Im attending a jazz performance that promoted a horn section. It is two saxophones. I was expecting trumpets or related siblings. Did I misunderstand the use of the term?

  • 3
    The answers are correct, tho they miss one important detail. In popular music styles (say; soul, gospel, funk, ska, jazz, etc.), it's common to refer to wind instruments generically as 'horns'. If you're referring to a brass band or orchestra, for instance, it refers to a specific class of brass instrument, including french horns and flugel horns (there are others).
    – AJFaraday
    Jul 10, 2017 at 9:48
  • @AJFaraday - good point, although the OP specified jazz.
    – Tim
    Jul 10, 2017 at 11:08
  • 1
    I had an orchestra conductor once who had three categories of instruments: "bowers," "blowers", and "bangers." Technically, a piano is in the third category FWIW Jul 10, 2017 at 11:28
  • Piano has always been a percussion instrument, hasn't it?
    – Tim
    Jul 10, 2017 at 18:45

4 Answers 4


Yes, you did. But you shouldn't feel bad about it — the term "horns" is commonly used to mean a variety of overlapping things. For example:

  • Horns, meaning wind instruments, as opposed to the rhythm section in a jazz combo.
  • Horns, meaning brass instruments, as opposed to the reeds (i.e. woodwind) instruments. (Somewhat less common — more typical to say brass/reeds.)
  • Horns, meaning french horns, as opposed to every other instrument in an orchestra or concert band.

Anyway, it's very reasonable for a small jazz combo to describe two saxes as a horn section.

  • Thanks. I'm not going to lie, I'm disappointed in this categorization. I think there should be a more consistent taxonomic structure and terms.
    – rpeg
    Jul 13, 2017 at 19:40
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    We certainly have taxonomies (check out Hornbostel-Sachs), but this is just language. Can't do much about that!
    – NReilingh
    Jul 13, 2017 at 22:11

Yes. Every band I've played in calls all the wind instruments the 'horn section'. I guess if it's blown, and has a funnel or bell at the end (most do!) then it's a horn - of some sort.Flutes don't open out at their ends, but will still be part of the 'horn section'. Even one of the clarinet family is called a horn - the basset horn. And the (alto) oboe is a cor anglais - an English horn, odd, because a French horn is another instrument entirely - but still a horn.

In big band and jazz band situations, I surmise that it's a bit of slang to refer to everyone not in the rhythm section, certainly including the expected brass section - trumpet, trombone, euphonium, sousaphone, tuba et al, but also the saxes, the players of which usually also play clarinet and flute.


No, as a horn player, and by horn player I mean a classical French horn and a jazz trumpet player. To someone like me, when you hear horn section, you think brass. Sax is so limited in what style music they play, and knowing that they always double for a French horn makes me want to say that when you hear a horn player it is always brass. Jazz is the only circumstance that saxophones is considered brass.

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    "Jazz is the only circumstance that saxophones is considered brass" -- none of the other answers or comments mentions saxophones as brass, and neither does the OP question. The question is about calling saxophones "horns". This is common among jazz players, but also among rock, blues, soul, and R&B players. I have even heard guitars called horns. Certainly a brass section would lead one to look for brass instruments, but horn sections are frequently just three saxophones.
    – user39614
    May 6, 2018 at 7:24
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    Sax is so limited in what style music they play You should listen to more music 😋. Sax is incredibly versatile. Shame about the whole orchestra thing, but I'd be willing to say that sax is more versatile than French Horn. And if a band says they have a horn section, I'd be stunned if there were any French horns in it.
    – endorph
    May 6, 2018 at 12:12

This is just a technicality I suppose, but a horn is a device intended to acoustically amplify a sound using a column of air and it's inherent resonance. The air column has an expansion characteristic starting at the throat of the horn and expanding at a calculated rate until it reaches the mouth of the horn. A horn can be fabricated from metal, plastic, or almost anything malleable. Sax meets that definition.

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