What comes to your mind when you hear jazz? Perhaps a dark cozy bar with people eating and drinking while a band plays some of the best tunes. Or it could be a live performance or a record from Snarky Puppy. Whatever it is, you’ll agree that jazz is an amazing style of music that’s been booming for decades!
How do jazz musicians make this great music? Jazz is a musical conversation between various instruments rather than a vocal expression. This is why musical instruments are such an important part of jazz music.
So, let us take a look inside the world of jazz and learn more about the various instruments used in its creation.
What Is Jazz Music?
In the early 20th century, Jazz was created in the African American community. The music has its roots in blues. It’s a type of folk music that black people played for fun. Jazz music transcends borders and it has given rise to other types of music. To create melodies, jazz players primarily use brass and woodwind instruments, with the guitar playing an important role.
The features of jazz are its sound and rhythms. Besides, jazz jingles can be also played on traditional drum sets, while an upright bass holds the sounds together and helps to keep the rhythm.
Brief History of Jazz Music
The first piece of jazz music was played in the 1900s. Its birthplace is New Orleans, USA. So, jazz is a music genre from New Orleans to the rest of the world. At the time, ragtime and blues were the raves of the moment. Therefore, they had some inputs in the making of jazz.
At the inception, a typical jazz band had one or two cornet players, a clarinet and a trombone player. Sometimes there were pianos, banjos, tubas, and drums to accompany the horns. Over the years, there are different styles of jazz music such as modal jazz, soul jazz, groove, fusion, and so on. In addition, swing and bebop are a product of jazz music.
Now let’s take a look at some of the most important jazz instruments!
Top 10 Most Important Jazz Music Instruments
Here’s our roundup of the most important jazz instruments:
The trumpet is the first on the list and this shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s not uncommon to see jazz musicians with a trumpet. It’s a foundational part of jazz music. Trumpets were created around 1500 BC. At the time, the instrument was used as battle horns. It was later transformed into a musical instrument in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Trumpets became more popular than ever after jazz legend Louis Armstrong took up the instrument onstage. Besides, it is a brass instrument with a vibrating mouthpiece. It has three pitch-changing valves, and players use different puckering techniques to produce a variety of sounds.
The saxophone is an important jazz instrument because it allows the player to freely express themselves spontaneously. It is a wind instrument that is made from brass.
Historically, the saxophone has been a big part of jazz music. One of the most famous jazz saxophonists of all time is Charlie Parker.
Besides, there are four types of saxophone: Tenors, Altos, Sopranos, and Baritones. The saxophone is quite similar to the clarinet. However, saxophones can only play a single note at a time. Also, you can use the saxophone to play both solos and melodies.
The piano is a versatile instrument that appears in a wide range of musical genres around the world. The instrument’s flexibility makes it an excellent choice for jazz music. Pianos offer 88 keys for pianists to experiment with. The notes can range from high to low but you can play both simultaneously.
In jazz music, the pianist typically plays bright, bouncy, and rhythmic chords to accompany the melodies. They can also improvise a melody with one hand while ‘comping’ chords with the other.
Trombones are made from brass. It makes use of a sliding pipe that goes in and out of the instrument’s front end. The placement of the slide pipe can result in a variety of notes. Historically, the trombone has been a part of jazz music since its inception.
During the early jazz days, trombones were used in the background. Also, the trombone became prominent during the swing era of jazz in the 1930s.
As a jazz instrument, the tenor trombone is popular because it produces the most lively sound and is the most convenient for playing a wide range of notes in creating jazz music. The trombone adds a theatrical element to a jazz band. Also, its sound makes it one of the most important instruments of a jazz band.
5. Double Bass
The double or upright bass looks like a big violin. However, unlike the violin, it plays low notes to provide a foundation for the melody. The double bass has a wooden fretboard and four nylon strings. Besides, it is one of the main instruments in most jazz ensembles.
In classical music, a wooden bow is dragged along the lines to resonate the strings, while the player uses his left hand to hold notes on the fret. However, in jazz music, everything becomes a little out of the ordinary. To create a pulse effect, jazz players prefer plucking the strings rather than using a bow.
The clarinet belongs to the woodwind family of musical instruments. It was created in Germany in the 1700s and has since been evolving for better tenor and playability. The clarinet was a common instrument in early jazz and swing.
Besides, the playing style of the clarinet is similar to that of a saxophone. This is probably why many saxophonists also play clarinets. In modern times, jazz musicians rarely use this woodwind instrument. Nonetheless, the vibrating reeds on a clarinet’s blowhole have long been effective in adding warmth to jazz compositions.
What’s jazz music with the drums? It’s definitely incomplete! The drums carry the rhythm and tempo of the entire band. It’s a powerful instrument with a variety of percussion pieces. Even though only a few drums are required to play jazz beats and dribbles, the drums are one of the most important jazz instruments.
The important types of drum for jazz music is:
- The Kick Drum: The kick is a bass drum piece that produces a low but powerful sound. To play it, you must use a foot pedal.
- Hi-Hat: This is a pair of medium-sized cymbals on a stand. At the bottom of the stand is a pedal. You can use this pedal to open or close the gap between the cymbals. A closed hi-hat note is less pitchy and vibrant than an open hi-hat note.
- Snare Drum: The snare drum is the central piece that provides the majority of the beats. It has a chain attached to the bottom skin that resonates to produce a crisp sound with each stroke, complementing the music from the upper surface. The piece is placed between the drummer’s legs in front of him.
- Ride Cymbal: The ride is usually at the right corner of the drum set. You can play it in place of the hi-hat to keep the metronome ticking.
- The Low and High Toms: The toms are used to make additional notes. In jazz music, only one of both is mostly used.
The guitar is one of the most important instruments in all genres of music, including jazz. This is because the fretting system of the instrument allows players to play hundreds, if not thousands, of notes, making it one of the most versatile instruments in the world.
In jazz, hollow-body or jumbo guitars are popular because of their clarity. Jazz musicians prefer to perform solos or play rhythm on electric guitars. The guitar’s six strings can be played individually for solos, together for chords, or plucked for melodies.
The flute is a woodwind instrument. It is a small, handy, and beautiful musical instrument that does not require a sound chord. Because of the similarity in fingering, many jazz saxophonists will also play the flute as a secondary instrument.
In the world of jazz music, there are many highly influential flute proponents. The famous song of Eric Dolphy is available with a Flute background.
The piccolo is yet another important jazz instrument. Despite their similar appearance, the Piccolo is roughly half the size of traditional flutes. The instrument’s name translates to “half-size” in Italian – as anyone who’s ever ordered a piccolo coffee will know!
The Piccolo has the highest register in the pitched woodwind family. If you already know how to play the flute, you should have no trouble learning this instrument. Some jazz musicians such as Hubert Laws, Sun Ra’s Marshall Allena, and Lloyd McNeill featured the piccolo on their recordings.
Other Jazz Instruments
There are some other instruments in jazz music that are not so important. They are:
The violin is a string instrument with a treble pitch. It has four strings and you need a bow to play it. Although it’s not very important in jazz music, the sound of the violin features in some jazz styles such as gypsy jazz and free jazz.
The tuba is the largest instrument in the brass family. It also has the lowest pitch among the brass instruments. The tuba is popular in orchestras and brass bands, but due to its bass register, it is occasionally used as a substitute for the double bass in jazz.
The vibraphone belongs to the percussion family of instruments. It’s an idiophone, so to play it you need a hammer. The vibraphone’s distinct sound has appeared in a variety of jazz styles.
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Features of Jazz Music
The features of jazz are the characteristics of the genre that makes it different from other music genres. There are three main features of jazz:
1. Distinctive Rhythm
Jazz has a unique rhythm that separates it from other styles of music. You can tell a sound is jazz from the rhythm.
2. Swing Feeling
Here’s another element of jazz music. The swing feeling is evident in the way jazz instruments interact with one another from the drums to the bass and so on.
Improvisation in jazz means composing and performing at the same time. Jazz musicians rely on melody, harmony, and form to achieve this.
What Instrument Did Early Jazz Musicians Use?
The most common instruments used by the early jazz musicians are trumpets, clarinets, trombones, piano, double bass, tuba, banjo, and guitar.
Which Jazz Instrument Is the Easiest to Learn?
Overall, the saxophone is the easiest jazz instrument to learn. This is because of its modern design, in which the keys have enough space to fit the shape of a human hand. Besides, having an octave key also makes changing registers as easy as pressing a button. Finally, because the saxophone is a reed instrument, it requires far less muscle strength in the lips than, say, the trumpet.
Who Is the Greatest Jazz Musician of All Time?
The greatest jazz musician of all time is Louis Armstrong. Louis is responsible for bringing jazz to the forefront of pop culture, inspiring many of his contemporaries and musicians to do the same.
Besides, his amazing personality, gravelly voice, and iconic trumpet sound drew everyone’s attention. Armstrong transformed music by focusing on the individual soloist rather than just collective improvisation, call and response. Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven bands recorded a whopping 55 records between 1925 and 1928!
Other notable mentions are Duke Ellington, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins.
Finally, we’re wrapping up this article on jazz music instruments. Jazz is such an amazing style of music that hooks everyone right from the beginning. Do you want to start a jazz band? Are you looking to create some beautiful jazz tunes?
If you can combine some of the instruments on our list, you’re sure not to miss! Remember, there’s no limitation on experimenting with musical instruments. So, when creating jazz sounds, use your creativity. Most importantly, have fun!