Woodwind instruments and their history


Woodwind instruments are wind instruments, and they are made of wood or metal. They include the flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, saxophone, bagpipe, and their family members. The orchestral and band instruments were developed in Europe during the 17th through the 19th centuries. However, ancient examples of related instruments were played in Egypt as early as 2700 BCE.

The earliest records od these instruments date back from the 1300s, found in Germany and the Netherlands. Bagpipes have developed in many different countries and regions. They also have the greatest variety of forms. Furthermore, a lot of European woodwinds developed during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the early 21st century, the musicians usually play woodwind instruments in ensembles, in chamber music, and as solo instruments with piano, orchestral, or band accompaniment.


Woodwind Instruments Construction


Even though the instruments in this family all used to be made of wood, today, they are made of wood, metal, plastic, or different combinations. They are all narrow cylinders or pipes, with holes. What’s more, they have an opening at the bottom end and a mouthpiece at the top. You, therefore, play them by blowing air through the mouthpiece and using your fingers to change the pitch. Finally, metal caps called keys cover the holes of most woodwind instruments.

The mouthpieces for some woodwinds use a thin piece of wood called a reed, which vibrates when you blow across it. Keep in mind that the smaller woodwinds play higher pitches while the larger ones play the lower notes. The woodwind family of instruments includes the piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, and contrabassoon.


Woodwind Instrument Types


The two main types of woodwind instruments are flutes and reed instruments (or reed pipes). The specific thing about them is the way they produce sound. All woodwinds produce sound by splitting an exhaled airstream on a sharp edge, such as a reed. However, a woodwind may be made of any material. Common examples include brass, silver, cane, gold, and platinum. What’s more, woodwinds can be made out of earthen materials, especially ocarinas.

The modern orchestra’s woodwind section typically includes flutes, clarinets, oboes, and bassoons. On the other hand, the piccolo, bass clarinet, and contrabassoon are usually supplementary woodwind instruments. The section may also be expanded with saxophones. The concert band’s woodwind section is typically bigger and more diverse than the orchestra’s.




Flutes produce sound by directing the air below the edge of a hole in a cylindrical tube. There are two main types: open flutes and closed flutes.

The player blows a stream of air across a sharp edge that then splits the airstream to produce a sound with an open flute. This split airstream vibrates and produces sound. Open flutes are the transverse flute, panpipes, and shakuhachi. On the other hand, modern concert flutes are usually made of high-grade metal alloys.

When it comes to closed flutes, the player blows the air into a duct. This duct acts as a channel bringing the air to a sharp edge. As with the open flutes, the air is then split. The air then vibrates and produces sound. Examples of this type of flute include the recorder, ocarina, and organ pipes.


Reed instruments


Reed instruments focus the air into a mouthpiece, which then causes a reed or reeds to vibrate. Similar to flutes, Reed pipes also have two types: single reed and double reed.

Single-reed woodwinds produce sound by placing a reed onto the opening of a mouthpiece (using a ligature). The reed causes the air column in the instrument to vibrate and produce its unique sound. Single reed instruments are the clarinet, saxophone, and others.

Double-reed instruments have two small pieces of cane bound together at the base. The finished, bound reed vibrates as air is forced between the two pieces. This family of reed pipes also has two sub-families: exposed double reed, and capped double reed instruments.


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