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Instrument Ranges for Composers

You need to learn the lowest playable note on each orchestral instrument, so that you are able to write a composition which stays in range. (In practice, you are unlikely to be asked to compose for double bass, viola or tuba).

Here are the normal ranges for the standard instruments used in the modern symphony orchestra. Please note:

  • The symbol “8va” means the note sounds an octave higher than written, and “15ma” means two octaves higher.
  • “8vb” is found below the stave and means the note sounds an octave lower than written.
  • The ranges are for notes as written for each instrument, so the actual concert pitch notes for transposing instruments will be different.
  • For string instruments, the four notes show the lowest note playable on each open string (i.e. untouched string).
  • The highest playable note for all of these instruments depends on the player’s skill. Much higher notes can be obtained by virtuoso players. The given ranges are the “normal” playable ranges for an advanced level musician.

In practice, you will generally be safe if you stay within the stave or a couple of ledger lines above it.

instrument ranges for composers