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What Instruments Are in a Jazz Band?

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  • 0:03 Basic Instruments
  • 1:35 Changes Over Time
  • 2:06 Skills Needed
  • 2:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever wanted to play an instrument like the trumpet or saxophone or wondered what kind of horn is typically used to play jazz? In this lesson, we'll learn about the instruments commonly used in a jazz band.

Basic Instruments

Jazz bands come in a variety of sizes and arrangements, yet tend to share common characteristics and instruments. Jazz bands are generally composed of two sections: horns, which consist of saxophones and other brass instruments; and rhythm, which are varying combinations of guitar, piano, upright bass, or percussion.

Horns include reed instruments that get their sound from the musician blowing through a thin wooden reed on the instrument's mouthpiece. Clarinets are included in some jazz bands, but the alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones are the most common horns. Each type of saxophone plays a different range; the baritone is the largest of the three and plays the lowest notes, while the alto is the smallest and plays the highest notes. Horns also include brass instruments in which you blow through a metal mouthpiece, like trumpets, trombones, and (if the band is a New Orleans jazz band) a tuba-like sousaphone. Brass can also support what's going on in the rhythm section because the brass play a lot of parts that emphasize the beat.

Rhythm instruments include percussion such as snare and bass drums, cymbals, and bongos, as well as stringed instruments such as guitar, string bass, mandolin, or banjo. Some jazz bands use piano and/or mallet instruments like a vibraphone.

With the wide variety of instruments typically used in a jazz band, there are many different possible arrangements. Due to the large number of instruments and jazz's emphasis on improvisation, the sound and popular instruments of jazz bands has changed over time.

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