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Woodwind instruments
There are 3 sub families within the
Woodwind Family.
Can you name them?
Single reeds
Double reeds
Woodwind instruments are tubes
that are made from wood, plastic, or
metal. Players blow their "wind," or
breath, into them to make sounds.
Some woodwinds are conical, or
cone-shaped—the tube starts small
and gets bigger along the way to the
Other woodwinds are cylindrical, or
cylinder-shaped—the size of the
tube stays about the same from one
end to the other, like a paper-towel
The shape of the bore (cone or cylinder) affects the tone of the
instrument and the overtones that it produces. The “octave key”
on woodwinds is really a device that allows the column of
vibrating air to move into the higher ranges of the overtone series
for that instrument, commonly referred to as “overblowing” the
instrument or “playing in the altissimo” range.
The length of a woodwind instrument’s tube is related to
the pitch produced. If a tube has a hole halfway up, the
length of resonating column of air is only as long as the
tube down to the hole. Cover the hole, and the pitch
lowers—the longer length of tube resonates. In this way
the player can change pitches by changing the length of
the resonating part of the tube of the instrument.
The Flutes
• There are many types of woodwinds that don’t
use a reed. These instruments are called the
Flutes. How many do you know?
• Flutes (of course)
• Recorders
• Ocarinas
• Flageolettes – transverse flutes
• Panpipes
• Tin whistles
The Flute
• People have enjoyed playing the flute
for at least 5,000 years. Most modern
flutes are made of metal because
metal helps them to sound louder in
today’s big concert halls.
• Flutes come in four sizes. The
smallest flute is the piccolo.
• The flute is next in size and is the
most popular member of its family.
• The alto flute is bigger than the flute,
so it is lower in pitch. It has a deep,
mysterious sound and takes more air
when played.
• The bass flute is very long. The part
into which the player blows has to be
bent into a U shape so that the player
can hold it.
The Recorder
• The recorder is a kind of fipple flute, an
end-blown flute that is found in folk
music of many different cultures all
over the world. The top end is stopped
with a block (fipple) except for a small,
flat opening for blowing, and there is a
notch in the top side of the pipe near
the blowing end.
• We know for sure that recorders have
been played in Europe since the
1300s. They were at their most popular
in the 1600s and early 1700s.
• Composers often wrote pieces for a
consort of recorders—a group of
recorders in all different sizes, ranging
from soprano to bass.
• Recorders played an important part in
the music of baroque composers,
including Bach, Vivaldi, Handel,
Purcell, and Telemann.
The Ocarina
• Ocarinas are globular flutes that can be
traced back to ancient China, ancient
Egypt and the pre-Columbian Americas.
The Incas used ocarinas to relay
messages in the Andes. The
instruments have 4-12 holes, the pitch
being determined by how many holes
are covered with the fingers. The same
fingering can produce 2 to 3 notes,
depending on the way air is blown into
the ocarina. The larger the vessel, the
lower the tone. These instruments are
made of clay, wood, gourds, and today’s
synthetic materials.
The Flagolettes
or Transverse
• Transverse Flutes are first seen in
Chinese art in the 9th century BC.
• Transverse flutes in the Renaissance
had six holes producing a range of two
octaves or more. They were
commonly seen in three or four sizes
and fingered like recorders except that
they were pitched one note higher, not
having the bottom little-finger hole.
The tone of the upper register was not
refined and cross-fingerings were
necessary for chromatic tones.
• The fife was an enormously popular
instrument in the United States during
the period from the 1750s until shortly
after the end of the Civil War. Because
of the prominent role of fifes and long
drums during the Revolutionary War
and the early years of the republic,
these instruments have become
traditional symbols of our nation.
The Panpipes
• The Greeks and
Romans had several
kinds of flutes. The
panpipes, an older
style, were made of
several tubes of
staggered length.
Legend says, they
were invented by the
God Pan. They have
become associated
with a pastoral
The Tin Whistle
• No other whistle can match its clear,
flute-like tone quality. Many famous
musicians made their start in music
with these instruments. In fact,
James Galway, the world renowned
flautist, first learned to play on a
• The tin whistle is a simple metal
tube, with six holes and a
mouthpiece like a recorder, and a
range of about two octaves.
The Single reeds
Clarinets and Saxophones
• Single Reed instruments use a reed-a thinly sliced piece of cane wood, (or
less frequently, plastic) -- that is held
against the aperture of the mouthpiece
with a ligature. When air is forced
between the reed and the mouthpiece,
the resulting vibration of the reed
creates the resonant wave inside the
The clarinet's predecessor was the chalumeau--the first true single reed instrument. It appeared
in the late 1600's and wasn't very flexible and had a range of about 1.5 octaves.
Johann Christoph Denner and his son, Jacob are attributed to innovating the speaker key which
gave the clarinet a larger register. The clarinet overblows at the 12th, the other woodwind
instruments overblow at the octave. So, when you play with the thumb and first three fingers of
the left hand without the speaker key, you sound the note C. When you add the speaker key,
you do not get a C an octave higher, you sound a G, which is the interval of a twelfth. Because
of his improvements of the chalumeau, J C Denner is said to be the inventor of the clarinet.
The clarinet has a cylindrical bore--it doesn't flare, even though the bell of the clarinet gives that
impression. This is why the clarinet overblows at the twelfth and is so laden with overtones,
which contributes to its unique sound.
In the late 1700's, many improvements were made to the clarinet--more keys were added and
the tone holes were experimented with--different cuts and such.
Ivan Muller may be considered the father of the modern clarinet. Muller’s 13 key system also
allowed for extra openings, further improving tone and pitch. This provided a series of extra
keys that could open and close in conjunction with the use of other keys and without the need
for six extra fingers. The pads on a clarinet to this point had been made of felt. Muller’s pads
were made of wool and covered with gut or leather. They did not fall off as easily and were
more waterproof.
Hyacinthe Klose and Auguste Buffet adapted the Theobold Boehm (flute) fingering system to
the clarinet ca. 1839-1843. This system is the one most common today, although there are
other fingering systems in use such as the Albert and Auler (mostly in Germany.)
The basset horn is a type of clarinet usually pitched in F. This was the instrument which Mozart
composed his Clarinet Concerto and Quintet. His friend, Anton Stadler was a virtuosic basset
hornist and Mozart fell in love with the mellow, dark tone of the clarinet.
Types of Clarinets
The E flat
Contra Alto
Contra Bass
There are 27 different types of clarinets
throughout the years.
The B flat
The Basset Horn
• Adolphe Sax, the Belgian inventor, patented the
saxophone in 1846.
His invention combined the single reed of the
clarinet with the bore and fingering patterns of
the oboe, producing unique tonal qualities.
• He dreamed of an instrument with the flexibility
of the strings, the tonal variety of the woodwinds,
and the power of the brasses.
• He also wanted his instrument to produce the
octave when overblowing, not the clumsy 12th as
the clarinet. So he needed a larger conical bore.
There are 7 types of saxophones.
The E flat Sopranino
The B flat Soprano
The E flat Alto
The B flat tenor
The E flat Baritone
The B flat Bass
And the E flat ContraBass
The Double Reeds
Oboe, Oboe d'amore, English horn, oboe da caccia Hecklephone,
Double Bassoon ( contrabassoon ), Bassoon,
Crumhorn, Shawm ( bass ), Shawm ( tenor )
• A double reed is two reeds
bound together with a slight
separation between them so
that air passing through them
causes them to beat against
one another.
• Resistance refers to how easy
or difficult it is to blow air
through the reed. In general,
the more resistant the reed, the
more cane is on the reed, the
longer the reed must be broken
in, and the more demanding it
is on the embouchure (mouth
The Oboes, Oboe, Oboe d'amore,
English horn
The Oboe has a narrow conical bore. It
was invented in the 17th century by the
French musicians Jean Hotteterre and
Michel Danican Philidor, who modified the
louder shawm (the prevailing double-reed
instrument) for indoor use. Their oboe,
called hautbois (French for "high, or loud,
wood"), had a narrower bore than the
shawm's, a body in three sections instead
of one, and a smaller reed.
Oboe d'amore is the alto or mezzosoprano
member of the oboe family.
The English Horn is the alto of the family,
is pitched a fifth lower than the oboe. It has
a pear-shaped bell, giving it a soft,
melancholy tone.
The Bassoons also called Hecklephones
• The bassoons are the lowest and largest
of the woodwinds. The bassoon itself first
appeared about 1650, and by the end of
the 1700’s, it had from 4 to 8 keys. During
the 1800’s, many people experimented
with improving the fingering of the
bassoon. Most of the changes helped the
fingering, but made the tone of the
instrument suffer. The Heckel family of
Germany managed to improve the
fingering of the bassoon without damaging
its tone.
• The reed fits onto the metal crook, or
bocal, which is a curved metal tube about
13-1/2 inches long that fits into the
• The double bassoon, or contrabassoon,
sounds lower and is about two times
Other Double Reeds
The bagpipe is also a double reed
instrument. It’s origin was probably in
Mesopotamia from which it was carried east
and west by Celtic migrations. It was used
in ancient Greece and Rome and has been
long known in India. Some form of bagpipe
was later used in nearly every European
country; it was particularly fashionable in
18th-century France, where it was called
the musette. Its widest use and greatest
development was in the British Isles,
particularly Northumberland, Ireland, and
Scotland. The Highland pipe of Scotland is
the most well-known type, but at least six
other types were once used in the British
Isles. The basic construction of a bagpipe
consists of a bag, usually leather, which is
inflated either by mouth through a tube or
by a bellows worked by the arm, melody
pipes having finger holes and fitted usually
with double reeds, and one or more drones,
which produce one sustained tone each
and usually have single reeds, though the
musette drones have double reeds.
Associated with folk and military music, it
has been neglected by composers, possibly
because of its short range.
The Harmonica - The reeds are
set in a small, narrow case of
wood or metal. For each reed
there is a hole, through which the
player draws or blows air with the
The Accordian - (or the reedorgan) descended from the
Chinese SHENG, produces
musical pitches by means of thin
reeds, set vibrating by air under
pressure or suction.
The Concertina - An improved small
ACCORDION, but without the accordion
keyboard, was patented in England in 1829. Its
hexagonal end pieces are fitted with studs for
selecting the various pitches from its reeds. Fully
chromatic and capable of various tonal effects, it
has been used in solo and chamber music.
Tchaikovsky used four concertinas in his second
orchestral suite. A popular instrument for informal
occasions during the 19th century, the concertina
is still widely used, especially in England.