What Are the Altissimo Notes?

Altissimo registers are penetrating and dramatic.

The altissimo notes are the highest notes on an instrument. They are typically the most difficult to play successfully and require advanced ability to play correctly and in tune. The altissimo register refers to woodwind instruments including the flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophones. Learning about these registers will enable a composer to write easily playable music.


In flute playing, the altissimo notes are anything that is higher than a D6. Since middle C is C4 and occurs directly below the treble clef staff, D6 is about two octaves higher. This means that the first D above the treble clef staff is the start of the altissimo register. The flute begins to sound shrill and penetrating in this register. It is advisable to use a piccolo instead of a flute if the melody hangs in the altissimo register.


The oboe has the same altissimo range as the clarinet. The highest note is a C7, although it is generally recommended to avoid writing over Bb6. Playing altissimo on the oboe is almost never recommended as it is a new technique for oboe players and difficult to produce these high pitches. Composers should only use the altissimo range if they are writing for a highly accomplished professional player and only in a solo piece.


The clarinet begins its altissimo range at C6, which is only a major second below the flute altissimo range. This equates to the first C above the treble clef staff. The clarinet needs careful playing in this range, as it is easy to squeak and lose control of the instrument in this range. Clarinets typically have a smooth controlled sound and the high notes avoided except in solo literature.


The bassoon is the bass of the woodwind family, and as a result, the altissimo register is lower than on the other woodwind instruments. Bb3 is the highest note playable before having to go into the altissimo register on the bassoon. Notes in this register are shrill, and it is better to use another double reed instrument such as the English horn or oboe.


The saxophone will play regularly in the altissimo range especially in jazz music. The nature of the saxophone lends itself to a sharp and clean higher altissimo range. The altissimo starts about an octave above the F or F# on the top line of the treble clef staff. This applies to the tenor and alto saxophones, which are the most commonly used saxophones in orchestra and jazz ensembles.


"The Study of Orchestration"; Samuel Adler; 2002.

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