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Types of Instruments

Types of Instruments

Music is a form of art we experience every day and all day. No matter what you do there’s likely music all around you, and it’s all made with either instruments or bodily actions. The very core of an instrument is your own body no matter what you play. If you’re playing wind you’re using your mouth and hands, and if you play percussion, then you use your hands and possibly feet. In this article I’m going to tell you all about every type of instrument.

Instruments come in all shapes and keys. The levels of size are piccolo, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contralto, contrabass, and sub-contrabass. Alto and baritone are usually in the keys of Eb. Soprano, tenor, bass, and contrabass are in the key of Bb. Another way instruments are categorized is by key. These are related to the chromatic scale i.e. A, Bb, C, Eb etc.



Wind instruments use your lungs, hands, and mouth to make sounds. These instruments require shape of mouth and knowledge of fingerings to know the position or pattern you need to make a certain pitch.


Brass instruments are instruments that are, well, made of brass with valves and lots of tubing.

Trumpets are the most common of the brass commonly coming in their basic form but can be seen in piccolo. There are many different keys a trumpet can be in but most common is Bb. Trumpets commonly play the melody with some solos.

The french horn is a rotary valved instrument in the key of F. Rotary valves are valves that rotate instead of being pressed. These valves can be found on a few other brass instruments like trumpet and tuba. French horns are always in their basic size meaning there aren’t any piccolo, bass, etc. The french horn is not commonly used in marching, so it’s replaced with the mellophone which is in the same key and has similar fingerings. French horns play harmonies and melodies with some solos.

The trombone is a low brass instrument set in the key of C. A trombone is the only instrument that has a slide to change the pitch. There’s specific positions that make a certain pitch, theres a total of seven positions. There are piccolo, soprano, alto, tenor, bass, and, contrabass. Trombones can have a rotary attachment that allows them to extend their range or change keys. Trombones usually play the bass line or some melodies.

Baritone / Euphoniums are one in the same instrument. The difference mostly lies in how baritones are smaller in size with shorter tubing. They are in the key of C in the bass clef and in the key of Bb in treble. Both have marching alternatives where they have a similar shape to the mellophone. These instruments commonly play the harmonies, melodies, or bass line.

The tuba is the lowest instrument in the brass family and in a concert band. Tubas in different keys use different lengths of tubing. The main tube of a Bb tuba is approximately 18 feet long, a C tuba is 16 feet , an Eb tuba 13 feet, and a F tuba 12 feet. Tubas almost always have the bass line with very few melodically parts

There are many other brass instruments available to play, but these are the most common in a concert band or an orchestra.


Woodwinds are very large in numbers taking up most of a concert band. Woodwinds are usually made of wood but in most cases are made of ebonite, a kind of plastic. The only exceptions are saxophones and flutes which are made of metal. There are five basic types of woodwinds.

Flutes are one of the highest sounding instruments in terms of range, but the piccolo is the highest sounding reaching up to a C8 (4186.01 Hz). Flutes can come in piccolo, soprano, alto (in G), and bass. You’ll likely only see the first two in a concert band, but in woodwind choirs the first four can be seen. Flutes are the only woodwind that doesn’t use a reed made of cane or wood. Instead you have to blow across the tone hole. Flutists commonly play the melody or harmony with solos.

Clarinets are considered one of the quietest instruments which is false. Clarinets when played properly can be quite loud. They can come in piccolo, soprano, alto, bass, contralto and contrabass. Depending on the musical key of a clarinet, the size of the instrument changes. The four highest clarinets are Bb, Eb, D, C and then the “normal” Bb clarinet. Clarinets commonly play harmonies and melodies with few solos. Bass clarinets play the bass line and harmonies,

Saxophones are one of the most popular instruments to play. Saxophones are commonly found in soprano, alto, tenor and baritone. Along with the piccolo saxophone and bass saxophone it creates a wide variety of pitches from the saxophone section. You’ll find alto, tenor and baritone saxophones in bands with rare sightings of bass and soprano. Alto saxophones play the melody and harmonies with some solos. Tenor sax plays harmonies and some melodies. Baritone sax plays bass line and some harmonies.

The oboe is a double reed instrument meaning it has two pieces of cane instead of one to make a sound. The oboe is similar in shape to the clarinet. Commonly the oboe and flutes play similar parts, but oboes are far more popular for their solos. There aren’t really any other types of oboes making them quite unique. Their almost always made of wood which makes them very expensive. The oboe most commonly has melodies and solos with few harmonies.

The bassoon is another double reed instrument placed in the bass clef. You’ll see bassoon players doubling the contrabassoon which is a whole octave lower than the regular bassoon. Bassoons are typically made out of wood, but most student bassoons are made of ebonite. Commonly plays bass line and harmony with some melodies.


Percussion are instruments that require rhythm and a lot of timing.


Pitched percussion include instruments like the bells, vibraphone, glockenspiel, marimba, tubular bells, and piano. All of these instruments are pitched meaning that they follow the setup like a piano with “black” keys and “white” keys. These are probably one of the most challenging instruments but can be really easy to a seasoned percussionist.


This includes snares, toms, timpani, and bass. All of these percussion can be tuned to certain pitches based on what you need for the piece. Timpani are very commonly changing pitch, even having a pedal to assist in tuning.


Auxiliary is a very wide selection of instruments ranging from the castanets to a gong. These are just side instruments that are selected based on the piece. Unlike the drums and pitched instruments, these instruments are single pitch with no ability to change. Instruments like the triangle, chimes, castanets, cymbal, cowbell, and tambourine are put into this category.


Strings are a very simple category. There’s violin, viola, cello, and double bass. String instruments are only used in orchestras with the exception of the double bass which can be used in concert using plucking instead of bowing (‘bo-ing’ not ‘bou-ing’). String instruments are very difficult to play and are very lovely to listen to. Another string instrument is the harp which is very similar to the piano but with plucking the strings instead of pressing keys.


Music is everywhere and everyone should be a part of it. Don’t be afraid to join your high school band and use the information in this article to choose what instrument you want to play.

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About the Contributor
Caleb Barth
Caleb Barth, Staff Writer
Caleb is a junior at Fillmore Central High School. He is 16 years old and his pronouns he/him. After graduating, Caleb is planning on studying for a bachelor's degree in music education. He loves indulging in creative activities, playing fantasy games, and spending time with friends.
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