Is there a word for instruments that are limited to only one octave, as opposed to instruments that can play multiple octaves? I think this is a matter of classifying instruments with a certain narrow musical range, regardless of where that range is on the spectrum of pitches.

Less than 1 octave: Berimbau, simple 4-hole flutes, various drums and other instruments that have a very limited range.

More than 1 octave: Piano, guitar, human whistling or singing.

I found polyphony & monophony but that is about more than one note at once, not multiple octaves - for example, I can whistle in many octaves but can only whistle one note at a time.

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    I don't think there's a name for this. But I want to point out that all flutes should be able to overblow and produce overtones, and half-holing can produce more notes than the number of finger holes would seem to indicate.
    – MattPutnam
    Commented May 29, 2016 at 3:42
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    "Limited range" and "single-/multi-octave" should be sufficient.
    – user28
    Commented May 29, 2016 at 6:05
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    if you hum while you whistle you can create a neat "tractor beam" effect popularized by Jim Carrey. Just a side note on the whistlin' and polyphony
    – sova
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 19:15
  • Perhaps 'tonal' vs 'atonal' is what I'm looking for
    – cr0
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 15:50
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    @cr0 I don't think so. Those don't have anything to do with range. Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 14:35

2 Answers 2


in botany, a plant that fruits many times vs one that fruits only once is called Polycarpic vs Monocarpic.. So maybe Poly-octave and mono-octave?

  • That was my first thought too. Polyphonic and Monophonic are musical terms too. Poly-octave, Mono-octave makes a lot of sense to me. Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 14:34

There is no specific English term that reflects this distinction. You're going to have to use a multi-word construction, like M. Read's multi-octave vs. single-octave, or introduce and define a custom term yourself.

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