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What Instruments Are in a Jazz Band?

Candace Lehman, Stephanie Przybylek, Jenna Clayton
  • Author
    Candace Lehman

    Candace Lehman has taught all subject areas in 4th and 5th grade for over 12 years. She has a Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education from Missouri State University. She holds a lifetime teaching certificate in the state of Missouri for Birth-6th Grade.

  • 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.

  • Expert Contributor
    Jenna Clayton

    Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

Learn about the different types of jazz band instruments. See how horns compare to rhythm instruments with examples. Explore the history of jazz music. Updated: 08/18/2021

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Jazz Band Instruments

Jazz is a type of music developed in America around the 1920s. It is a piece of rhythmic music with forwarding momentum or swing to the beat. There is a lot of improvisation, unrehearsed sections created at the moment, and solos from the artists. Each jazz recording has a unique sound. Jazz music is considered an art form since the talents of each musician show through in their music. Jazz was first developed for dancing but is now considered easy listening as well. The first jazz recording was in 1917.

What instruments are used in a jazz band? Jazz music has two types of instruments: rhythm instruments and horns. Rhythm instruments can be drums and pianos. Horn instruments can be saxophone and trombones. Each musician has their sound and collection of instruments that play in unison, at the same time, to create the sound. The instrument that is most popular in jazz music would most likely be the trumpet.

When determining what instruments to include in a jazz band the musician must first determine the type of jazz band he or she desires. Once the type of band and style of music is decided the musician must then develop a selection of rhythm and horn instruments that will achieve his desired sound.

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What Instruments are Used in Jazz

Jazz band instruments are as unique as each musician and their creative sound and style. The melody can be several instruments in unison or a single instrument creating the melody as the song progresses through improvisation.

Jazz Instruments List

Instruments used in jazz are:

  • Trumpet
  • Saxophone
  • Piano
  • Trombone
  • Clarinet
  • Double Bass
  • Drums
  • Electric Guitar

Types of Jazz Instruments

Jazz instruments fall into one of two categories, rhythm or horns. A particular piece of jazz music may feature multiple instruments in unison or one instrument in solo melody.

Horns

Many types of horn instruments can be played in jazz. The most popular are the trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and clarinet. The sousaphone is a horn that is not used for jazz music due to its deep and slow tones. Horns can be brass instruments such as the trumpet and trombone, or they can be reed instruments, such as the clarinet and saxophone.

Trumpet


The trumpet is a popular instrument in jazz music.

The trumpet is a popular instrument in jazz music.


Trumpets are well known in jazz for their bold, crisp, and cheery sound. Trumpets are often switched out with coronets, which are essentially smaller versions of the trumpet, and able to produce higher sounds. The trumpet is one of the most recognizable sounds in jazz music.

Saxophone

Saxophones often come to mind when listing jazz instruments. They are widely used by many jazz musicians. The saxophone is a brass, reed instrument that has a wide range of notes. Saxophones come in a wide range of sizes and each size produces a different variety of notes. The larger the instrument the lower the note register.

Clarinet

The clarinet is not as bold and impactful as the trumpet or the saxophone. It plays a nice rhythmic melody and therefore is an important instrument for jazz music. Clarinets are in the woodwind family.

Trombone


The trombone is a popular jazz instrument that has a deep and rich sound.

The trombone is a popular jazz instrument that has a deep and rich sound.


Trombones are part of the brass family and are quite large compared to the trumpet. It is often one of the most recognized jazz instruments due to its unique look and sound. The trombone became a popular jazz instrument in the 1930s with swing jazz.

Rhythm

Rhythm section instruments include the piano, guitars, and drums. The rhythm instruments give jazz music its unique swing sound that has made the music so popular over several decades.

Piano


The piano is a versatile instrument that can be found in many different genres of music including jazz.

Jazz Instruments


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Additional Activities

Jazz Band Writing Activity

Short-Answer Essay Questions

For this assignment, respond to the following short-answer essay questions about jazz bands and the instruments commonly used in a jazz band. Since these are short-answer essay questions, responses should be relatively succinct and focused. Writing two to three well-developed paragraphs per question is perfectly adequate for these questions.

Questions:

  1. What are the common brass instruments found in a jazz band? Explain the role of brass instruments in a jazz band.
  2. What rhythm instruments can normally be found in a jazz band? What do these instruments do for the overall sound of the band? Explain.
  3. How have jazz bands changed over time? Explain with specific details.
  4. How are jazz bands different from a school or concert band? Explain.

Possible Response to Question #3:

Jazz bands have been around for nearly 100 years, and they have changed greatly since the early days. Jazz grew in popularity throughout the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, some different instruments, such as the violin, were used to create jazz music. Today, it is less common to see an instrument like a violin in a jazz band.

Also, in the 1930s and 1940s, jazz bands tended to be quite large. Most bands had up to 17 instruments. Today, professional jazz bands usually use fewer instruments to create their unique and upbeat sound.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main instruments of early jazz music?

The main instruments of early jazz music would be the trumpet, trombone, saxophone, clarinet, and piano. Later jazz styles would include the drums and the electric guitar.

What instruments are used in jazz?

Instruments in jazz can be classified into two groups: rhythm instruments and horns. Rhythm instruments can be the piano, drums, double bass, or electric guitar. Horn instruments can be the clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, and trombone.

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