French Language Blog

Instrument Names in French Posted by on Jun 23, 2016 in Music, Vocabulary

In my last post, I wrote about one of my biggest passions: l’opéra. I briefly mentioned some orchestra terms but focused more on what happens at an opera house. That being said, an opera can’t happen without an orchestra*, so I’d like to write more on the actual instruments. À mon avis, la voix est le plus bel instrument du monde (in my opinion, the voice is the most beautiful instrument in the world), but that beauty is only increased when instruments are  included. An instrument can easily change the mood of a piece.

I can’t personally play an instrument. I wish I’d started learning violin when I was young, but that’s another story.

The verb for “to play” in French, jouer, is special. Luckily, the conjugation is regular, so there’s no problem there. The trick is to remember which preposition to use to describe what is being played.

Jouer à
When followed by the preposition à, jouer refers to a game or a sport.
Nous allons jouer au tennis. We’re going to play tennis.

Jouer de
When followed by the preposition de, jouer refers to an instrument. Don’t forget the article for the instrument!
Tom joue de la guitare.
Tom plays the guitar.

Joues-tu d’un instrument ? Lequel ? (Do you play an instrument? Which?)

Instrument à cordes (string instruments

un violon – violin
un alto – viola
un violoncelle – violoncello
un contrebasse – double bass

un archet – bow

Instruments à vent (wind instruments)

une flûte – flute
un hautbois – oboe
une clarinette – clarinet
un saxophone – saxophone
un basson – bassoon
instruments à cordes pincées
une flûte à bec – recorder

une anche – reed

Instruments à cordes pincées (plucked instruments)

la guitare – guitar
la harpe – harp
le luth – lute
une mandoline – mandolin

un plectre – guitar pick

Instruments à vent de cuivre (brass instruments)

le cor – horn
la trompette – trumpet
le cornet à pistons – cornet
le tuba – tuba
le baryton – baritone

Instruments à percussion (percussion)

une grosse caisse – bass drum
le tambour – drum
les cymbales – cymbals
la caisse claire – snare drum
le tambourin – tambourine
le xylophone – xylophone

Instrument à clavier (keyboards)

un accordéon – accordion
un clavicorde – clavichord
un orgue – organ
un piano – piano


* = Ok, it CAN happen, but it’s not common. There was a strike in 2012 in Italy that left one opera house with half a chorus and no orchestra. The performance was presented with a piano. The show must go on…

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About the Author: Josh Dougherty

Just your typical francophile. If you have any topics you'd like me to discuss, feel free to let me know!


  1. J:

    Voici mon cv
    Je Suis la Creator des Costumes de l’opera
    (Francais de la Californie)

  2. Jacqueline SaintAnne:

    En haut

  3. Sybille Stephenson:

    Merci pour cette belle collection d’instruments.
    Il y a juste une petite erreur: la grand soeur du violoncelle s’appelle “la contrebasse”.