What is a Musical Ensemble?

Posted on February 27, 2024

The music world is full of terms that have roots in other languages and might sound unfamiliar to you. For example, do you know what an ensemble is? Let’s take a closer look at ensembles and what they consist of. Soon you’ll be ready to build your own musical ensemble!

What does “ensemble” mean?

The word “ensemble” is French and means “together”. An ensemble can consist of musicians, singers, dancers, or actors. In a musical setting, an ensemble means a group of people who perform together. The size of an ensemble can vary, but it must include at least two people who sing or play an instrument together. An ensemble simply focuses on the combined performance of the entire group instead of highlighting individual musicians.

Different musical ensembles

You can distinguish between different types of ensembles by noticing the size of the group and the instruments they use. The following sections explain the details of different ensemble sizes and types.


You may have come across the terms duet, trio, and quartet, which describe ensembles consisting of two, three, and four musicians, respectively. These are the musical terms for ensembles with 5-8 members:

  • Quintet: 5 musicians
  • Sextet: 6 musicians
  • Septet: 7 musicians
  • Octet: 8 musicians

The size of the ensemble is based on the musical style, composition, and creative vision of the arranger.


In addition to size, you can also distinguish between different types of ensembles based on the instruments or voices used. Here are examples of ensembles consisting of different instruments:

  • String orchestra: a group of musicians playing string instruments, such as a guitar
  • Wind band: musicians playing woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments
  • Brass band: a group playing brass and percussion instruments
  • Percussion band: musicians only playing percussion instruments, such as drums
  • Orchestra: this group consists of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion
  • Choir: a group of singers with a range of voice types

Difference between ensemble, orchestra, and band

The words ensemble, orchestra, and band are often used within similar musical contexts. However, have you ever wondered what the differences are? Let’s find out!

Ensemble is a broad term that refers to a group of performers, regardless of size and instrument type. This means that a musical ensemble can be just a small jazz quartet or a huge choir with 100 singers. An ensemble doesn’t have to be a group of musicians. For example, the term “ensemble cast” is also used in theater.

An orchestra, on the other hand, is a specific kind of ensemble consisting of only instrumentalists. The orchestra is traditionally built around string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The size of an orchestra can vary, ranging from a dozen ensemble members to several hundred instrumentalists. Regardless of the size, an orchestra is still an ensemble.

Similar to an orchestra, a band is also a specific type of musical ensemble. The word “band” is typically used to describe a group that produces modern music, such as rock, pop, or jazz. A band usually consists of fewer members than an orchestra and can include both instrumentalists and singers.

Ensembles in different musical styles

Based on the style of music that an ensemble plays, the number and type of performers can vary. For example, the group can solely consist of instrumentalists, singers, or a combination of the two.

Jazz ensemble

The number of players in a jazz ensemble depends on the style of jazz the group is playing. Small jazz bands are usually made up of 3-7 musicians, and they typically perform in small clubs and events. Larger ensembles are called big bands, and they perform in larger venues and concert halls.

A jazz ensemble can consist purely of instruments, such as rhythmic instruments and horns, or a combination of instruments and vocals. Typical instruments used in jazz ensembles include:

  • Woodwind instruments, such as saxophone, clarinet, or trumpet
  • String instruments, such as a guitar or piano
  • Bass instruments, including a bass guitar or a double bass
  • Drums or other percussion instruments

Rock or pop ensemble

A rock or pop ensemble can consist of instrumentalists and one or more singers. Typically, rock or pop ensembles use the following instruments:

  • Guitar
  • Keyboard, such as an electric piano or synthesizer
  • Drums and cymbals
  • Bass guitar

Guitars and keyboards are often the most important instruments in a rock or pop ensemble. The bass guitar gives the rhythm to the music, and the instruments and vocals create a complete performance.

Make your own ensemble with Yousician

Don’t be afraid to ask other musicians or songwriters to join you on your musical journey. Combine your unique skills and build your own ensemble together! Download Yousician to your computer or mobile phone and practice with friends. To master a wide range of musical terms, make sure to check out our full Musician’s Glossary.

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