Meet The Woodwind Family Members To Learn What Exactly Woodwind Instruments Are

Byvu lita

Dec 12, 2023

What are woodwind instruments?

Woodwind instruments form one of two categories within the wider wind instrument family – the other being brass. Despite their name, woodwind instruments are not always made from wood, and other common materials include plastic, brass, silver, gold and platinum.

The most common types of woodwind instruments today are those found in the woodwind section of a Western symphony orchestra – flutesclarinets, oboes and bassoons. The clarinet’s cousin, the saxophone, is more often used in jazz and pop music.

Woodwinds are one of the five main families of instruments, the others being stringspercussionbrass and keyboard.

How are woodwind instruments played?

All wind instruments use a resonating chamber, most commonly an open tube, through which air is blown by the player. The pitch of the vibrating column of air is determined by its length and can be controlled by valves and slides in the case of most brass instruments, or in the case of most woodwind instruments by holes and stops along the tube, controlled by the player’s fingers and metal caps called keys.

The shape and tension in the player’s mouth and lips, known as the embouchure, is an important component for producing sounds and pitch in brass instruments, but in woodwind instruments sound is produced by directing air from the player’s mouth against a sharp edge, such as a reed or duct.

Flutes vs reeds: what are the types of woodwind instruments?

There are two main categories of woodwind instruments: flutes and reeds.


The Western flute player – or flautist – holds the instrument horizontally and blows a stream of air across a sharp-edged hole at the top of the instrument. This splits the airstream, causing the air column in the flute’s hollow tube to vibrate and produce sound. A similar technique is used in other so-called ‘open flutes’, such as panpipes and ancient bamboo flutes.

In ‘closed flutes’, such as recorders and ocarinas, the player blows air into a duct which channels the air to a sharp edge and again splits the airstream, producing sound.

Reed instruments:

When playing a reed instrument, the player blows into a mouthpiece which causes the reed – a thin strip of material made from cane or synthetics – to vibrate. In some woodwind instruments there is a single reed – as in the clarinet and saxophone – and in others there is a double reed – as in the oboe and bassoon. In single reed instruments the air is directed between the reed and mouthpiece in a thin column; in double reed instruments, the air moves between the two pieces of reed.

Bagpipes use two or more sets of single or double reeds, but unlike the oboe and bassoon, the player’s lips are never in direct contact with the reeds, but instead blow into a capped mouthpiece.

Which woodwind instruments make up a modern orchestra or concert band?

The Western symphony orchestra typically includes flutesoboes, clarinets and bassoons as part of its woodwind section.

Supplementary instruments include the piccolo (half-size flute), cor anglais (alto oboe, one-and-a-half times its length) bass clarinet (pitched an octave below the common B flat clarinet), E-flat clarinet (smaller and a perfect fourth higher than the common B flat clarinet), and contrabassoon (a large bassoon, pitched an octave lower).

The concert band’s woodwind section is usually larger and more varied than the symphony orchestra’s. It includes all the instruments listed above, plus saxophones (alto, tenor and baritone) and other derivations of flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon.

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