Instrument Ranges, And Going Beyond Them

Musical instruments have a range of notes that they can play.

Synthesizers sometimes limit the range of notes you can play when using the sampled sound of a particular instrument. Other times, they don't. The same is true of soundfonts.

Should we go beyond the range of the real instrument whose sound we are using, in playing music using the KeyMusician Keyboard?

The answer has more to do with the attitudes of the listeners, than in what sounds good (or doesn't). In the end, you have to decide for yourself. The best answer for one person will be the wrong answer for another.

I will attempt to explain.

In showing the instrument to a friend, she was pleasantly surprised to find that a particular guitar sound included fret-noises, and she excitedly asked how I use them.

She was surprised to find out that I don't use them, even though I could.

It is a difference in attitudes.

I explained that to me, fret noise is after all, noise. I am not trying to make people think I am playing a guitar – I'm not playing one. I'm trying to make music, and would just as soon leave out the noise.

This answer makes sense to me, but probably not to her. In creating music, she would probably use the fret-noises, and that's okay. Everybody is different.

The question of whether or not we should go beyond the range of the instrument whose sound we are using, has a similar answer.

An instrument sound used in notes beyond the range of that instrument, doesn't sound like that instrument – it's something else.

To me, if that beyond-range sound is a good sound, I'll use it. To other people, it's a big “No, no – don't do that!” sort of thing.

Some of the people who would be upset with going beyond the instrument range, might insist on “acoustic instruments only”, and have nothing to do with our electronic instrument anyway.

Which direction do you lean?

Actually, there is one cut-and-dried case where you shouldn't go beyond the range of the instrument's sound. That is when we are composing music to be played by players of that instrument. If you're composing music to be played on the KeyMusician Keyboard, or a synthesizer, it doesn't matter.

So, what are the ranges of the various musical instruments?

There is a Wikipedia article on this, with a handy chart showing the ranges.

To find the KeyMusician Keyboard notes that correspond to the chart of their article, be aware that the lowest note on the following screen-shot is C1, and the highest is the A just below C8 (A7). The article uses the following header to indicate notes of the entire MIDI range:


Each C note in the keyboard diagram is one of the above “Cn” notes. The bottom C is C1, the next C up from it is C2, and the next is C3, and middle C (between the two clefs) is C4. It continues on upwards, with C5, C6, and C7.


You can read the Wikipedia article by clicking on the link below, and then using your browser's back-button to return to this article.

Instrument Ranges (Wikipedia)

So having seen the ranges of the various instruments, which you can stay-within if you choose, I'm going to point out cases where I avoid going beyond the instrument ranges, and also cases where I actually prefer to go beyond those ranges, and the reasons why.

In all of these examples, I'm assuming you have the Transpose button set to “0 (none)”, and that you are using the “KbdMap-Qwerty-Z.kbd” Keyboard Map.

The Flute Sound

With the key-signature set to C (or A-minor), I generally avoid going lower that the row above the home row. Perhaps an Alto Flute could use the A thru F keys. But anything lower than that doesn't sound good to me. I will use the right half of the top keyboard row, with the higher notes sounding like a Piccolo. The high note of the flute range is actually the “5” key.

The French Horn Sound

Although its actual range lets you use probably the entire row above the home-row, I generally don't go to the right of the “P” key. On the home row, it sounds fine down to about the “H” key, where it sounds more like a Trombone. On the bottom row, it sounds good (perhaps like a Tuba sound) going down all the way to the “Z” key. I make use of these very low notes (without having to change instruments) in the 'Big Finish' part of the audio demo below.

Puccini – Nessun Dorma, from Turandot

The Oboe Sound

I generally don't use the Oboe sound below the row above the home-row. Going lower than that, it doesn't sound like a Bassoon – it's something else. On the high end, though it can go above high-C (the “=” key, it doesn't sound good on long, held-out notes above that key, though short notes are okay.

The Trumpet Sound

The Trumpet range is between the “D” key (of the home-row), and the “=” key (of the top row). Going to the right of the “D” key on the home-row, it doesn't sound like a realistic Trombone, though I may use it briefly in that range. But on the bottom row, is sounds fairly much like a Tuba. So with the amazing range of notes we can play simultaneously on the KeyMusician Keyboard, this can be fairly useful.

A Brass Band Example

Normally, to play the full range of brass instruments, you might choose the Brass Ensemble sound (61-Brass Section), but then you don't have the wonderful vibrato of the Trumpet for your higher notes.

For the Trumpet sound, I prefer to use the sound-font from the “timgm6mb-soundfont” Debian package (on Linux), as opposed to the FluidR3_GM sound-font we distribute with the application. The Trumpet sound in the latter sound-font is good for short, fast notes. But the former sound-font has wonderful vibrato on held-out notes, and works better for slow, legato notes.

By playing this wide-range of notes simultaneously (using a gamer keyboard with anti-ghosting), it gives you a big-band sound, and you don't have to use a MIDI router to feed the notes to different instruments (as in the Big-Band article).

See what you think of how it sounds by clicking on the link below.

Brass Ensemble Improvisation, Using Just The Trumpet Sound

I hope this article adds to your understanding of music, and gives you new possibilities with the instrument!

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