Tone hole

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Details of a B-flat clarinet: tone holes (to the right). Clarinette auriculaire droit.jpg
Details of a B-flat clarinet: tone holes (to the right).
A selection of flutes from around the world Shinobue and other flutes.jpg
A selection of flutes from around the world

A tone hole is an opening in the body of a wind instrument which, when alternately closed and opened, changes the pitch of the sound produced. Tone holes may serve specific purposes, such as a trill hole or register hole. A tone hole is, "in wind instruments[,] a hole that may be stopped by the finger, or a key, to change the pitch of the tone produced." [1]

Wind instrument class of musical instruments

A wind instrument is a musical instrument that contains some type of resonator, in which a column of air is set into vibration by the player blowing into a mouthpiece set at or near the end of the resonator. The pitch of the vibration is determined by the length of the tube and by manual modifications of the effective length of the vibrating column of air. In the case of some wind instruments, sound is produced by blowing through a reed; others require buzzing into a metal mouthpiece.

Pitch (music) perceptual property in music

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.

In music, fingering, or on stringed instruments stopping, is the choice of which fingers and hand positions to use when playing certain musical instruments. Fingering typically changes throughout a piece; the challenge of choosing good fingering for a piece is to make the hand movements as comfortable as possible without changing hand position too often. A fingering can be the result of the working process of the composer, who puts it into the manuscript, an editor, who adds it into the printed score, or the performer, who puts his or her own fingering in the score or in performance.

The resonant frequencies of the air column in a pipe are inversely proportional to the pipe's effective length. In other words, a shorter pipe produces higher notes. For a pipe with no tone holes but open at both ends, the effective length is the physical length of the pipe plus a little more for the small volumes of air just beyond the ends of the pipe that are also involved in the resonance. An open hole anywhere along the middle of the pipe shortens the pipe's effective length and therefore raises the pitch of the notes it produces. The closer an open hole is to the blowing end, the shorter the remaining effective length is and the more it raises the pitch. Generally, a hole in a given position doesn't reduce the effective length quite as much as cutting the pipe at that position would, and the smaller the hole, the less it reduces the effective length when open. Closing the hole increases the effective length and lowers the pitch again. However, a pipe with a closed tone hole is not acoustically identical to a pipe with no hole; the shape of the fingertip or pad that closes the hole modifies the pipe's internal volume and effective length.

Acoustic resonance phenomenon where acoustic systems amplify sound waves whose frequency matches one of its own natural frequencies of vibration (its resonance frequencies)

Acoustic resonance is a phenomenon where acoustic systems amplify sound waves whose frequency matches one of its own natural frequencies of vibration.

When there are multiple tone holes, the first (closest to the blowing end) open tone hole usually has the largest influence on the pipe's effective length. However, closing holes below the first open hole without closing the first hole can also lower the pitch significantly; such cross fingerings may often be useful. Generally, the pitch and timbre of the notes produced will depend on the positions, sizes, heights, and shapes of all the tone holes, both open and closed. Theoretical models allow these effects to be calculated with some accuracy, but the design of tone holes remains to some degree a matter of trial and error.

Timbre quality of a musical note or sound or tone

In music, timbre 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, such as string instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. It also enables listeners to distinguish different instruments in the same category.

Most woodwind instruments rely on tone holes to produce different pitches. Two exceptions are the slide whistle and the overtone flutes. Most brass instruments use valves or a slide instead of tone holes, with the rare keyed bugle and the ophicleide as exceptions.

Woodwind instrument family of musical wind instruments

Woodwind instruments are a family of musical instruments within the more general category of wind instruments. There are two main types of woodwind instruments: flutes and reed instruments. What differentiates these instruments from other wind instruments is the way in which they produce their sound. All woodwinds produce sound by splitting an exhaled air stream on a sharp edge, such as a reed or a fipple. A woodwind may be made of any material, not just wood. Common examples include brass, silver, cane, as well as other metals such as gold and platinum. Occasionally woodwinds are made out of earthen materials, especially ocarinas. Common examples include flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone.

A slide whistle is a wind instrument consisting of a fipple like a recorder's and a tube with a piston in it. Thus it has an air reed like some woodwinds, but varies the pitch with a slide. The construction is rather like a bicycle pump. Because the air column is cylindrical and open at one end and closed at the other, it overblows the third harmonic. "A whistle made out of a long tube with a slide at one end. An ascending and descending glissando is produced by moving the slide back and forth while blowing into the mouthpiece." "Tubular whistle with a plunger unit in its column, approximately 12 inches long. The pitch is changed by moving the slide plunger in and out, producing ascending and descending glisses." Hornbostel–Sachs number: 421.221.312.

Overtone flute

An overtone flute is a type of a flute that is designed to play in the upper harmonics, typically well above the two or three harmonics that are the practical limit for most woodwind instruments.

See also

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Clarinet type of woodwind instrument

The clarinet is a musical-instrument family belonging to the group known as the woodwind instruments. It has a single-reed mouthpiece, a straight, cylindrical tube with an almost cylindrical bore, and a flared bell. A person who plays a clarinet is called a clarinetist.

Harmonica free reed wind instrument

The harmonica, also known as a French harp or mouth organ, is a free reed wind instrument used worldwide in many musical genres, notably in blues, American folk music, classical music, jazz, country, and rock and roll. There are many types of harmonica, including diatonic, chromatic, tremolo, octave, orchestral, and bass versions. A harmonica is played by using the mouth to direct air into or out of one or more holes along a mouthpiece. Behind each hole is a chamber containing at least one reed. A harmonica reed is a flat elongated spring typically made of brass, stainless steel, or bronze, which is secured at one end over a slot that serves as an airway. When the free end is made to vibrate by the player's air, it alternately blocks and unblocks the airway to produce sound.

Pan flute type of flute

The pan flutes are a group of musical instruments based on the principle of the closed tube, consisting of multiple pipes of gradually increasing length. Multiple varieties of pan flutes have long been popular as folk instruments. The pipes are typically made from bamboo, giant cane, or local reeds. Other materials include wood, plastic, metal and ivory.

Trumpet musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family

A trumpet is a brass instrument commonly used in classical and jazz ensembles. The trumpet group contains the instruments with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpet-like instruments have historically been used as signaling devices in battle or hunting, with examples dating back to at least 1500 BC; they began to be used as musical instruments only in the late 14th or early 15th century. Trumpets are used in art music styles, for instance in orchestras, concert bands, and jazz ensembles, as well as in popular music. They are played by blowing air through nearly-closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound that starts a standing wave vibration in the air column inside the instrument. Since the late 15th century they have primarily been constructed of brass tubing, usually bent twice into a rounded rectangular shape.

Transposing instrument

A transposing instrument is a musical instrument whose music is recorded in staff notation at a pitch different from the pitch that actually sounds. A written middle C on a transposing instrument produces a pitch other than middle C, and that pitch identifies the interval of transposition when describing the instrument. For example, a written C on a B clarinet sounds a concert B.

Uilleann pipes characteristic national bagpipe of Ireland

The uilleann pipes are the characteristic national bagpipe of Ireland. Earlier known in English as "union pipes", their current name is a partial translation of the Irish-language term píobaí uilleann, from their method of inflation. There is no historical record of the name or use of the term uilleann pipes before the twentieth century. It was an invention of Grattan Flood and the name stuck. People mistook the term 'union' to refer to the 1800 Act of Union; this is incorrect as Breandán Breathnach points out that a poem published in 1796 uses the term 'union'.

Pitch pipe device for tuning musical instruments

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.

Ocarina small egg-shaped wind instrument with a mouthpiece and finger holes

The ocarina is an ancient wind musical instrument—a type of vessel flute. Variations exist, but a typical ocarina is an enclosed space with four to twelve finger holes and a mouthpiece that projects from the body. It is traditionally made from clay or ceramic, but other materials are also used—such as plastic, wood, glass, metal, or bone. An example of an ocarina made of an animal horn is the medieval German gemshorn.

Overblowing is a technique used while playing a wind instrument which, primarily through manipulation of the supplied air, causes the sounded pitch to jump to a higher one. Depending on the instrument, overblowing may involve a change in air pressure, in the point at which the air is directed, or in the resonance characteristics of the chamber formed by the mouth and throat of the player. In some instruments, overblowing may also involve the direct manipulation of the vibrating reed(s), and/or the pushing of a register key while otherwise leaving fingering unaltered. With the exception of harmonica overblowing, the pitch jump is from one vibratory mode of the reed or air column, e.g., its fundamental, to an overtone. Overblowing can be done deliberately in order to get a higher pitch, or inadvertently, resulting in the production of a note other than that intended.


A fipple is a constricted mouthpiece common to many end-blown flutes, such as the tin whistle and the recorder. These instruments are known variously as fipple flutes, duct flutes, or tubular-ducted flutes.

Organ stop musical instrument part

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".

Quena traditional flute of the Andes

The quena is the traditional flute of the Andes. Traditionally made of cane or wood, it has 6 finger holes and one thumb hole, and is open on both ends or the bottom is half-closed (choked). To produce sound, the player closes the top end of the pipe with the flesh between the chin and lower lip, and blows a stream of air downward, along the axis of the pipe, over an elliptical notch cut into the end. It is normally in the key of G, with G4 being the lowest note. It produces a very "textured" and "dark" timbre because of the length-to-bore ratio of about 16 to 20, which is very unlike the tone of the Western concert flute with bore ratio about 38.

Western concert flute transverse woodwind instrument made of metal or wood

The Western concert flute is a transverse (side-blown) woodwind instrument made of metal or wood. It is the most common variant of the flute. A musician who plays the flute is called a flautist, flutist, flute player, or (rarely) fluter.

Flue pipe

A flue pipe is an organ pipe that produces sound through the vibration of air molecules, in the same manner as a recorder or a whistle. Air under pressure is driven down a flue and against a sharp lip called a Labium, causing the column of air in the pipe to resonate at a frequency determined by the pipe length. Thus, there are no moving parts in a flue pipe. This is in contrast to reed pipes, whose sound is driven by beating reeds, as in a clarinet. Flue pipes are common components of pipe organs.

Organ pipe musical instrument part

An organ pipe is a sound-producing element of the pipe organ that resonates at a specific pitch when pressurized air is driven through it. Each pipe is tuned to a specific note of the musical scale. A set of organ pipes of similar timbre comprising the complete scale is known as a rank; one or more ranks constitutes a stop.

Ophicleide type of wind instrument

The ophicleide is a keyed brass instrument similar to the tuba. It is a conical-bore keyed instrument belonging to the bugle family and has a similar shape to the sudrophone.

Helmholtz resonance

Helmholtz resonance or wind throb is the phenomenon of air resonance in a cavity, such as when one blows across the top of an empty bottle. The name comes from a device created in the 1850s by Hermann von Helmholtz, the Helmholtz resonator, which he used to identify the various frequencies or musical pitches present in music and other complex sounds.

Reed pipe

A reed pipe is an organ pipe that is sounded by a vibrating brass strip known as a reed. Air under pressure is directed towards the reed, which vibrates at a specific pitch. This is in contrast to flue pipes, which contain no moving parts and produce sound solely through the vibration of air molecules. Reed pipes are common components of pipe organs.

Bore (wind instruments) interior chamber of a wind instrument

In music, the bore of a wind instrument is its interior chamber. This defines a flow path through which air travels, which is set into vibration to produce sounds. The shape of the bore has a strong influence on the instrument's timbre.


  1. William Lines Hubbard, ed. (1908). The American history and encyclopedia of music, Volume 10, p.532. Squire.