Woodwind instrument

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Alto and tenor saxophone reeds Saxophone reeds-alto, tenor.jpeg
Alto and tenor saxophone reeds

Woodwind instruments are a family of musical instruments within the more general category of wind instruments. Common examples include flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, and saxophone. There are two main types of woodwind instruments: flutes and reed instruments (otherwise called reed pipes). The main distinction between these instruments and other wind instruments is the way in which they produce sound. [1] All woodwinds produce sound by splitting the air blown into them on a sharp edge, such as a reed or a fipple. Despite the name, a woodwind may be made of any material, not just wood. Common examples include brass, silver, cane, as well as other metals such as gold and platinum. The saxophone, for example, though made of brass, is considered a woodwind because it requires a reed to produce sound. Occasionally, woodwinds are made out of earthen materials, especially ocarinas.



Flutes produce sound by directing a focused stream of air below the edge of a hole in a cylindrical tube. [2] The flute family can be divided into two sub-families: open flutes and closed flutes. [3]

To produce a sound with an open flute, the player is required to blow a stream of air across a sharp edge that then splits the airstream. This split airstream then acts upon the air column contained within the flute's hollow causing it to vibrate and produce sound. Examples of open flutes are the transverse flute, panpipes and shakuhachi. [4] Ancient flutes of this variety, including bamboo flutes, were often made from tubular sections of plants such as grasses, reeds, bamboo and hollowed-out tree branches. Later, flutes were made of metals such as tin, copper, or bronze. Modern concert flutes are usually made of high-grade metal alloys, usually containing nickel, silver, copper, or gold. [5]

To produce a sound with a closed flute, the player is required to blow 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; this causes the column of air within the closed flute to vibrate and produce sound. Examples of this type of flute include the recorder, ocarina, and organ pipes. [6]

Reed instruments

Reed instruments produce sound by focusing air into a mouthpiece which then causes a reed, or reeds, to vibrate. Similarly to flutes, reed pipes are also further divided into two types: single reed and double reed. [7]

Single-reed woodwinds produce sound by fixing a reed onto the opening of a mouthpiece (using a ligature). When air is forced between the reed and the mouthpiece, the reed causes the air column in the instrument to vibrate and produce its unique sound. Single reed instruments include the clarinet, saxophone, and others such as the chalumeau. [8]

Double-reed instruments use two precisely cut, small pieces of cane bound together at the base. This form of sound production has been estimated to have originated in the middle to late Neolithic period; its discovery has been attributed to the observation of wind blowing through a split rush. The finished, bound reed is inserted into the instrument and vibrates as air is forced between the two pieces (again, causing the air within the instrument to vibrate as well). [9] This family of reed pipes is subdivided further into another two sub-families: exposed double reed, and capped double reed instruments.

Exposed double-reed instruments are played by having the double reed directly between the player's lips. This family includes instruments such as the oboe, cor anglais (also called English horn) and bassoon, and many types of shawms throughout the world.

On the other hand, capped double-reed instruments have the double reed covered by a cap. The player blows through a hole in this cap that then directs the air through the reeds. This family includes the crumhorn.

A piper playing the bagpipes in Newport, Rhode Island Liam Crouse playing at Sunset.JPG
A piper playing the bagpipes in Newport, Rhode Island

Bagpipes are unique reed pipe instruments since they use two or more double or single reeds. However, bagpipes are functionally the same as a capped double reed instruments since the reeds are never in direct contact with player's lips. [10]

Free reed aerophone instruments are likewise unique since sound is produced by 'free reeds' – small metal tongues arranged in rows within a metal or wooden frame. The airflow necessary for the instruments sound is generated either by a player's breath (e.g. harmonica), or by bellows (e.g. accordion). [11] [12]

Modern orchestra and concert band woodwinds

The modern orchestra's woodwind section typically includes: flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons. The piccolo, cor anglais, bass clarinet, E-flat clarinet, and contrabassoon are commonly used supplementary woodwind instruments. The section may also on occasion be expanded by the addition of saxophone(s).

The concert band's woodwind section is typically much larger and more diverse than the orchestra's. The concert band's woodwind section typically includes piccolos, flutes, oboes, B clarinets, bass clarinets, bassoons, alto saxophones, tenor saxophones, and baritone saxophones. The alto flute, cor anglais, E clarinet, alto clarinet, contra-alto clarinet, contrabass clarinet, contrabassoon, and soprano saxophone are also used, but not as frequently as the other woodwinds.

See also

Related Research Articles

Bassoon Musical instrument

The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that plays music written in the bass and tenor clefs, and occasionally the treble. Appearing in its modern form in the 19th century, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band, and chamber music literature. It is known for its distinctive tone colour, wide range, variety of character, and agility. The modern bassoon exists in two forms; Buffet and Heckel systems. One who plays a bassoon of either system is called a bassoonist.

Clarinet type of woodwind instrument

The clarinet is a family of woodwind instruments. It has a single-reed mouthpiece, a straight, cylindrical tube with an almost cylindrical bore, and a flared bell. A person who plays a clarinet is called a clarinetist.

Oboe Musical instrument of the woodwind family

The oboe is a type of double reed woodwind instrument. Oboes are usually made of wood, but may also be made of synthetic materials, such as plastic, resin or hybrid composites. The most common oboe plays in the treble or soprano range. A soprano oboe measures roughly 65 cm long, with metal keys, a conical bore and a flared bell. Sound is produced by blowing into the reed at a sufficient air pressure, causing it to vibrate with the air column. The distinctive tone is versatile and has been described as "bright". When the word oboe is used alone, it is generally taken to mean the treble instrument rather than other instruments of the family, such as the bass oboe, the cor anglais, or oboe d'amore.

Reed (mouthpiece)

A reed is a thin strip of material that vibrates to produce a sound on a musical instrument. Most woodwind instrument reeds are made from Arundo donax or synthetic material. Tuned reeds are made of metal or synthetics. Musical instruments are classified according to the type and number of reeds.

Hornbostel–Sachs or Sachs–Hornbostel is a system of musical instrument classification devised by Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, and first published in the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie in 1914. An English translation was published in the Galpin Society Journal in 1961. It is the most widely used system for classifying musical instruments by ethnomusicologists and organologists. The system was updated in 2011 as part of the work of the Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO) Project.


An aerophone is a musical instrument that produces sound primarily by causing a body of air to vibrate, without the use of strings or membranes, and without the vibration of the instrument itself adding considerably to the sound.

Overblowing is a technique used while playing a wind instrument that causes the sounded pitch to jump to a higher one primarily through the manipulation of the supplied air rather than by a fingering change or the operation of a slide. Depending on the instrument, and to a lesser extent the player, overblowing may involve a change in the air pressure, in the point at which the air is directed, or in the resonance characteristics of the chamber formed by the mouth and throat of the player. In some instruments, overblowing may also involve the direct manipulation of the vibrating reed(s), and/or the pushing of a register key while otherwise leaving fingering unaltered. With the exception of harmonica overblowing, the pitch jump is from one vibratory mode of the reed or air column, e.g., its fundamental, to an overtone. Overblowing can be done deliberately in order to get a higher pitch, or inadvertently, resulting in the production of a note other than that intended.

Tenor saxophone Type of saxophone

The tenor saxophone is a medium-sized member of the saxophone family, a group of instruments invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s. The tenor and the alto are the two most commonly used saxophones. The tenor is pitched in the key of B (while the alto is pitched in the key of E), and written as a transposing instrument in the treble clef, sounding an octave and a major second lower than the written pitch. Modern tenor saxophones which have a high F key have a range from A2 to E5 (concert) and are therefore pitched one octave below the soprano saxophone. People who play the tenor saxophone are known as "tenor saxophonists", "tenor sax players", or "saxophonists".

The bass oboe or baritone oboe is a double reed instrument in the woodwind family. It is about twice the size of a regular (soprano) oboe and sounds an octave lower; it has a deep, full tone somewhat akin to that of its higher-pitched cousin, the English horn. The bass oboe is notated in the treble clef, sounding one octave lower than written. Its lowest note is B2 (in scientific pitch notation), one octave and a semitone below middle C, although an extension may be inserted between the lower joint and bell of the instrument in order to produce a low B2. The instrument's bocal or crook first curves away from and then toward the player (unlike the bocal/crook of the English horn and oboe d'amore), looking rather like a flattened metal question mark; another crook design resembles the shape of a bass clarinet neckpiece. The bass oboe uses its own double reed, similar to but larger than that of the English horn.

Double reed Type of reed used to produce sound in various wind instruments

A double reed is a type of reed used to produce sound in various wind instruments. In contrast with a single reed instrument, where the instrument is played by channeling air against one piece of cane which vibrates against the mouthpiece and creates a sound, a double reed features two pieces of cane vibrating against each other. The term double reeds can also refer collectively to the class of instruments which use double reeds. The timbre of a single and double reed instrument is related to the harmonic series but only including the odd harmonics, due to air column modes canceling out the even harmonics. This may be compared to the timbre of a square wave.

A multiphonic is an extended technique on a monophonic musical instrument in which several notes are produced at once. This includes wind, reed, and brass instruments, as well as the human voice. Multiphonic-like sounds on string instruments, both bowed and hammered, have also been called multiphonics, for lack of better terminology and scarcity of research.

Single-reed instrument

A single-reed instrument is a woodwind instrument that uses only one reed to produce sound. The very earliest single-reed instruments were documented in ancient Egypt, as well as the Middle East, Greece, and the Roman Empire. The earliest types of single-reed instruments used idioglottal reeds, where the vibrating reed is a tongue cut and shaped on the tube of cane. Much later, single-reed instruments started using heteroglottal reeds, where a reed is cut and separated from the tube of cane and attached to a mouthpiece of some sort. By contrast, in a double reed instrument, there is no mouthpiece; the two parts of the reed vibrate against one another. Reeds are traditionally made of cane and produce sound when air is blown across or through them. The type of instruments that use a single reed are clarinets and saxophone. The timbre of a single and double reed instrument is related to the harmonic series caused by the shape of the corpus. E.g. the clarinet is only including the odd harmonics due to air column modes canceling out the even harmonics. This may be compared to the timbre of a square wave.

Reed pipe Type of organ pipe

A reed pipe is an organ pipe that is sounded by a vibrating brass strip known as a reed. Air under pressure is directed towards the reed, which vibrates at a specific pitch. This is in contrast to flue pipes, which contain no moving parts and produce sound solely through the vibration of air molecules. Reed pipes are common components of pipe organs.

Bore (wind instruments)

In music, the bore of a wind instrument is its interior chamber. This defines a flow path through which air travels, which is set into vibration to produce sounds. The shape of the bore has a strong influence on the instrument's timbre.

Mouthpiece (woodwind)

The mouthpiece of a woodwind instrument is that part of the instrument which is placed partly in the player's mouth. Single-reed instruments, capped double-reed instruments, and fipple flutes have mouthpieces while exposed double-reed instruments and open flutes do not. The characteristics of a mouthpiece and reed can play a significant role on the sound of the instrument.

Reed aerophones is one of the categories of musical instruments found in the Hornbostel-Sachs system of musical instrument classification. In order to produce sound with these Aerophones the player's breath is directed against a lamella or pair of lamellae which periodically interrupt the airflow and cause the air to be set in motion.

Wind instrument Class of musical instruments with air resonator

A wind instrument is a musical instrument that contains some type of resonator in which a column of air is set into vibration by the player blowing into a mouthpiece set at or near the end of the resonator. The pitch of the vibration is determined by the length of the tube and by manual modifications of the effective length of the vibrating column of air. In the case of some wind instruments, sound is produced by blowing through a reed; others require buzzing into a metal mouthpiece, while yet others require the player to blow into a hole at an edge, which splits the air column and creates the sound.

The woodwind section, which consists of woodwind instruments, is one of the main sections of an orchestra or concert band. Woodwind sections contain instruments given Hornbostel-Sachs classifications of 421 and 422, but exclude 423


  1. "Woodwind" Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  2. “Flutes”; Encyclopædia Britannica.
  3. Carroll, Paul “Baroque Woodwind instruments” p. 45. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 1999
  4. Carroll, Paul “Baroque Woodwind instruments” p. 45. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 1999.
  5. “Flutes” Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  6. Carroll, Paul “Baroque Woodwind instruments” p. 45. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 1999
  7. "Woodwind" Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  8. "Wind Instruments" Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  9. Carroll, Paul "Baroque Woodwind instruments" pp.88. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 1999.
  10. "Bagpipes" Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  11. "Harmonica" Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  12. "Accordion" Encyclopædia Britannica Online