Woodwind Instruments

Woodwind instruments are instruments made of metal, wood, plastic, ocarinas, or a combination of these. They have a great variety of forms, although they are all narrow cylinders or pipes with holes. In addition, all have an opening at the bottom as well as a mouthpiece at the top. Metal caps, known as keys, are the part that cover the previously mentioned holes. The most popular members of this family are the clarinet, the flute, the oboe, the saxophone, the piccolo, the English horn, the E-flat, the bass, the bassoon, the contrabassoon, and the bagpipe. These kinds of instruments have been around for a long time. Woodwind instruments can be played in ensembles, in chamber music, as solo instruments, or in a band.

Briefly, to introduce this topic we would like to say that experts found the first versions of these in Germany and the Netherlands around the year 1300. Nevertheless, the greatest development of woodwind instruments dates to the 18th and 19th centuries.

Woodwind Instruments: the Basics

Musicians play woodwind instruments by blowing air through the mouthpiece. Also, they use their fingers to modify the pitch. The mouthpiece usually has a reed: a thin piece of wood that vibrates when air passes through. The pitch varies according to the size of the woodwind instrument. While smaller ones play higher notes, the larger play the lower ones .

The most popular woodwind instruments are flutes and reed instruments, also known as reed pipes. All instruments in this family produce a sound by splitting an exhaled airstream on a sharp edge. The concert band’s woodwind section is commonly larger and more varied than the orchestra’s.


Flutes can fall under two categories: open and closed. All flutes produce sounds by blowing air through the mouthpiece and directing it below the edge of a hole in a cylindrical tube. On the one hand, to play a sound on an open flute, the musician blows a stream of air across a sharp edge that splits the airstream, generates a vibration, and thus produces a sound. Some examples of open flutes are transverse flute, panpipes and shakuhachi. On the other, to play a sound on a closed flute, the musician blows air into a duct that functions as a channel that passes the air to a sharp edge. As the player splits the air, there comes vibration. Finally, this is what produces a sound. Some examples of this type are organ pipes and the ocarina.

Reed Pipes

Reed pipes direct the air into a mouthpiece, which in turn generates a vibration within the reed or reeds. There are two categories: single-reed and double-reed. Firstly, single-reed woodwind instruments produce a sound by tying a reed onto the opening of the mouthpiece. This causes a vibration within the air column and produces a peculiar sound. Some examples are the saxophone and the clarinet. Secondly, double-reed instruments have two small pieces of cane tied at the base. When air passes through, the tied reed vibrates, which produces a unique sound. In their case, they can subcategorize into exposed double-reed and capped double-reed.