There is a particular section of symphony orchestras that has the ability to both stimulate and lull the audience, and this is known as the woodwind section. Instruments in the woodwind section produce a variety of pitches, with each instrument producing a unique sound. If you’re interested in learning more about this section, here we’ll review what exactly this section is, along with the different types of woodwind instruments that people can learn and play.
What Is the Woodwind Family?
The woodwind family is specifically a subset of the wind family of instruments. The woodwind family consists of two core types of instruments: flutes and reed instruments. Reed instruments fall under the woodwind category because of the specific way they’re used to produce sound, which involves splitting the stream of air that travels through it via a reed or another sharp edge.
Although the term “woodwind” might suggest that all instruments in this family are made of wood, the fact is that these instruments could also consist of cane and metals such as brass and silver. The music played on these instruments varies greatly, as the sounds that this family produces are heard in every genre, from classical and blues music to jazz and rock and roll.
The Main Types of Woodwind Instruments
There are four main woodwind instruments that feature different structures and sounds. These include:
The flute is arguably the most popular of the instruments in this family, and it’s also the smallest with the highest pitch. For beginner musicians who want an easier instrument to start with, the flute is a great starter instrument due to its portability and lightweight materials. Because of its popularity, this instrument can be more competitive as players gain more experience with it. On the other hand, the instrument is played for a wide range of music genres, which gives players plenty of opportunities to play with different ensembles.
The oboe is a type of double-reed woodwind instrument. It typically plays in the soprano or treble range and is heard in chamber music, orchestras, concert bands, film soundtracks, and many other types of music. Players will need to develop strong, proper breathing techniques to play the oboe, which is due to the fact that it requires a lot of wind to play.
The clarinet consists of four pieces that the player needs to assemble before playing it. It also uses a single-reed mouthpiece to produce its sound. Players will need to cover some of the keys with the pads of their fingers, which is why beginners often struggle to play without producing a squeaking sound as the air escapes the valve. Like the flute, the clarinet is a great instrument for beginners, particularly if they want to eventually play the saxophone.
Despite being made entirely out of metal, the saxophone is another member of the woodwind family. It’s available in a variety of sizes and pitches, but younger musicians don’t often have the hand width required to properly play this instrument. The saxophone is often heard in bands, jazz groups, and instrumental groups, making it ideal for musicians who are into certain genres.
Other Woodwind Instruments
In addition to the four main types discussed, there are a few other woodwind instruments available to play.
Piccolos are similar to flutes, only around half as long. Musicians can play them the way they would a flute, and flute players frequently learn both instruments. Piccolos feature the highest range among woodwind instruments, which makes them popular to use for certain orchestras along with drum corps and marching bands.
A bassoon is a long wooden pipe that’s doubled in half and comes with many keys, and its range is similar to that of a cello. The bend in the bassoon makes it more comfortable to play for musicians. The bassoon uses a double reed like an oboe, with a curved metal mouthpiece attached to it. In a typical orchestra, there are around two to four bassoons that normally play lower harmonies. However, you may hear the low, hollow notes that they can produce in some melodies. When played, air travels through the double reed as the bassoon remains upright. From the reed, the air travels to the tube around the bend and then upward and out. Musicians also must use both hands to press the bassoon’s keys to change the instrument’s pitch.
Apart from the bassoon, some players use contrabassoons, which are like bassoons but with wider pipes. They’re considerably larger than traditional bassoons, to the point where the tube is doubled over twice to facilitate comfortable playing. Due to its size, it also requires even stronger breath to produce sound with it. In orchestras, the contrabassoon will often play the lowest notes.
Contrary to their name, English horns are neither English nor horns. They’re similar to the oboe and musicians play them using a double reed, but it’s also notably longer than the oboe with a somewhat wider tube. The bottom of the English horn opens into a round bell that allows the English horn to produce a fuller and warmer sound. Its larger size also means that it plays lower notes than the oboe. Oboe players may play the English horn if required.
Consider Playing a Woodwind Instrument
Whether a beginner or a veteran musician, woodwind instruments are great for practicing and playing. Flutes and clarinets are best suited for beginners, but over time, older and more experienced musicians may want to branch out into the other members of the woodwind family. Regardless of the genre you like or the specific sound you want your instrument to produce, there’s an option in this family for every type of musician.
Are you interested in playing a woodwind instrument? We are committed to helping you or your child excel in music and do so with personalized and engaging teaching techniques. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today and we’ll help you get started.