Instrument range



Audio: instrument range (0:16)

Instrument range
Figure: instrument range
INSTRUMENTMin (Hz)Max (Hz)Min pitchMax pitch
Musical instrument164186C0C8
Table: instrument range

instrument range plays four pairs of sounds in succession and the instrument range figure shows the score. Each pair demonstrates the extreme range of the four types of instrument listed in the instrument range table:

  1. The human voice has the narrowest range of any instrument. A choir aah is the lowest voice and generates a 65Hz C2 basso profundo. A voice ooh is the highest sound generating a 1046Hz C6 soprano C.
  2. Musical instruments span a wide range. The hyperbass flute generates a 32Hz deep pedal C1 sound and can even get down as low as a 16Hz C0 subaudio note. It would grace any musical household except it is 15 metres long and shatters glass. The highest musical instrument sound is the top note on an 88 key piano which generates a 4186Hz eighth octave C8. The piano has the widest range of any musical instrument, from A0 to C8.
  3. Percussion has a smaller designated range than musical instruments although the sounding range of some percussion, cymbals in particular, extends well into the ultrasound region. A floor tom is the lowest percussion sound and generates an even deeper sound than a bass drum. A splash cymbal produces very high-frequency sound and is a tiny four inches in diameter.
  4. The computer has the widest range of any instrument and covers the entire sound spectrum. The lowest sound that can be heard is a sweep pad synthesizer generating a barely audible 16Hz C0. An artificial piccolo is the highest computer sound that can be heard and generates a sustained 12543Hz G9 in the very high-frequency part of the audio spectrum.

Range refers to the range of frequencies of an instrument.

There are various types of range. Two of the most important for the purpose of writing music are designated range and sounding range:

  • Designated range, or standard range, is the range of frequencies that can be sung or played comfortably. The instrument range table shows designated ranges.
  • Sounding range is the actual range of frequencies that an instrument can generate. The sounding range is much larger than the designated range and can extend well beyond the audio spectrum and into the infrasound and ultrasound regions.

You need to know the designated range of an instrument and any physical constraints on its use when you write music for performing or recording live.