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Woodwind Instruments You Need To Know

Woodwind Instruments

Woodwind Instruments

Woodwind instruments are musical instruments made of wood and other materials. But they normally use a stream of air or wind for their sound production. 

Practically, wood materials are not commonly used to make these instruments anymore. This is because most modern woodwind instruments are now made of other materials.

The materials used for modern woodwind instruments are metal, plastic, or synthetic materials.

But some woodwind instruments are still made of wood. This is common practice used to preserve the original instrument heritage. Examples are the baroque flute and piccolo.

Different woodwind instruments made up the woodwind family of the orchestra.

Woodwind Instrument Family

The instruments in the woodwind family are primarily tubular instruments.

They are typically short and narrow cylindrical tubes. Also they have small holes drilled along their bodies.

These holes are known as the tone holes. The tone holes are used to change the pitch of the sound the instrument produces.

Woodwind instruments are usually built with an opening at the bottom and a blowing hole on top.

Some woodwind instruments have reed-based systems for blowing and playing the instruments. On the other hand, others use fipples or an open cut for their mouthpiece.

The blowing hole and its components formed the mouthpiece of the instrument.

Every woodwind instrument has a mouthpiece. The mouthpiece part of the instruments houses the blowing hole and its components.

The player blows a stream of air through the blowing hole on the mouthpiece to play the instrument.

Blowing through them creates a musical sound of different texture. The nature of the sound produced depends on the mouthpiece system material used for the body.

The players vary the sound produced by opening and closing the tone holes with their fingers. The closing and opening are in different combinations to produce different tones.

Most modern woodwind instruments use a metal cap system of keys and pads to cover and open the tone holes.

Examples of Woodwind Instruments

The following are some common examples of woodwind instruments. 

Besides the common western instruments listed, there are other woodwind instruments. Other instruments that belong to the woodwind family are the recorder, ocarina, and so on.

Types of Woodwind Instruments

All woodwinds split the air blown into them through a sharp edge to create sound. Reeds or a fipple edge can form the sharp edge.

Thus, there are two different types of woodwind instruments. These are flute instruments and reed instruments.

But the reed instruments are further divided into two classes. These two classes are single-reed instruments and double-reed instruments.

So, we have three classes of woodwind instruments. These are flutes, single-reed instruments, and double-reed instruments.

The difference between the flute and reed instruments is the way they create their sound.

Flute Woodwind Instruments

The instruments in this class do not use reeds for sound production. They are woodwind instruments with a fipple mouth or an open hole.

We blow the stream of air across the open hole in the mouthpiece of the flute, known as the embouchure.

This is done by blowing across the top of a glass bottle. For instance, a bottle of wine or a bottle of coke.

The flute splits the air stream with a sharp edge. The splitting of the air stream is unique to all woodwind instruments.

Hence, flutes are part of the woodwind family.

The escaped air will set the air inside the hollow pipes of the woodwind instruments into vibration.

The vibration, in turn, produces the sound produced by the instrument.

Examples of flutes are the standard C flute and the piccolo. We also have different types of flutes that belong to this class.

Concert Flute

Concert Flute - Flutist Elizabeth Rowe, performing as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2016.
 (Winslow Townson/Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra)
Flutist Elizabeth Rowe, performing as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2016.

The standard concert flute, or regular C transverse flute, is what people generally refer to as the flute. Specifically, it is the most common variant of the flute.

We still have other flutes that are part of the flute family. These flutes are the piccolo, alto, and bass flutes.

Flutes generally play the melodic line of a musical piece or composition.

Originally, flutes were made from wood, but that is not common anymore. The modern concert flute is typically made of silver, gold, or platinum.

Also, its sophisticated key mechanism is made with metals.

The concert flute produces a clear and melodious sound. It is commonly used as a melodic instrument in orchestras and concert bands.

The modern concert flute has an effective range of over three octaves and is fully chromatic. Its tonal range starts from C4 and goes up to D7.


Piccolo Player - A woman playing a piccolo

Piccolo is a special type of flute. It is very similar to standard flutes, but smaller.

This woodwind instrument is about half the size of a regular flute.

Piccolo and standard concert flute are played in the same way.

But piccolos have the highest range compared to the flute and other instruments in the woodwind family.

Of course, the piccolo sounds an octave higher than the flute.

Its tone is very high and can easily be heard above the other instruments in an ensemble.

Piccolo produces a high, piercing tone. You can find this instrument in orchestras, concert band ensembles, and marching bands.

Reed Woodwind Instruments

These are woodwind instruments that produce sound with reeds. The reed can be single or double, but not have an open hole like a flute.

The reed instrument splits the air stream that passes through its reed.

The splitting of the air stream is unique to all woodwind instruments.

Hence, reed instruments are part of the woodwind family.

The reed is a flat and thin piece of wood that vibrates when a stream of air is blown across it.

Of course, the vibration of the reed is the main cause of the instrument’s sound.

The vibration of the reed occurs when players put them in their mouth and blow through the reeds.

The players can change the pitch of the sound by tightening and loosening their lips.

Also, pressing different types of keys to open and close the tone hole can change the pitch of the sound. This allows the instrument to play notes of different pitches.

Single-reed instruments

The instruments in this class are known as single-reed instruments. Simply because they use just one reed for their sound production.

Examples of single-reed instruments are clarinets and saxophones.


Clarinet - A man playing a clarinet

The clarinet is a well-known single-reed instrument in the woodwind family. Its mouthpiece has a single-reed mechanism.

The reed of the clarinet is attached with the aid of a ligature to the horn of the mouthpiece. When players blow through the reed, it vibrates and produces sound.

This instrument has a straight, cylindrical tube like the flute and piccolo. But the end of its tube is a flared bell.

The cylindrical body of the clarinet is usually made of granadilla, ebonite, or metal. Its key mechanism materials are generally nickel, silver, brass, or gold.


Clarinets have the broadest tonal range compared to any other woodwind instrument. It covered up to four octaves. The C clarinets start from E3 to C7.

Likewise, the most common B-flat clarinet starts at a low E3 and goes up to a high G6.

Thus, it can easily play some pretty high and low notes.


Saxophonist - A man playing a saxophone

The saxophone is the most popular single-reed woodwind instrument. Generally, the saxophone is made of brass, but it is considered a woodwind instrument.

The reason for this is that instruments are classified according to how they produce their sound.

Apparently, the sound of a saxophone is created by an oscillating reed.

Saxophones come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but their conical bodies are well known.

The saxophone mouthpiece is very similar to that of the clarinet. They both attached the reed to the mouthpiece with ligatures.

But the size and shape of the saxophone mouthpiece are indeed different from those of the clarinet.


Furthermore, the way the saxophone and clarinet produce sound is very similar.

All saxophones are transposing instruments. The notes would not sound the same if you played them on the piano.

The saxophone is widely used in jazz and popular music like rock and roll. It is not commonly used for the orchestral repertoire.

Double-reeds instruments

The instrument in the class uses two reeds for sound production.

The reeds of the double-reed instruments are cut to precision and bound together at the base. 

The bound reed is inserted into the hole in the mouthpiece of the instrument. 

The double reeds vibrate when players force a stream of air between them. 

This in turn caused the air column within the body of the instrument to vibrate and produce sound. 

Examples of double-reed instruments are oboes, bassoons, and English horns.


Oboe Double-Reeds Woodwind instrument.

The oboe is a long black instrument with a silver key mechanism. 

It is a double-reed instrument and looks like the clarinet. However, the clarinet used a single reed, whereas the oboe used two. 

The reed of the oboe is made of two pieces of cane. 

The canes are bound together and then fitted directly into the top of the oboe’s tubular body. 

This, rather than any other mouthpiece, is what the oboe uses to produce sound.


It is typically used in the soprano or treble range in orchestras and chamber music. 

The oboe is well-known for its beautiful and sometimes haunting tone.

This makes it useful for adding emotion to orchestral music and film scores.


Bassoon Double-Reeds Woodwind instrument

The bassoon is another double-reed instrument in the woodwind family.

Specifically, it is the largest instrument in the family. In addition, the bassoon produced the lower-pitched notes.

This instrument is a half-folded long pipe, usually made of wood. The bassoon is folded to allow players to play it comfortably.

As we can imagine, the nine-foot-long bassoon will be very difficult to play.

The bassoon produces a very rich low tone. It is commonly used in the lower harmony parts of ensembles.

English Horns or Cor Anglais

A man playing English Horns or Cor Anglais

This is another double-reed instrument in the woodwind family. It is also part of the orchestral woodwind instruments.

The English horn looks like an oboe and belongs to the oboe family. It does, but, has a bent metal crook to which its double reed is attached, unlike the oboe. Also, it has a bulbous bell at its end.

The English horn, like other double-reed instruments, is a transposing instrument in F pitch.

It has a tonal range that spans from E3 to E5.

The English horns are generally made of wood. The best woods to use are granadillas, cocus, rosewood, boxwood, and vulcanite.

In French, it is known as Cor anglais, and in German, it is known as Englischer Horn.

The Pitch of the Woodwind Instrument

The sound of each of the woodwind instruments is unique. Also, they have different ranges, from low to high.

However, the nature of their pitches depends on the size of the instrument.

Thus, the smallest-sized instrument, like the piccolo, produces the highest sound.

The highest-sounding member of the woodwind family is the smaller one, and this is the piccolo.

On the other hand, the largest and longest instrument in the family, like the contrabassoon, produced the lowest sounds.

Woodwinds in Orchestra Sections

There are different sections in an orchestra, and woodwinds is one of them. This instrument in the woodwind family makes up the woodwind section of the orchestra.

Usually, the woodwind section of the orchestra or band consists of the flute, piccolo, oboe, and clarinet.

Bass clarinet, bassoon, and contrabassoon are also part of the woodwind section in the orchestra.

The common number of different kinds of woodwind instruments in the orchestra sections is listed below.

  • three flutes,
  • one piccolo,
  • three oboes,
  • one English horn,
  • three clarinets,
  • one bass clarinet,
  • three bassoons,
  • one contrabassoon


I believe that you found this article on woodwind instruments helpful.

As we can see, we have direct-blow instruments called flutes. We also have reed instruments.

Of course, you can choose any of the instruments listed. This will depend on what you want and the nature of the sound you want to create.

Specifically, piccolo is the highest-pitched member of the woodwind instrument family.

Likewise, the contrabassoon remains the biggest and lowest-pitched member of the family.

Thus, piccolo is used for very high pitches, and contrabassoon is used for very low pitches.

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