The instruments in the woodwind family are noted for their agility, extensive range, and dynamic sound, creating a powerful and steady foundation for the modern orchestra.
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What is a Woodwind?
While many woodwinds were initially made of wood, today they are made of wood, brass, plastic, and a wide range of materials.
A woodwind comprises any wind instrument that produces sound via its own vibrations, usually from a reed.
- By comparison, brass instruments use the player’s lip vibrations to make sound.
Wood-n’t You Like to Know: Fun Woodwind History
The oldest known instruments are a series of flutes carved from bird bones and mammoth ivory found in caves in southwestern Germany. These flutes date back 42,000 to 43,000 years.
Theobald Boehm developed a standard keywork system for the flute between 1831 and 1847, allowing for greater tone and volume and standardized fingerings.
The Boehm System was adapted for clarinets by Hyacinthe Klose and Auguste Buffet.
While most modern popular musical instruments evolved over time, the saxophone was invented outright in Belgium by Adolphe Sax.
- The saxophone was developed in 1840 and patented on June 28, 1846.
- Sax developed his instrument as a medium between woodwinds and brass—offering the agility and adaptive ability of the former and the power and vocal dynamics of the latter.
While the sax is most closely associated with jazz, its roots lie in military band music.
The modern 17-key bassoon was developed by Gottfried Weber and Carl Almenrader in1823. The original bassoon only had anywhere from 4 to 8 finger holes.
- The modern contrabassoon was developed in the late 19th century. It is the lowest instrument in the woodwind family.
While the Scottish Highland bagpipes are what most Americans are familiar with, they are only one of more than 30 different kinds of bagpipes spread all over the world, from Spain to Tunisia, India to Greece.
The Woodwind Family
How Woodwinds Produce Sound
Single reed (clarinet, saxophone)
- A player blows into the mouthpiece, causing the reed to vibrate. The instrument amplifies the vibrations.
Double reed (oboe, bassoon)
- A double reed uses two reeds tied together. When a player blows into the instrument, the two reeds vibrate against each other.
- Most oboists and bassoonists must carve their own reeds as players often develop unique embouchures and playing styles.
- A player blows air across the mouth hole, much like blowing over the opening of a bottle. The hole splits the stream of air, causing vibrations.
In all woodwinds, a player adjusts pitch by covering holes on the instrument either with their fingers or keys.
Woodwind Playing Tips
- Learn music theory, which will not only help you read music, but also give you a better grasp of
- Melody, harmony, and accompaniment
- Always begin each playing session with simple, easy warm-up exercises that include:
- Long tones
- Varied rhythms
- Build a strong embouchure to support your air, allowing for better tone and intonation.
- Avoid playing immediately after having eaten a meal or drinking a sugary drink, both of which can damage your reed and the inside of your instrument or cause sticky keys.
- Store your reed in its plastic case when it’s not in use.
- Avoid playing any reed for longer than 60 minutes.
- Have several reeds in rotation to ensure that you always have a broken-in reed that will provide good quality sound.
- Whether you sit or stand, always play with proper—but still comfortable and relaxed—posture. Remember, tense posture leads to tense playing.
- After playing, remove excess condensation inside your instrument using a soft cloth and a pull-through.
- Have fun!
Learn to play the flute, clarinet, saxophone, and other woodwind instruments with California Music Studios | camusic.wpengine.com