Woodwind instruments are not all made of wood, but they do all rely on wind to produce sound. They are played by blowing into or across a mouthpiece, which causes air to vibrate inside a narrow pipe. The player produces different pitches as the length of the vibrating pipe is changed by pressing down keys or covering holes in the instrument. Some woodwinds are actually made of wood, while others are made of metal, plastic or some combination of materials. Each instrument has a different type of sound, depending on the length of the pipe, the material it is made of, the shape and the way it is blown. Some, such as clarinet, oboe and saxophone, use a reed, a small piece of cane inserted into the mouthpiece that vibrates when the player blows on it, while players blow directly into or across the mouthpiece of others, such as recorder or flute.
Beginners usually start with recorder, flute, clarinet or alto saxophone, but woodwind players often end up playing more than one woodwind instrument. Depending on the particular woodwinds, sound production techniques, breathing and fingering can transfer easily from one instrument to another.
Woodwind instruments are used in orchestras and wind ensembles, as well as in many types of bands, including concert bands, marching bands, and jazz bands.
Woodwinds in Orchestras
The size of an orchestra and the exact instrumentation will vary according to the type of music being played, the era in which it was written and the preferences of the composer. Typically, an orchestra will include 2 flutes, a piccolo, 2 oboes, 1 English Horn, 2 clarinets and 2 bassoons. Orchestral woodwind players often play more than one instrument.