Pitch Ranges of Tuned Percussion Instruments and Their Notation

There is often confusion with regard to the notation or the pitch ranges required by composers. Below you will find some hints.

The actual pitch range of an instrument is always given "sounding". In order to keep the number of auxiliary lines manageable for very high or very low instruments, some instruments are notated transposed by one or two octaves.

For all of our hire instruments we give the pitch range both in international notation (capital letters plus number) and in German notation (lower case letters [from small octave onwards] plus number).

International and German notation in comparison:








c1 (c')


c2 (c'')


c3 (c''')


c4 (c'''')


c5 (c''''')


A set of five standard timpani can represent a range of two octaves: C2-C4 (C-c1).

Timpani are always notated sounding in the bass clef.


The range of most orchestral glockenspiels is usually three octaves: F5-F8 (f2-f5). Occasionally there are also instruments with an extension in the bass range down to C5 (c2).

Glockenspiels are noted in the treble clef two octaves lower than they should ultimately sound.


Xylophones usually have a range of 3.5 octaves, F4-C8 (f1-c5). If the instrument is extended by half an octave in the bass range and thus four octaves, C4-C8 (c1-c5), it is occasionally referred to as "xylorimba".

Xylophones are transposed one octave lower in the treble clef.


Vibraphones can have a pitch range of up to four octaves: C3-C7 (c-c4). However, instruments with a range of three octaves are much more common: F3-F6 (f-f3).

The vibraphone is notated sounding in the treble clef.


Marimbaphones have a pitch range of up to five octaves, C2-C7 (C-c4).

The notation is sounding in the bass and treble clef.


Crotales can span up to 2.5 octaves: C6-F8 (c3-f5).

They are transposed two octaves lower in the treble clef.

Tubular Bells

Tubular bells are among the high pitched percussion instruments. Their range can be up to 2.1 octaves F4-G6 (f1-g3). The most common instruments, however, are 1.5 octave instruments: C5-F6 (c2-f3).

Tubular bells are certainly one of the most problematic instruments in terms of pitch perception, which is due to the complex overtone structure. For example, a distinction is made between the strike note and the one octave lower fundamental note, which emerges more and more clearly in the aftermath. But it can also be that one or the other listener perceives a different partial tone as much more dominant.

The information in the literature on the notation is somewhat contradictory. There seems to be agreement only on the notation in the treble clef.


Cowbells are available with a range of up to four and a half octaves: F3-C8 (f-c5).

They are notated sounding in the treble clef.

Taxi Horns

They have a maximum range of C4-C6 (c1-c3).

They are notated sounding in the treble clef.