What Instruments Have the Highest Pitch?

By Aaron Charles ; Updated September 15, 2017
Every instrument family has a highest-pitched instrument.

Each instrument has its own voice. You'll find the highest-pitched of these voices in a classical orchestra, where brass, string and woodwind instruments work together to produce some of the most beautiful music ever recorded. The human voice, indeed an instrument, can't compete with the high pitch sounds produced by some of these instruments. Truly, the world of music would suffer without these highest-pitched instruments.

Orchestra: Brass

Of all the most common brass instruments used in an orchestra -- tuba, French horn, trumpet, trombone -- the trumpet has the highest pitch. According to the book "Music Listening Today," the trumpet achieves this high pitch via its three piston valves that change the length of the instrument's tubing. The cornet, closely related to the trumpet, has a different build, with tubing that's more cone-shaped on the inside instead of the cylinder-shaped tubing found in the trumpet. In the book, "Classical Music," author Phil Goulding mentions the C-alto horn as the highest pitched in the brass horn family; but it is rarely used nowadays.

Orchestra: String

The violin, the smallest instrument in the string family, plays the highest pitch notes among the string instruments. It has four strings and is similar to the viola, but is smaller in size. The higher-pitched sounds that emanate from the violin can express a sweetness and expressiveness that's difficult to replicate. The violin's strings being tuned in fifths contributes the wide range of sounds its capable of, including its high pitch.

Orchestra: Woodwind

Determining which instrument in the woodwind family has the highest pitch is a matter of slight controversy. Actually, it's rather well established that the piccolo, similar to the flute, is the highest-pitched among the woodwinds. Musicians at the Chattanooga Symphony and Orchestra agree, noting that the piccolo reaches one octave higher than the flute. But musicians at the Knoxville Symphony say that the flute is the highest-pitched woodwind. According to the book "Voice and Vision," the piccolo's pitch peaks at 5,200 Hz.

Piano, Guitar and Human Voice

Other instruments, such as the piano, guitar and human voice, have fairly high pitch levels, albeit not at the level of other orchestral instruments. Interestingly, as high as female opera singers and Maria Carey can sing, the average pitch peak for the human voice is 2,000 Hz. The piano, with its high-C note, reaches just below 4,200 Hz. And on a 24-fret guitar you can reach approximately 1,175 Hz -- just below the human voice's average maximum, which may be especially surprising after listening to a Joe Satriani guitar solo.

About the Author

Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."