8 Jazz Instruments You Need To Know

Louis Armstrong Playing The Most Popular of Jazz Instrumets, Trumpet

Wondering what the most popular jazz instruments are? Or maybe you’re trying to make your music sound jazzier?

While instruments are essential to get your music to sound jazzy, you’re playing style can do a lot of the heavy lifting as well.

Let’s say you’ve been playing a tune on the three-notes per string G major scale. Change it up a little to a G major pentatonic, and you’ll have yourself a jazz/blues pattern.

In a much more ideal and advanced scenario, you need an appropriate jazz instrument to achieve the exact vibe of making jazz music.

After all, playing an instrument that can create jazz melodies, is much more satisfactory than playing pentatonic scales on a regular device.

What Is Jazz Music?

Jazz originated from the African American community in the early 20th century. The music is a consequence of improvised blues music.

Jazz players use mainly brass and woodwind instruments to outline melodies, and the guitar, as with any genre, contributes a great deal.

Traditional drum sets can be used to play jazz jingles, while an upright bass glues the sounds together and somewhat maintains the rhythm.

Now let’s have a look at some of the most popular jazz instruments!

8 Best Jazz Instruments

1. Trumpet

Trumpets were invented during 1500 BC. At that time, the instrument was used as battle horns. Later on, in the 14th and 15th centuries, it transformed into a musical instrument.

Trumpets became more popular than ever, after the famous jazz player, Louis Armstrong, took it up onstage. It’s a brass instrument played using a vibrating mouthpiece.

It has three valves to change the pitch, and players use different puckering techniques to bring out a variety of sounds. 

2. Saxophone

The saxophone is one of the most ideal jazz instruments, as it allows the player to freely express their individualism in a spontaneous way.

Here are a couple of Saxophone facts:

  • Saxophones are woodwind instruments, but it is made out of brass. 
  • There are four types: Tenors, Altos, Sopranos, and Baritones.
  • Saxophones can only play a single note at a time.
  • Saxophones can be used to play melodies and solos.
Stan Getz, one of the best jazz saxophone players of all time.

3. Piano

Pianos are as versatile as guitars, offering 88 keys for pianists to experiment with. The notes can range from high to low all while being played at the same time.

In jazz music, the pianist typically plays chords, accompanying the melodies, in a bright, bouncy, and rhythmic way. They may also improvise a melody with one hand while simultaneously ‘comping’ chords in their other hand.

Interested in learning how to play piano? Why not check out of my guide on the 8 best online piano lessons!

4. Trombone

Trombones are made out of brass. It uses a sliding pipe that goes in and out of the front end of the instrument. The different placement of the slide pipe can create different notes.

As a jazz instrument, a tenor trombone is usually favored due to it giving the liveliest sound as well as being the most convenient when playing the wide ranges often used in jazz music.

Here’s what you need to know about trombones:

  • Trombones have been used in jazz music ever since the beginning of the genre.
  • Trombones were used in the background during the early jazz era.
  • Trombones became prominent as a solo instrument during the swing era of jazz in the 1930s.

5. The Standing Bass

The upright bass is like an enormous violin. But unlike the violin, it plays low notes to create a base for the melody. The instrument is wooden, with four nylon strings along the fretboard.

In classical music, a wooden bow is dragged along the lines to resonate the strings, while the player has to hold notes on the fret with his left hand.

But everything is a bit out of the ordinary whenever jazz is involved. Jazz players prefer plucking the strings instead of using a bow, to create a pulse effect. 

Fascinating fact: The bowstring of an upright bass is made of horsehair.

6. The Clarinet

Johann Christoph Denner is believed to the founding father of clarinets. It was invented in Germany during the 1700s and was technically improved later on for a better tenor and playability. 

Clarinets have been used in jazz music from the early days, and it played a significant role in contributing to the emergence of swing music.

Benny Goodman, playing on the most important jazz instruments, the clarinet.
Benny Goodman, one of the most innovative jazz clarinetists of all time.

The playing style is similar to that of a saxophone. This fact is probably why many saxophonists play the clarinets as well.

Jazz artists are rarely seen using this woodwind instrument in modern times. Nevertheless, the vibrating reeds on the blowhole of a clarinet have been effective in adding warmth to jazz compositions for a long time!

7. Drums

The drums carry the rhythm and the tempo of the entire band. It’s a powerful instrument that has multiple percussion pieces. Although you only need a few drums to play jazz beats and dribbles, the drums are one of the most important jazz instruments.

Here’s what you need:

  • The kick drum: The kick is the bass drum piece that creates a low but heavy sound. You have to use a foot pedal to play it. 
  • The hi-hat: This is a pair of medium-sized cymbals, held up by a stand. The stand has a pedal at the bottom. This pedal can be used to open or close the gap between the cymbals. A closed hi-hat is less pitchy and vibrant than an open hi-hat note.
  • The snare drum: The snare is the central piece that plays most of the beats. It has a chain attached to the bottom skin that resonates to create a crisp sound with each stroke that compliments the music from the upper surface. The piece is placed in front of the drummer, between his legs.
  • Ride Cymbal: The ride is usually placed at the right corner. It can be played in place of the hi-hat to hold the metronome. 
  • The Crash: The crash is used to intensify notes, usually played at the end of the 4/16/32 beat cycle. 
  • The Low and High Toms: The toms sit on top of the kick/bass drum. They are used to add notes. Often only one is used in jazz music.

8. Guitar

The guitar is the most common instrument used in any genre of music but is also a very popular jazz instrument. It’s because the instrument’s fretting system allows players to play hundreds, if not thousands, of notes, making it one of the most versatile devices in the world.

In jazz, hollow-body or jumbo guitars are used for their clarity. Jazz musicians prefer using electric guitars to either perform solos or play rhythm. The six strings in a guitar can be played individually for solos, together for chords, and plucked for melodies.

Common Questions About Jazz Music Instruments

What instruments were used in early jazz?

The most common instruments used in early jazz music were trumpets, clarinets, trombones, piano, string bass or tuba, and the banjo or guitar.

What is the easiest jazz instrument to learn?

Overall, the saxophone is the easiest jazz instrument to learn. This is mainly due to its modern design, where the keys are spaced naturally to fit the shape of a human hand. Also, having an octave key means changing registers is as simple as pressing a button. Finally, because the saxophone is a reed instrument, it requires much less muscle strength in the lips to create a consistent tone than say the trumpet.

What are the basic instruments of a jazz combo?

The basic instruments of a jazz combo or jazz band are the drums, piano or guitar, and a leading horn.

Final Thoughts On Jazz Instruments

Although I have only chosen the most popular jazz instruments, as famous American jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane said, “You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.”

There is no limitation on experimenting with musical instruments. So, even if you don’t have the jazz instruments listed in this article, you can always try to explore musical genres with the ones you have.

Most importantly, have fun!