Range (music)

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Written range of a saxophone. Sax range.svg
Written range of a saxophone.

In music, the range, or chromatic range, of a musical instrument is the distance from the lowest to the highest pitch it can play. For a singing voice, the equivalent is vocal range. The range of a musical part is the distance between its lowest and highest note.



Among British English speakers, [1] and perhaps others, [2] compass means the same thing as chromatic range—the interval between the lowest and highest note attainable by a voice or musical instrument.

Other ranges

The terms sounding range, written range, designated range, duration range and dynamic range have specific meanings.

The sounding range [3] refers to the pitches produced by an instrument, while the written range [3] refers to the compass (span) of notes written in the sheet music, where the part is sometimes transposed for convenience. A piccolo, for example, typically has a sounding range one octave higher than its written range. [4] The designated range is the set of notes the player should or can achieve while playing. All instruments have a designated range, and all pitched instruments have a playing range. Timbre, dynamics, and duration ranges are interrelated and one may achieve registral range at the expense of timbre. The designated range is thus the range in which a player is expected to have comfortable control of all aspects.

The duration range is the difference between the shortest and longest rhythm used. Dynamic range is the difference between the quietest and loudest volume of an instrument, part or piece of music.

Range limits

Although woodwind instruments and string instruments have no theoretical upper limit to their range (subject to practical limits), they generally cannot go below their designated range. Brass instruments, on the other hand, can play beyond their designated ranges. Notes lower than the brass instrument's designated range are called pedal tones. The playing range of a brass instrument depends on both the technical limitations of the instrument and the skill of the player.

Classical arrangements seldom make woodwind or brass instruments play beyond their designed range. String musicians play the bottom of their ranges very frequently, but the top of a string instrument's range is rather fuzzy, and it is unusual for a string player to exceed the designated range. It is quite rare for wind musicians to play the extremes of their instruments. The most common exception is that in many 20th century works, pedal tones are called for in bass trombones.

This chart uses standard numberings for octaves where middle C corresponds to C4. In the MIDI language middle C is referred to as MIDI note number 60.

The lowest note that a pipe organ can sound (with a true pipe) is C−1 (or CCCC), which is 8 Hz, below the range of human hearing and not visible on this chart. However, if acoustic combination (a note and its fifth) counts, the lowest note is C−2 (or CCCCC), which is 4 Hz.

In terms of recording and reproduction, many speakers have a low limit of around 40–60 Hz.

Typical ranges

:Eighth octave CMiddle C:Eighth octave CMiddle Cgongstruck idiophonetubular bellsstruck idiophonecrotalesglockenspielvibraphonecelestametallophonesxylophonemarimbaxylophonesidiophonestimpanimembranophonespiccolo trumpettrumpetcornetbass trumpettrumpetswagner tubawagner tubaflugelhornalto hornbaritone hornFrench hornhorn (instrument)cimbassotypes of trombonetypes of trombonesoprano trombonealto trombonetenor trombonebass trombonecontrabass trombonetromboneseuphoniumbass tubacontrabass tubasubcontrabass tubatubabrass instrumentsOrgan (music)garklein recordersopranino recordersoprano recorderalto recordertenor recorderbass recordergreat bass recordercontrabass recordersub-great bass recordersub-contrabass recorderRecorder (musical instrument)fipplepiccoloconcert flutealto flutebass flutecontra-alto flutecontrabass flutesubcontrabass flutedouble contrabass flutehyperbass flutewestern concert flute familyside-blown fluteflutesharmonicaharmonicaaccordionharmoniumfree reedsopranissimo saxophonesopranino saxophonesoprano saxophonealto saxophonetenor saxophonebaritone saxophonebass saxophonecontrabass saxophonesubcontrabass saxophonesaxophone familysopranino clarinetsoprano clarinetalto clarinetbass clarinetcontra-alto clarinetcontrabass clarinetoctocontra-alto clarinetoctocontrabass clarinetclarinet familysingle reedoboeoboe d'amorecor anglaisheckelphoneoboesbassooncontrabassoonbassoonsexposeddouble reedwoodwind instrumentsaerophonescymbalumhammered dulcimerpianozitherukulele5-string banjomandolinguitarbass guitarharpsichordharpPlucked string instrumentviolinviolacellodouble bassoctobassviolin familyBowed string instrumentchordophonessopranomezzo-sopranoaltotenorbaritonebass (sound)Vocal rangeRange (music)

*This chart only displays down to C0, though some pipe organs, such as the Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ, extend down to C−1 (one octave below C0). Also, the fundamental frequency of the subcontrabass tuba is B−1.

See also


  1. Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins. 2018. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
  2. Willi Apel (1950). Harvard Dictionary of Music. Harvard University Press. p. 168. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  3. 1 2 "Music theory online : musical instrument ranges & names", Brian Blood, Dolmetsch.com, 2009, webpage: Dolmetsch-M29.
  4. http://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory29.htm

Related Research Articles

Bass (sound) Tone of low frequency or range

Bass ( BAYSS) (also called bottom end) describes tones of low (also called "deep") frequency, pitch and range from 16 to 256 Hz (C0 to C3) and bass instruments that produce tones in the low-pitched range C2-C4. They belong to different families of instruments and can cover a wide range of musical roles. Since producing low pitches usually requires a long air column or string, and for stringed instruments, a large hollow body, the string and wind bass instruments are usually the largest instruments in their families or instrument classes.

Clavichord Musical instrument

The clavichord is a Western European stringed rectangular keyboard instrument that was used largely in the Late Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical eras. Historically, it was mostly used as a practice instrument and as an aid to composition, not being loud enough for larger performances. The clavichord produces sound by striking brass or iron strings with small metal blades called tangents. Vibrations are transmitted through the bridge(s) to the soundboard.

Harpsichord Plucked-string keyboard instrument

A harpsichord is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. This activates a row of levers that turn a trigger mechanism that plucks one or more strings with a small plectrum made from quill or plastic. The strings are under tension on a soundboard, which is mounted in a wooden case; the soundboard amplifies the vibrations from the strings so that the listeners can hear it. Like a pipe organ, a harpsichord may have more than one keyboard manual, and even a pedal board. Harpsichords may also have stop buttons which add or remove additional octaves. Some harpsichords may have a lute stop, which brings a strip of buff leather or other material in contact with the strings, muting their sound to simulate the sound of a plucked lute.

Harmonic series (music) Sequence of frequencies

A harmonic series is the sequence of frequencies, musical tones, or pure tones in which each frequency is an integer multiple of a fundamental.

Musical keyboard

A musical keyboard is the set of adjacent depressible levers or keys on a musical instrument. Keyboards typically contain keys for playing the twelve notes of the Western musical scale, with a combination of larger, longer keys and smaller, shorter keys that repeats at the interval of an octave. Depressing a key on the keyboard makes the instrument produce sounds—either by mechanically striking a string or tine, plucking a string (harpsichord), causing air to flow through a pipe organ, striking a bell (carillon), or, on electric and electronic keyboards, completing a circuit. Since the most commonly encountered keyboard instrument is the piano, the keyboard layout is often referred to as the piano keyboard.

Musical tuning Terms for tuning an instrument and a systems of pitches

In music, there are two common meanings for tuning:

Musical note Sign used in musical notation, a pitched sound

In music, a note is a symbol denoting a musical sound. In English usage a note is also the sound itself.

In music, an octave or perfect octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with double its frequency. The octave relationship is a natural phenomenon that has been referred to as the "basic miracle of music", the use of which is "common in most musical systems". The interval between the first and second harmonics of the harmonic series is an octave.


An overtone is any frequency greater than the fundamental frequency of a sound. In other words, overtones are higher pitches resulting from the lowest note or fundamental. While the fundamental is usually heard most prominently, overtones are actually present in any pitch except a true sine wave. The relative volume or amplitude of various overtone partials is one of the key identifying features of timbre, or the individual characteristic of a sound.

Transposing instrument Musical instrument for which notated pitch differs from sounding pitch

A transposing instrument is a musical instrument for which music notation is not written at concert pitch. For example, playing a written middle C on a transposing instrument produces a pitch other than middle C — that sounding pitch identifies the interval of transposition when describing the instrument. Playing a written C on clarinet or soprano saxophone produces a concert B, so these are referred to as B instruments. Providing transposed music for these instruments is a convention of musical notation. The instruments do not transpose the music, rather their music is written at a transposed pitch.

Timbre Quality of a musical note or sound or tone

In music, timbre, also known as tone color or tone quality, is the perceived sound quality of a musical note, sound or tone. Timbre distinguishes different types of sound production, such as choir voices and musical instruments. It also enables listeners to distinguish different instruments in the same category.

Pitch (music) Perceptual property in music ordering sounds from low to high

Pitch is a perceptual property of sounds that allows their ordering on a frequency-related scale, or more commonly, pitch is the quality that makes it possible to judge sounds as "higher" and "lower" in the sense associated with musical melodies. Pitch can be determined only in sounds that have a frequency that is clear and stable enough to distinguish from noise. Pitch is a major auditory attribute of musical tones, along with duration, loudness, and timbre.

Pitch pipe

A pitch pipe is a small device used to provide a pitch reference for musicians without absolute pitch. Although it may be described as a musical instrument, it is not typically used to play music as such. Technically, it is a harmonica; however, it lacks many characteristics of harmonicas.

This is a list of musical terms that are likely to be encountered in printed scores, music reviews, and program notes. Most of the terms are Italian, in accordance with the Italian origins of many European musical conventions. Sometimes, the special musical meanings of these phrases differ from the original or current Italian meanings. Most of the other terms are taken from French and German, indicated by "Fr." and "Ger.", respectively.

Bassline Low-pitched instrumental part

A bassline is the term used in many styles of music, such as jazz, blues, funk, dub and electronic, traditional music, or classical music for the low-pitched instrumental part or line played by a rhythm section instrument such as the electric bass, double bass, cello, tuba or keyboard.

Organ stop Part of a pipe organ

An organ stop is a component of a pipe organ that admits pressurized air to a set of organ pipes. Its name comes from the fact that stops can be used selectively by the organist; each can be "on", or "off".

A register is the "height" or range of a note, set of pitches or pitch classes, melody, part, instrument, or group of instruments. A higher register indicates higher pitch.

Scientific pitch notation

Scientific pitch notation is a method of specifying musical pitch by combining a musical note name and a number identifying the pitch's octave.

Bass pedals

Bass pedals are an electronic musical instrument with a foot-operated pedal keyboard with a range of one or more octaves. The earliest bass pedals from the 1970s consisted of a pedalboard and analog synthesizer tone generation circuitry packaged together as a unit. The bass pedals are plugged into a bass amplifier or PA system so that their sound can be heard. Since the 1990s, bass pedals are usually MIDI controllers, which have to be connected to a MIDI-compatible computer, electronic synthesizer keyboard, or synth module to produce musical tones. Some 2010s-era bass pedals have both an onboard synth module and a MIDI output.

The guan is a Chinese double reed wind instrument. The northern Chinese version is called guanzi (管子) or bili and the Cantonese version is called houguan (喉管). It is classified as a bamboo instrument in the Ba Yin system. Unlike other instruments in the double-reed family of woodwinds which mostly have conical bores, such as the Chinese suona or the Western oboe, the guan has a cylindrical bore, giving its distinctive mellow, yet piercing buzz-like timbre.