The Highest Sounding Brass Instruments

Horns can be considered a low, middle or high brass instrument. The trumpet has the highest register in the brass family, but it is not the only brass instrument that can hit a high note. Certainly, it is the most common high brass instrument, but the cornet and french horn can hit high octaves as well. For this reason, any brass instrument that plays in the treble clef and is capable of playing, at least, an E5, which is the E on the top space of the treble clef staff, is considered a high brass instrument.


The trumpet transposes down a major second from its written part. This makes it an instrument in Bb, since all transpositions use the note “C” as the basis for transposition. The trumpet has a cylindrical bore that provides a majestic, brassy timbre suitable for triumphant and joyous music. The trumpet has the ability to extend up to three octaves above middle C.


The cornet does not transpose like the trumpet and, as a result, falls into the category of a non-transposing instrument. The highest pitch that the cornet plays is three octaves above middle C at C7. The extreme range above C6 is reserved for occasional use by professional players and presents difficulty in maintaining the pitch for long periods. The conical bore of the cornet creates a softer, more mellow tone that the trumpet lacks. Conical bore instruments have a gentle taper from the front to end of the lead pipe.

French horn

French horn transpositions make the instrument sound a perfect fifth, which is about half an octave lower than written. This puts the instrument in the key of F. The highest note on the French horn is the E6 or two-and-a-half octaves above middle C. The French horn is a conical bore instrument similar to the cornet that produces a mellow tone.

Soprano Trombone

The soprano trombone is a rare instrument that mainly finds use in trombone choirs and special solo works. Soprano trombones fall into the category of non-transposing instruments. The highest pitch a soprano trombone is capable of playing is C6, which is two octaves above middle C. Typically, most composers won’t write higher than Bb5. Soprano trombones play music written in the treble clef, unlike their relatives, the tenor and bass trombone, that play in the bass clef.


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