Woodwind instruments are popular across the world. The diversity of the woodwind family and their musical use reflects the medieval literature and arts. Some of the most popular wind instruments are being played all over the world, and are part of each country’s culture and tradition.
They are everywhere. You can see your local community orchestra playing different wind instruments, or that little band composed of middle school children. Some of these instruments are available in every musical instrument shop, whilst some of them you may have heard of only if you searched for them online.
Most popular woodwind instruments to play
There are so many instruments in the woodwind family. Loud winds like trumpets and bagpipes are used for outdoor processions and dancing. Soft winds like flutes and cornett are mostly used indoors for performing instrumental arrangements of songs.
The flute is part of the woodwind family that is considered an aerophone, which does not require reeds to play. Instead, the flute is played by blowing through the mouthpiece and placing your fingers in the holes to produce a well-tuned sound. Flutes can be made out of nickel, silver or brass, and date back from as far as the Paleolithic era when they were created out of animal bones and looked more like a recorder. This type of flute was called transverse flutes, however they were modernised to the shape they are today during the Renaissance period.
The piccolo is about a half size of the flute, with an instrument length of 30cm. This instrument originated in Western Europe, and plays an octave higher compared to the flute. It plays the highest notes in the entire wind family and produces a high-pitched, shrill sound that can be distinctly heard above all other woodwind instruments.
Oboe originated in France approximately during the mid 17th century. The oboe is a type of double-reed woodwind instrument, with a narrow body typically made of wood, but that can also be made of synthetic materials like plastic. The double reed is made from shaving down a cane reed in half, which places two reeds together and strapped onto a metal pipe with strings. The gap in the centre allows the player to breathe through and create minute vibrations into the opening. Oboes also lead the tuning in an orchestra, due to its pitch being less susceptible to environmental factors. The oboe also has a clear, distinct sound that can be heard through other instruments when tuning.
The clarinet originated in Germany, and is a single reed instrument with a cylindrical tube and a flared bell. It is played by blowing through the mouthpiece with your three fingers resting on the corresponding keyholes. The clarinet has one of the largest registers, which stretches across four octaves.
Bassoon originated in Western Europe, and is a long woodwind instrument which belongs to the double reed family which can play bass, tenor and treble. The bassoon is different from other wind instruments, as all ten fingers are used to play the instrument. It is also one of the few instruments that is sensitive to humidity, due to the humidity causing the wood to swell which can make assembly difficult. The overall sound created by a basson can range from deep, rich sounds to melodic and sweet.
The saxophone was invented by Adolphe Sax, who was from Belgium. The instrument was created in the 1840s, and then patented in Paris in 1846, with the aim of bridging the sounds between the brass and woodwind families. Saxophones are played by blowing through the mouthpiece and pressing the corresponding keys. It has a brass body, but is considered a woodwind instrument due to the way that it is played with a reed attached to a mouthpiece. Saxophone have tones that are in between the brass family and woodwind, and are played in a variety of genres including jazz, classical, or even pop. There are 14 different types of saxophones, with the most widely known ones being the soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophone.
Other notable woodwinds
A shawm is a keyless instrument and typically about a foot long with seven finger holes and one thumb hole. This originated in Spain from the 12th century, and is commonly used in streets with drums and trumpets because of its brilliant sound. It was most popular during the medieval and Renaissance periods, which became overthrown by its more popular counterpart, the oboe family. The body almost resembles a traditional recorder, however it is played with a double-reed similar to a bassoon or oboe.
Ring flutes are Southeast Asian flutes commonly used in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. These are end-blown flutes with a ring wrapped around the hole at the end of the instrument, and can be made out of rattan material.
Bamboo Flute (Dizi)
The dizi is a traditional Chinese flute made of bamboo. It is also played horizontally rather than vertically, and it has a similar style to the Western flute.
Khallool is a meter-long flute with two playing holes at the end. This is one of the oldest woodwind instruments that’s still being played in the Tihama area of Yemen.
Famous as a Scottish instrument, it is believed that the bagpipe originated from ancient Egypt. It is played by blowing air through the blowpipe into a bag. The bag supplies a stream of air to another pipe, making a noise as it vibrates.
The didgeridoo originated in Australia, and is played by placing your lips inside the mouthpiece to form an airtight seal. It produces a low-pitched drone, and alternates between these low drones and louder blasts.
While these woodwind instruments are all part of each country’s tradition and culture, it’s good to know that some of them still exist and are being used by native musicians.
You can still find many of these woodwind instruments in a musical instrument shop located around the world. If you’re planning to learn how to play one of these and want to learn more about them, you can browse about these musical instruments online.