind ensemble is a group that is made up of only woodwind instruments. It may contain a variety of woodwind instruments or only have one type of woodwind instrument. For example, a saxophone ensemble or a flute ensemble is considered a woodwind ensemble. While it is not common it is possible to create an ensemble of just clarinets or oboes. It really depends on the sound that one is trying to create. There really are no set rules when it comes to the composition of an music ensemble.

Brass ensemble

“Air Force Brass Quintet” by Mactones – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Brass ensembles come in many different sizes. They are one of the most popular types of ensembles. These ensembles can be any size. They can be very small or quite large. The bands in the Salvation Army, for example, are all brass ensembles with the addition of percussion instruments. It is common to see the addition of percussion instruments in brass ensembles.

Percussion Ensemble

Percussion Ensemble

Percussion ensembles also consists of a wide variety of instruments. Since the percussion family is the largest family the possibilities are literally endless.

String Ensemble

String ensemble

String ensembles can also come in a variety of sizes. They can be as small as 2 instruments or as large as an orchestra. However an orchestra usually also has brass, woodwinds and percussion instruments as well.

Size of Ensemble/Number of instruments 

Many ensembles are identified by the number of instruments in the group. Once again there are many possibilities but below are some of the most popular options:

  • Duo
  • Trio
  • Quartet
  • Quintet
  • Sextet
  • Septet
  • Etc. I’m sure you can see the pattern here.

Other Ensembles

There are many other types of ensembles that do not fit into the categories above. For example concert bands and orchestras are large ensembles that perform a wide variety of musical genres. There is no set number of instruments for these groups but they are usually quite large.

What Is A Music Ensemble? Was that the answer you were looking for?

I hope that you have seen the endless possibilities that exist when you pick up an instrument. You are in no way confined to one genre of music because you choose a particular instrument. As a trumpeter I have played many different types of music including rock and jazz. I actually enjoy playing all of it. Even music I don’t necessarily like to listen to on a regular basis.

So if you have an instrument that you want to play, go for it. The right ensemble is out there. If you have any comments regarding this topic or a question please leave it in the comment section below.



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