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Instruments part 2

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    We have already looked at the basic families of instruments, and now we'll look in more detail at the relative ranges of instruments and their capabilities.

    High and low

    Not all of the instruments in a family (see: Instruments part 1) sound at the same pitch. In fact, each family of instruments tends to span the entire range of pitches, with some low instruments, some high instruments, and some in between.

    It is important to know which instruments are high and which are low, so in the tables below you can see the instruments ranked in order of pitch:


    InstrumentApproximate range
    Violinmid-range to very high
    VioloncelloMid-range to lower range
    Double bassLow
    The harp is capable of playing the full range of notes.


    InstrumentApproximate range
    FluteHigh to very high
    ClarinetMid-range to high
    BassoonMid-range to low


    InstrumentApproximate range
    TrumpetMid-range to high
    French hornLow to upper mid-range
    TromboneLow to mid-range


    The keyboard instruments are typically all capable of playing the full range of notes, with the exception of the celeste, which plays in the mid to very high range.

    Woodwind types

    Within the woodwind family, there are several different types of instrument, which produce sound in a slightly different way.

    Recall that all woodwinds produce sound with a vibrating column of air within the instrument's tubular structure. The air enters the instrument through the mouthpiece, and different kinds of mouthpiece set the air vibrating in a different way.

    We can categorise the woodwinds into the following sub-types, based on mouthpiece:

    • Reedless
    • Single reed
    • Double reed


    Reeds are small pieces of material that vibrate either against eachother (double reeds) or against the mouthpiece of the instrument (single reeds) when blown by the player.

    Single reed instruments have a distinctively different sound from double reed instruments.

    The following table shows each member of the woodwind family and gives the corresponding type. This table also includes other less-common members of the woodwind family which nevertheless are regularly found in the symphony orchestra.

    Reedless Piccolo
    Single reed Clarinet
    Bass clarinet
    Double reed Oboe
    Cor anglais


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