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The Most Popular Jazz Instruments

June 30, 2022

Which instruments are used in jazz music?

  • Saxophone
  • Trumpet
  • Piano
  • Double Bass
  • Drums
  • Guitar


The Rhythm Section


The rhythm section is used to describe the instruments which traditionally provide the rhythmic & harmonic structure of a jazz band.


Primarily, we’re talking about the drums, double bass, piano, and guitar.


If you take a listen to the most famous jazz albums in history, you’ll almost always hear a bassist and drummer, along with a pianist and/or guitar.


Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, but it’s a good place to start!


This is not to say, though, that these instruments remain in the background.


Many of the most famous jazz musicians of all time are pianists or guitarists, covering everything from early gypsy swing through to modern contemporary jazz.


The Saxophone


Perhaps the most iconic jazz instrument of all time, the saxophone has been consistent in jazz throughout its history, adapting to the different styles that have emerged in its history.


From the grandfathers of jazz saxophone – such as Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young – via later trendsetters such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane – to the modern-day sax greats such as Chris Potter, Mark Turner, and Joshua Redman, its sound has become synonymous with the music.


The saxophone is arguably the most-played instrument in jazz and is known as a good beginner instrument, partly because of its affordability and partly because of its relatively simple and logical layout.


The Trumpet


The trumpet was the first jazz instrument, made famous by the original jazz superstar Louis Armstrong.


Going further back than that, though, the trumpet was present at the very beginnings of jazz, through players like Buddy Bolden and King Oliver.


Whilst it may have been overtaken by the saxophone in terms of widespread ‘fame’ as a jazz instrument, it’s still present on many of the greatest albums of all time, old and new.


Whilst it is, mechanically, a much simpler instrument than the saxophone, it brings its challenges which we’ve covered in various how-to guides, with the help of some pro jazz trumpeters.


The trumpet is probably the hardest instrument to play in jazz, but the rewards of mastering it make it well worth a try!




Popularised by Stéphane Grappelli in the gypsy jazz style, the violin has also been up in free jazz as well as modern European jazz.


Bass clarinet


The big brother of the regular clarinet, the bass clarinet’s woody sound provides an interesting ‘color’ in various classical-influenced styles of jazz, as well as avant-garde situations.




Often seen as a ‘third’ instrument for saxophone players there have nonetheless been some highly influential proponents of the flute in jazz.




The highly distinctive sound of the vibraphone has cropped up in various styles of jazz. If you check videos of the greats, you’ll see how it can be used as both a solo instrument or harmonic, using up to 4 mallets. Often they mix the two.

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