Woodwinds are a category of musical instruments that produce sound in one of two ways: a) the vibration of a reed in the mouthpiece or b) the passage of air across a mouthpiece. Examples of woodwinds that use a reed as part of the mouthpiece include the clarinet and saxophone, while woodwind instruments such as the flute only need a mouthpiece.
Historically, the instruments belonging to this family were made from wood, which is where the name comes from. Today, wood, metal, and plastic are all used. The “wind” referenced in the name is a nod to how they are played (the blowing of air through or across the mouthpiece). Smaller woodwinds play higher-pitched notes, while the larger, longer instruments play lower notes.
When it comes to distinguishing woodwinds, instruments that are designed to contain a long, thin column of air are generally always a part of this group. When all of the tone holes are closed on a woodwind, and the column of air is the longest, the lowest note is played. The notes get progressively higher as you open tone holes, starting at the instrument’s open end and working your way up.
The word “woodwinds” can also be used to describe the section of an orchestra or band that includes woodwind instruments. Some of the most common instruments in the woodwind family include the recorder, piccolo, flute, clarinet, bassoon, saxophone, and oboe.
Playing a woodwind instrument is a wonderful way to expand your musical abilities. So, how old do you have to be to play an instrument from the woodwind family? Children as young as five can begin to learn to play smaller woodwinds, such as the piccolo, flute, or oboe. As a child grows, they can try heavier instruments, like the saxophone.
A piccolo is a shortened version of the flute and is named for the Italian word for “small.” It is half the size of a standard flute and plays the highest notes of all woodwind instruments. In an orchestra, one of the flutists may also play the piccolo if required for a specific score. Marching band music and traditional drum corps also often include the famously high, piping sound of a piccolo.
The earliest flutes were made from wood, clay, stone, or hollow reeds (bamboo). The flute was the very first instrument to produce pitched sounds rather than just rhythms. The modern flutes you see today are made from silver, gold, or platinum, measuring just over 2 feet in length. You hold it sideways with both of your hands to play the flute, then blow across the mouthpiece. As your fingers manipulate the keys, the pitch of each note changes.
A clarinet uses a single reed in the mouthpiece to produce a wide variety of notes, ranging from bright, high notes to rich lower notes. There are many different sizes of clarinets, with the most common being the standard B-flat clarinet (about 2 feet long). Other clarinets included the E-flat clarinet (a shorter version that plays higher notes) and the bass clarinet (a very large instrument that can play extremely low notes).
You play the clarinet by holding it in an upright position, placing your mouth over the mouthpiece, and blowing through its reed. Then, you open and close the keys using your fingers to change the pitches.
The saxophone is technically a part of the woodwind family because it relies on a reed. However, it is also a unique combination of a brass instrument and a clarinet and is a staple in jazz music. Interestingly, the inventor of the saxophone was a clarinet player named Adolphe Sax. You play the saxophone much like the clarinet: hold it upright, blow through the reed, and open and close various keys to achieving different pitches.
There are many different types of mouthpieces for woodwinds, giving you the option of different materials and shapes. You can enhance the tone and playability of your clarinet or saxophone with a new mouthpiece or have a few styles on hand to change up your sound to suit your mood or the musical piece.
Woodwind reeds are made from a thin strip of cane wood or similar synthetic material. Reeds for woodwinds are the key to producing sound with instruments such as the clarinet, saxophone, and oboe. Both single and double reeds are available from a diverse selection of brands, with varying strengths to match your personal preference.
Woodwind Accessories & More at Milano Music
Milano Music is the largest music store in Arizona and has been the go-to source for musical instruments for sale in Mesa for more than 75 years. In addition to offering woodwind instruments and accessories, we also provide instrument rentals, music lessons, and more.
Discover your next musical instrument when you come to Milano Music today!