Key Instruments in Jazz Music

Jazz is a uniquely American form of music and one that provides a lot of scope for originality and innovation to musicians around the world. With its origins linked to the brass band tradition prevalent in the US in the early 1900s, jazz as a genre of music makes use of a large number of musical instruments, all of which can be categorized under different sections. These include the rhythm section, woodwind section, brass section and the string section.

While there are a number of instruments that are used in the different sections that are a part of jazz music, here’s a brief introduction of some of the more prominent ones that are used:

Piano

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The name ‘piano’ originated from an Italian term ‘pianoforte’ which means ‘soft’ and ‘strong’. The piano is one of the most versatile instruments used in jazz music and continues to play a leading role in the evolution of this genre over the years. As a musical instrument, the piano has 88 keys that allow a person to play a high or a low note and also create a percussion effect by pressing on the keys in a rapid manner. The piano is a favorite of jazz musicians because of its capability to create a seamless mix of melody and harmony together at the same time while playing.

Jazz musicians have a lot of scope to improvise using the piano and tend to often focus on the chord extensions. This includes adding the sixth and the thirteenth scale degrees to the piano’s chord. The scales, arpeggios and the modes that are related to the piano’s chords are also used by jazz musicians in an attempt to improvise as a tune’s chord progresses. Both jazz musicians and composers use the piano extensively for coaching sessions on theory and set arrangements in the world of jazz.

Bass

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Technically known as the upright bass, this is a four-stringed instrument made of wood that lays the foundation for creating a musical harmony within jazz music. However, what we understand by the term ‘jazz bass’ is the double bass or the bass guitar which come into prominence during a solo performance in a jazz band. In the beginning, the double bass was the prominent instrument of choice till around the 1960s for a range of players involved in small jazz based combos to bigger jazz groups. Alongside, however, some jazz musicians started to replace the use of the double bass with that of the electric bass guitar sometime around the 1950s. Since then, it’s largely been a question of choice among jazz musicians to either specialize in the electric bass or the double bass.

Saxophone

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Undoubtedly one of the most popular instruments among jazz musicians, the saxophone produces a unique sound that is typically identifiable with the jazz music genre. Made out of brass, the saxophone falls under the category of woodwind instruments and musicians have to actually blow into the mouthpiece to produce the sound while vibrating the reed alongside. However, the saxophone is capable of playing only one reed at any point of time which can be said to be the only limitation of this otherwise versatile instrument.

Trumpet

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This is another key musical accompaniment in jazz and one that is a hot favorite of jazz musicians down the ages, including the likes of Louis Armstrong. Like the saxophone, the trumpet too is made of brass and the musician has to blow into the mouthpiece while vibrating his lips to produce the sound. The sound of the trumpet can be changed by altering the shape of your lips while pressing down on any one among the three valves that are located at the top of the instrument.

Apart from the ones mentioned above, jazz music is also marked by a number of other instruments that include the drum, guitar, clarinet, trombone, violin and the cello. Each of these instruments adds its own unique sounds and melodies that together magnify the intensity and richness of jazz music. However, with improvisation being perhaps the only constant factor in this otherwise highly diverse form of music, each of these instruments are used in a variety of ways by jazz musicians; whether it is as part of a jazz band or in the realm of solo performances.