What is a Woodwind Instrument?

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Woodwind instruments are part of the larger classification of wind instruments, and include the flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, and bassoon.

Flute – The flute is a ‘C’ pitched instrument that can play up to three octaves. Unlike most of the instruments in the woodwind family, the flute is an aerophone instrument that produces sound by the flow of focused air below the end of an opening of a cylindrical tube. Flutes are made out of a variety of different types of materials, including nickel, silver, and silver plated-brass. Professional model flutes are typically made out of silver, gold, and platinum. Theobald Boehm’s improvements over the instrument’s dynamic range and intonation from 1832-1847 resulted in the concert flute known today. Concert flutes are one of the most common instruments in an orchestra and are part of a wide family of flutes pitched in different keys that also includes the piccolo, a small flute that is also commonly used in the modern orchestra and plays an octave higher.

Oboe – The oboe is a woodwind instrument pitched to the key of ‘C that has a conical bore and utilizes a double reed. It was originally a name for one of the shawms used to perform outdoor music. The instrument was later modified by Jacque Hotteterre and Michael Philidor in the 17th century to be played indoors with strings. The modern oboe is generally made out of wood or synthetic materials such as plastic, resin, or hybrid composites and provides the tuning note ‘A’ for the symphony orchestra. Other members of the oboe family include the english horn, bass oboe, and oboe d’amore. The oboe can be used as a solo instrument in a variety of settings, including symphony orchestras, concert bands, and chamber music.

Clarinet – The clarinet is a cylindrical instrument that can be made out of plastic, composite, or wood.  It is a single-reed instrument played by fixing a reed onto the opening of a mouthpiece with a ligature and blowing air into the mouthpiece, causing the reed to vibrate and the produce sound. There are two types of playing systems: Boehm and Albert. The Albert system is mostly used in German speaking countries, whereas the Boehm system is used worldwide. There are multiple instruments in the clarinet family pitched in different keys which include, but are not limited to, the soprano, B-flat, E-flat, and bass clarinets. Each of these instruments have different ranges and unique timbral characteristics.

Saxophone – Similar to the clarinet, the saxophone is a single-reed instrument that produces sound by blowing air into the mouthpiece. The saxophone is a conical metal tube with about 24 opening controlled by padded keys.  It was created by Adolphe Sax in 1846 to bridge the gap between the woodwind and brass sections. The saxophone family has many instruments that include, but are not limited to, the soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophone. The saxophone is widely used in a variety of musical settings that include concert music, marching bands, symphonies, orchestras, and chamber music.

Bassoon – The bassoon is a double reed instrument that is pitched in the key of C. The instrument has a conical bore that leads from the curved metal crook where the double reed is placed. While in performance, the bassoon is held aslant by the performer on a sling. The bassoon is a 17-century development from the sordone. It is larger in size than most of the woodwind instruments and also comes in two systems – the Heckel and Buffet system. While the Buffet system is commonly used in Europe and Latin America, the Heckel System is generally regarded as the universal standard. The bassoon family also includes the contrabassoon, which sounds an octave lower and is larger than the bassoon.

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