Many instruments that are capable of producing high-pitched tones are known for their light and airy quality. High pitch instruments are typically smaller than their regular counterparts, giving them the capability to reach high tones. There are a variety of high-pitched instruments across the woodwind family, brass family, stringed instruments and other families.
The highest-pitched orchestral instrument is the piccolo, but there are some other impressive musical instruments that can reach high ranges. Let’s take a look.
Pitch and Hertz
Hertz (hz) is a way to measure pitch that relies on the physical properties of a sound wave. Hertz measures the number of sound waves per second of a tone. A higher number of hertz is heard as a higher tone. For example, a tone of 25 hz means that the sound wave completes 25 cycles in a second. A tone of 250 hz means that the sound wave completes 250 cycles in a second. The 250 hz sound wave will be heard as a higher pitch.
Highest-Pitched Instruments in the Woodwind Family
Flutes are a member of the woodwind family that is perhaps the most well-known instrument for producing high pitches. Their long, thin metal bodies are capable of producing high-pitched tones that give orchestras a light and airy quality. Flute pitches range spans from 262 Hz up to 2096 Hz. However, different variations of the flute have been created to reach different pitches. Flutes typically have a written range of C4-D7.
The highest pitch on the piccolo is about 5000 Hz. The piccolo looks similar to a flute with its long, thin body. However, it is a fraction of the size, making it capable of producing higher pitches. They are small, high-pitched wind instruments with mouthpieces and are considered the highest-pitched woodwind instrument. Piccolos are frequently highlighted with short solos during orchestra movements. Piccolo high pitches ranging from 630 Hz to an impressive 5000 Hz give them a happy and jubilant sound quality. Piccolo’s typically have a written range of D4-C7, but they actually play one octave higher than this.
Oboes are long, thin instruments that have a similar appearance to a clarinet. However, their mouthpiece is played with an external reed. Oboes have a deeper pitch than flutes, but are still capable of producing high-pitched tones. Oboe pitch ranges reach 250 Hz to 1500 Hz.
Clarinets are also long, thin, straight tubes played with a thin reed at the end. Their range is similar to that of an oboe, but stretches just beyond what an oboe is able to reach. At the low end, clarinets are capable of pitches of just 200 Hz. At the high end, clarinets are capable of pitches up to 2000 Hz.
A recorder is a small high-pitched wind instrument with a mouthpiece. Recorders are frequently used to teach children how to play a woodwind instrument because of their simple composition. They have a thin, short body and are held similarly to a clarinet. At their highest range, some types of recorders are capable of producing pitches up to an impressive 3200 Hz.
Types of Brass Instruments
Although trumpets are unable to reach nearly as high pitches as the woodwind instruments, many variations are still able to reach impressively high tones. A typical trumpet is used in a variety of bands, orchestras, and music groups. It is capable of reaching pitches of up to 988 Hz. Different trumpets and horns have been created for different pitch ranges.
French Horn (Horn in F)
The French Horn has a written range of F#2-C6. The high end of it’s range ends at around 1000 Hz.
Tuba (aka Tuben or Wagner Tuba)
The tuba, also known as a Wagner tuba, is slightly larger than the trumpet and is capable of producing slightly lower-pitched tones. At the high end, the tuba is only capable of reaching pitches of up to 784 Hz.
The piccolo trumpet is smaller and lighter weight than a typical trumpet. It’s smaller structure makes it capable of playing tones a full octave above a trumpet. As a result, it is the highest-pitched brass instrument. At the high end of its range, it is capable of tones up to 1600 Hz.
Highest-Pitched Stringed Instruments, Keyboards and Percussion
The harp is a type of stringed instrument known for its beautiful airy tone. Played with the fingers, the harp is capable of a wide range of tones. It is the highest-pitched string instrument, with an upward range of 3322.4 Hz. Although it is not as high as the piccolo, the harp is used for solos and orchestral pieces in need of high tones.
The piano is another instrument that is capable of producing high-pitched tones. It has one of the largest pitch ranges of all instruments and is well-known for being versatile in its uses. At the low end of its range, the piano is capable of tones down to just 28 Hz. At its high end, it is capable of tones up to 4186 Hz on a typical 88-key piano.
Even the most talented singers are unable to compete with many of the high-pitched instruments. The highest soprano voices are typically capable of pitches up to 1000 Hz. This is comparable with a trumpet or oboe.
Violins are small stringed instruments that are played with a stringed bow. They are well-known in their role in orchestras. Violins are capable of reaching pitches of up to 3520Hz, which is four octaves higher than the lowest A note. The violin is the highest-pitched string instrument. There are also a variety of violin and types that are capable of reaching lower pitches.
Just slightly larger than a violin, the viola is the second highest-pitched stringed instrument in the violin family. It is capable of reaching pitches of up to 1046 Hz.
Highest-Pitched Percussion Instruments
Percussion instruments are also well-known for their wide ranges of pitches. Many instruments, such as the xylophone, marimba and celeste are capable of reaching relatively high tones.
The xylophone is a small wooden instrument that has a series of metal or wooden bars that differ in length. The shortest bars are capable of the shortest tones. The xylophone is capable of reaching pitches up to 3500 Hz.
The marimba has a similar appearance to the xylophone with sets of wooden bars that can be struck to produce different tones. The marimba has a slightly smaller pitch range. At its highest, the marimba is capable of tones up to 2100 Hz.
The celesta has a similar appearance to a keyboard but contains a number of bells on the inside. The player produces a tone by touching one of the keys, which in turn rings the correlating bell. The smallest bells are capable of producing tones up to 3500 Hz.
High pitched instruments are typically shorter and smaller in size than their typical counterparts. There are a number of high pitch instruments across the woodwind, string, brass, and other families. The most well-known high pitch instruments include the harp, piccolo, and piano. These high-pitched instruments are typically used in orchestra movements, bands and solos for their light, happy and air-like quality.