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I'd like to know to which instruments are these signatures referring. I think "Pos" is a trombone but I may be wrong.

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Please note these are from page 2 of Wagner's Tannhauser ouverture and, most likely, the abbreviation is in German language.

Additionally, I'd like to know if "zu 3" means something about how many instruments are supposed to play the part or not.

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Good answers. I'll just put in a plug for buying one of the encylopedias of musical terms. The Harvard Ency' is decent. –  Carl Witthoft Aug 29 '13 at 13:27

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Posaunen: Trombones. Btb: Bass Tuba. Pk: Pauken = tympani.

zu 3 = all three trombones play the same notes.

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Wagner was German, so the instrument names are in German. (Die Posa is Latin for "placed on")

Yes, Pos. is short for Posuane, German for trombone.

Btb. is short for Basstuba, German for Bass tuba (duh :P)

Pk. is short for Pauken, German for Timpani

zu 3 is short for zusammen drei, German for (literally) "three together"

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+1 thanks for your help. I'm sorry but I can accept only one answer and the other guy posted first even if your is correct as well. –  Saturnix Aug 28 '13 at 22:10

Here is a comprehensive chart from Yale University Library which provides the names of all the major orchestral instruments, and more, in

  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Russian (albeit in the Latin alphabet)
  • Spanish

It does not provide a list of the common abbreviations like the ones in your example score. It provides the full names of each instrument in each language, and notes synonyms or alternate names. However, you should still find it to be a useful reference source.

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Oh man! How cool! Thanks a lot! –  Saturnix Aug 29 '13 at 6:59

Here are two other sources:

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Interesting! Thanks! –  Saturnix Oct 24 '13 at 10:33

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