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Before we dive in, do you have students in the Redlands, CA area? If you share their love for music, our Summer Music Academy returns July 11–22, 2022. Now, on with the article!

How Did the Seating Chart Get Started?

Why are the flutes hidden behind the violins? How come the tubas can’t sit next to the conductor? Who said the drums need to be way in the back? 

What we consider today the ‘traditional’ arrangement of an orchestra — with the violins to the left of the conductor, the violas at the center, and the cellos and double basses to the right — wasn’t always how orchestras were laid out. 

In the 18th and 19th-century, the second violins were seated opposite the first violins. This seating arrangement supported the conversational music of composers like Mozart and Mahler. 

It was in the early-mid 20th century that the orchestra seating chart you know today was actually developed. We can thank Leopold Stokowski for changing the game. The conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Stokowski radically experimented with different seating arrangements. 

Some of his arrangements were so bold the board was outraged. But in the 1920s, Stokowski made a move that’s stood the test of time (at least thus far). He placed the string from high to low, left to right. This arrangement, he argued, allowed the musicians to better hear one another. The updated arrangement became known as the ‘Stokowski Shift.’ 

Instruments & Their Seating Arrangements 

1: Conductor


2: First Violin

3: Second Violin

4: Violas

5: Cellos

6: Double Basses

18: Harp 


7: Flutes

8: Oboes

9: Clarinets

10: Bassoons


11: Horns

12: Trumpets

13: Trombones Tuba


14: Bass Drum

15: Chimes

16: Cymbals

17: Timpani


Concert Master / Mistress

The most important violinist in the orchestra. He or she will sit in the front seat directly to the left of the conductor. It is the duty of the concert master to tune the orchestra before a performance.


The leader of an orchestra. He or she is involved in selecting music and deciding how it will be performed. The conductor stands in front of the orchestra and leads the musicians

and helps them play together during the performance.


The loudness and softness of sounds.


The way beats of music are grouped, often in sets of two or in sets of three, four or six.

Orchestra Chairs

Orchestra musicians are given seats in accordance with their abilities and experience on their instrument. The most skilled musician sits in the first chair of each section and plays any solo parts for that instrument. The next most skilled player would sit in the second chair and the least skilled musician would sit in the last chair of his or her section.


A complete composition or passage for a single instrument.


The unique way in which the elements of melody, rhythm, tone color, and harmony are produced to create a special “sound.”


The speed of the beat.


An important melody that occurs several times in a piece of music.

Theme & Variations

A composition, each section of which is an alternation of the initial theme. A variation may alter the theme by changing musical elements such as its dynamics, meter, style, tempo, tone color and/or harmony. 


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