Introduction to the Woodwind Family Part 1

There are 4 families of instruments: string, brass, woodwind, and percussion.  Today, our focus will be on the woodwind family.

All of the instruments in the woodwind family are basically narrow pipes with several holes and a mouthpiece at the top as well as an opening at the bottom. 

You play woodwind instruments by blowing air through the mouthpiece while changing the pitch by opening or closing the holes with your fingers. Most of these instruments have keys that cover the holes, too. Many of these instruments used to be made out of wood, but today they are made out of wood, metal, plastic, or a combination.


The Flute

A person who plays the flute is called either a Flautist or Flutist. He or she must have an extraordinary control of his or her breath.
When you blow across the embouchure hole of a flute (at the mouthpiece), some of the air goes inside the flute and some does not. The air that goes inside is quickly moving and starts vibrations inside the flute’s body. If all of the holes are covered, no air can escape and the air travels all the way down the flute. This creates a low pitch. If only the first few holes are covered, air escapes after a short trip down the flute’s body and produces a higher pitch. The flutist can also affect the sound by changing the angle he or she is blowing across the hole.
Flutes are about 2 feet long and usually made out of metal. They are one of the highest pitched instruments in the orchestra.
Listen to Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Suite No. 2 for Flute, Strings, and Basso Continuo: Menuet and Badinerie. Be sure to listen to the quicker second part of the video as well. If you want to see something quite remarkable, check out 2 Guys 1 Flute.

The Piccolo

While the flute is one of the highest instruments in the orchestra, the piccolo IS the highest. It is only one foot long and plays notes that are an entire octave higher than the flute. That is a whole scale of notes higher; for example: from C to C’.
Now let’s watch and listen to Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4: 3rd Movement” as it’s performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. At the beginning of the selected music you will see and hear the flutes playing. They will be followed by the piccolo. Notice the difference in size and pitches they play. If you watch the video for awhile, you can see many great close-ups of several different instruments as well as hear them clearly. See if you can identify the instruments or try to guess in what instrument family they belong.

The Oboe

The oboe is a wooden instrument whose sound is made by blowing through a double reed at the top of the instrument. Its sound is quite strong and memorable. It sounds kind of nasally or a lot like a duck quacking. 

The musician has to force air at a very high pressure into a tiny double reed, so it is very difficult to play.
Tomaso Albinoni was the first Italian known to use the oboe as a solo instrument and is mostly remembered today for his several oboe concertos. Listen to his “Oboe Concerto in D minor Op 9” with 10 year-old soloist, Pijus Paškevičius.

The Clarinet


A clarinet is played by blowing into a single reed that is clipped to the mouthpiece. The picture over to the right is a clarinet reed.

The reed starts and controls the vibration of the air inside the clarinet. As you blow over the reed, the power of the air makes the tip of the reed bend up and down. In fact, a clarinet reed bends up and down 29 times each second when you blow over it.

The smooth, warm tones of the clarinet come from its straight tubing.

Now listen to Milan Rericha perform the clarinet solo in Gioachino Rossini’s “Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Orchestra“.  If you want a real treat, also listen to Milan Rericha play “Flight of the Bumblebees“. It’s amazing!
Continue with Introduction to the Woodwind Family Part 2. It includes: the saxophone, bassoon, and contra-bassoon.

If you are new to the Music Adventures Lessons, please click on the graphic below for an introduction and more information.