Timbre Time

Photo courtesy of New World Symphony


Audience will understand how timbre and range can affect musical expression.


Demonstrate the effects of having different instruments play the same musical lines.


  1. Pick a musical element in your piece that can be played by multiple different instruments.
  2. In small contexts, allow the audience to pick which instruments demonstrate the musical element, or in larger contexts demonstrate the element across different instruments.
  3. Assign actions to different instruments or timbres to engage audiences aurally and kinesthetically

Audience Type

What does this activity look like in action?

Example Script:

Piece: Jaws Theme by John Williams

Our next piece, John Williams’ theme from the movie Jaws, is perhaps one of the most famous and suspenseful pieces of music ever written. The piece starts out with a low rumble, followed by silence that seems to say “Is there something out there in the water?” [Low strings and winds play opening bars].


As you can hear and see, John Williams chose to have the theme start in the big, low voiced instruments. But what would it sound like if he’d chosen a smaller, higher instrument instead? We happen to have a number of those instruments in our orchestra, like the flute [flutists raise instruments], oboe [oboists raise instrument], and violin [violins raise instruments]. I wonder how that same opening theme would sound with just one of those high instruments. Let’s choose which together! Raise a quiet hand if you want to hear it on…[poll audience for all three instruments]. Alright, it looks like we want to hear it on Flute. Let’s take a listen [solo flute plays, soft and high register, opening half step figure]. Sounds pretty different! If the movie opened like this I might think there’s just a minnow in the water!


As you listen to us play the whole theme now, let’s put a shark fin up on our heads when we hear the big low instruments playing the theme [demonstrate fin on top of head], and make little minnow fingers when you hear the higher instruments [demonstrate minnow fingers]. Sometimes, you might hear both at the same time, so you’ll get to choose which you want to be!


  • Audience voting could be done by various other means: calling on individuals, applause-o-meter, etc.

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