Woodwind instruments are a group of instruments that are played blowing into a mouthpiece and causing a reed to vibrate, producing a distinctive sound. Flutes are included in the woodwind family despite the fact that they do not have a reed because of the way they are played. The “woodwinds” section of an orchestra includes all of these instruments, and the players are frequently seated together. Depending on the instrument, woodwinds can be very easy or very difficult to play, and most musicians begin with the recorder because it is the easiest to learn on.
The flute is played placing the mouth at a precise angle with the instrument and blowing to generate sound. Closed flutes have a mouthpiece that directs the air flow as it passes through the player’s lips. Because most flutes do not have wooden elements, the term “woodwinds” in reference to flutes can be confusing. However, unlike brass instruments, both open and closed woodwinds produce sound directing air against an edge rather than vibrating the lips against the mouthpiece.
One or two reeds are used in reed instruments. Traditional reeds are made of wood or cane, but modern reeds are made of molded plastic. The reed is attached to the mouthpiece and vibrates as the player blows. The reed vibrates, producing a sound that can be modulated with the keys on the instruments to produce a variety of notes and tones.
There is only one reed in a single reed instrument. The saxophone and clarinet are single-reed woodwinds. The oboe, English horn, and bassoon are double-reed woodwinds with two reeds. Some ethnic woodwind instruments have up to four reeds. Although some of these woodwinds are made of wood, the majority of them contain metallic elements or are entirely made of metal.
Although some woodwinds may be mistaken for brass instruments, their sound is vastly different because they are entirely made of metal. It’s not a directional sound, and it’s a lot softer and less aggressive. To achieve a rich blend of sound, most orchestras use a combination of woodwinds and brass instruments, combining the more delicate sound of woodwinds with the harsher tones of brass instruments. Because the fundamental skills required to play both woodwinds and brass instruments are very similar, many musicians are capable of learning both.