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Woodwind Instruments


Woodwind Instruments are amongst the oldest of pitched instruments in human history. There are two main types of Woodwind Instrument, Flutes and Reed Instruments, also known as Reed Pipes. All Woodwind Instruments create sound by splitting air blown by the player on a sharp edge, such as a Reed or a Fipple. A modern orchestra’s woodwind section typically includes Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets and Bassoons. The Piccolo, Bass Clarinet and Contrabassoon are used as supplementary instruments.


The Flute holds a special place in the history of human musical accomplishments. The earliests flutes date back to an incredible 35,000 to 45,000 years ago, found in what would be present-day Germany. Modern Flutes are typically made of silver, gold or platinum and are often found playing the melody in an Orchestral setting. The Flute is played by holding it sideways and blowing across a hole in the mouthpiece whilst the hands open and close the metal keys, changing the pitch up and down. The Piccolo is also commonly found in Orchestra’s the world over and is the Flute’s younger sibling, smaller and playing a higher range of notes than the Flute.


The Oboe uses a Double Reed mouthpiece and it’s the vibration of this reed that creates the sound. Again the instrument is played by opening and closing metal keys, which changes the pitch of the instrument. The Oboe is one of the most versatile instruments in the Orchestra, and can range from cold and haunting to warm and smooth. The first Oboist also plays an important part, tuning the Orchestra before each concert by playing an ‘A’. The English Horn is a relation of the Oboe, also using a Double Reed. At the bottom it differs, opening up into a round bell-shape which gives it a fuller sound. As with most musical instruments because it is larger, it has a lower pitch range than the Oboe.


Clarinets are similar to Oboe’s but utilise a Single Reed. There are a variety of types of Clarinet for various situations and sometimes players will use multiple Clarinets in the same movement. Clarinets play both melodies and harmonies in the Orchestra and have a wide musical range, playing bright and resonant as well as dark and rich sounds. Types of Clarinet include the E-flat Clarinet and Bass Clarinet which play higher and lower tones respectively.

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