Men Playing Wind Instrument 1115323

Woodwind Instruments

The name of this family of instruments comes from the fact that in the past they used to be crafted from wood. Contemporary woodwinds are made from several materials, like brass, metals, combinations of several raw materials and of course also from wood.

Woodwinds have a thin, long column of air. The low note is played when all the tone holes are closed, and the column of air  is longest. The column of air is shortened by opening the holes up successively, starting at the open end. The longer the tube is, the longer it takes for a sound wave round trip, and thus the lower the frequency.

These instruments are divided mainly in two types: Reed pipes and flutes. The manner in which they release the sound is what makes the difference with other wind instruments.

The bass clarinet, piccolo, E-flat clarinet, and contrabassoon are generally seen used as supplementary woodwind instruments in the woodwind sections of the contemporary orchestras which are mainly composed of bassoons, oboes, clarinets, and flutes. Also sometimes saxophones are included in the performance of this kind of orchestras.

The main difference between orchestras and concerts settings, is that the windwood sections that are displayed in concerts are much bigger than the sections that are used in an orchestra.

How do woodwind instruments work?

Table of Contents

Woodwind Instrument List

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Clarinet

Clarinet

The clarinet is a single-reeded woodwind that plays higher than the bassoon but lower than the flute. It can carry a melody or blend into the background chords. It has a presence in orchestras, chamber music, and concert bands. The clarinet was invented around 1700 by Johann Christian Denner. 

Being a member of the woodwind instruments family, the clarinet consists of a cylindrical tube that is comprised of: a mouthpiece, ligature, a reed, a barrel and an upper and lower joint. The clarinet has a narrow body that’s about two feet long. It has finger holes plus a series of keys and levers along its body. It’s reed his held in place by a mouthpiece. The reed is placed between the lips to produce a tone. Opening and closing the levers and holes produce different tones.

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Saxophone

Saxophone

Patented in the 1800s by Adolphe Sax (also the inventor of the bass clarinet-thus the similarity), the saxophone is a versatile instrument of varying types. Although it’s body is made of brass, it is a woodwind instrument because sound is produced through a single reed. The highest pitched saxophones are straight, like a clarinet, and the bodies of lower pitched ones have a bell that is curved outward. 

Whatever the specific note-range of a saxophone is, all of them have a range of about 3 and a half octaves. Like the clarinet, the saxophone is played using a key structure that the performer uses to close the holes. By pressing a key the player is able to close or open a hole using its pad.The saxophone is not an instrument that many orchestral scores have been written for, but it is an important instrument in jazz bands.

Woodwind Instruments With No Mouthpiece & A Double Reed

Bassoon

Bassoon

As the largest member of the traditional woodwind instruments, the bassoon uses a double reed to generate its sound. It generates the lowest sound of the woodwind instruments included in this list. As air is blown through the double reeds, a column of air is created within the instrument. As keys are pressed down in different combinations, that shorten or lengthen the vibrating column of air inside the Basson changing the pitch.

It looks a lot like two poles joined side by side. the word in Italian for bassoon literally means “bundle of sticks.” The bassoon is held vertically, but the musician slants it across the front of their body. The music that is played with it is often composed in the tenor and bass clef. Known as it is today from the 1900’s ,this woodwind instrument has been occupied mainly in chamber and concert music. The sound of the bassoon is mostly recognized for the deep timber that emanate from it.

Oboe

Oboe

The oboe looks very similar to a clarinet except for the distinct double reed which replaces the reed and mouthpiece. The oboe is a unique double-reeded instrument that can produce a mellow or emotional sound. Its name comes from the “hautbois” which is French for “high wood.” Although the modern oboe was invented in the 1650s, forms of the oboe have been around for much longer than that. In ancient Egypt and in ancient Greece, the aulos was a similar instrument played with double reeds. The modern oboe was invented in Paris by a bagpiper named Jean Hotteterre. It has 15 or more levers or keys on its body. 

The oboe, like the bassoon, is a double reed woodwind instrument, and usually play in the soprano or treble clef. Some oboes are made from synthetic raw material, but the vast majority of oboes are made from wood.These musical instruments are compounded by, a conical bore, a flared bell and metal keys. The circular tube is approximately 25 ½ inches. The oboe is held vertically in front of the body. Good oboe players are able to control their breath very well, so for them, the sound is not created by blowing into the instrument, rather by letting air escape into the oboe. The modern oboe has a small range of the Bb two tones below middle C on the piano to the G four lines above the staff. An instrument often associated with the oboe is the English horn, which is an alto oboe.

Woodwind Instruments With A Mouthpiece But No Reeds

Flute

Flute

The flute is a very unique instrument, because instead of blowing into a reed to make noise, like most wind instruments, sound is produced by blowing across a sound hole at one end. Sound is produced similar to how one blows across the top of a sodapop bottle. The flute is on the high sound spectrum of the woodwind family. The modern flute is held transversely, or across the player’s face. It produces the sound from the circulation of air across a tube, and this is the main reason why is part of the group called aerophones instruments. To create different pitches, the flutist presses down keys on the instrument. Modern flutes are about two feet long, and come apart into three pieces for convenience. Theobold Boehm, a jeweler, engineer, and flutist in the 1800s, created a model of the flute that has hardly been improved on since. The modern flute has a range has a range of about three octaves, ranging from middle C (or the B one pitch below it) on the piano to three octaves above that.

The flute is one of the oldest instruments that archeologists have found evidence for. Flutes dating from around 40,000 years ago have recently been unearthed in Germany. Today there are many different kinds of flutes throughout the world. The Japanese flute known as the shakuhachi, is not held transversely, but it is held to the front, and the end of the flute is blown across instead of a sound hole as in the orchestral flute. Another interesting kind of flute is the nose flute, which is played in Hawaii and Melanesia. To play, the flutist must plug one nostril and expel air through the other nostril into the flute. Although this kind of flute doesn’t have very many keys, it can play a wide range of melodies.

Originally constructed of wood, the flute is more commonly made of metals like nickel, silver, or silver-plated brass, while more professionals models use solid silver, gold, and platinum. Long columns of air produce low notes and High notes are created by short columns of air. The flutist changes the pitch by pressing the keys down in various combinations, which in turn shortens or lengthens the internal column of air.

Piccolo

Piccolo

Another member of the woodwind family is the piccolo. The “cute” piccolo is half a flute and has the same fingerings as the transverse flute, but the sound is an octave higher. Contemporary piccolos are manufactured from several materials, like, resin, plastic, brass, silver, and woods, especially the popular granadilla, but in the past (beyond wood) were made from glass and ivory.

Early Woodwind Instruments

Bagpipes

Scottish Bagpipe

The bagpipe is most commonly associated with Scotland. Though some would argue that the Mashak, a bagpipe found in Northern India and Pakistan is the oldest and this woodwind actually originated from India, the earliest archeology points to and area that is modern day Turkey. Three thousand years ago Hittite carvings display a form of bagpipe and the great Roman Army marched with bagpipes. According to literary references and Medieval church engravings, by the thirteenth century it seems bagpipes were in common use throughout Europe. Bagpipes have been and still are popular instruments for folk and national music. In construction, appearance, and design, bagpipes are remarkably consistent of thousands of years. 

The bagpipe consists of one blowing pipe attached to an airtight bag. The bag is then attached to several drone pipes and one melody pipe, known as the “chanter.” Bagpipes have two to four drone pipes, and a chanter which is the finger-hole pipe creating melody. The pipe can have a double reed like an oboe or a single reed like a clarinet.To produce a sound from the bagpipe, the player has to blow through the blowing pipe, and squeeze the bag with her hand to cause the air to enter the drone pipes and melody pipe. The melody pipe has finger holes so the pitch can be controlled, but the drone pipes play a constant pitch that “drones” on. 

 This reed instrument gets its wind provided by two methods: lung power and by bellows, pumped while held under one’s arm. The the bag (animal-skin) air reservoir is filled by the two methods mentioned above, and this makes the airflow and it’s sound production continuous as there is no disruption or pause for breath. The Scottish Highland Pipes or Great Pipes are fueled by lungs as opposed to the Irish Union Pipes, French Musette, and Northumbrian Pipes which are bellows fed.

There aren’t too many classical compositions for the bagpipes because two of its notes are tuned sharp. However, the drone-like quality that bagpipes are known for is often imitated in woodwind pieces called “Musette” which is the French word for bagpipe.

Recorder

Recorder

The recorder is a woodwind fipple flute that dates back to the 11th century. It is a relatively simple instrument with around seven finger holes and one thumb hole. There is no reed, instead a wedge of wood (“fipple”) inserted into the end you blow into, creating a tapered passage which air passes through to create vibrations. There are six basic types of recorders: sopranino, soprano(aka descant), alto (aka treble), tenor, bass, and contrabass. There is also a rarely seen, eight to nine feet tall, sub contrabass. 

To make a noise on the recorder, blow into the mouthpiece and move fingers over the finger holes to make different pitches. Recorders are often used in schools to aid the teaching of general music. For many, the first instrument a person learns how to play is a recorder since they are inexpensive and fairly easy to play regardless of hand size or embouchure..

Early recorders were used mostly in ensembles with other recorders or other soft-sounding instruments, but by the 1600s the recorder was starting to be used as a solo instrument. Influential composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach wrote for the recorder. Eventually, recorders in orchestras began to be replaced by the transverse flutes because they had a wider range and were louder.

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