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The Woodwind Family: Instrument List & Overview

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  • 0:01 The Woodwind Family
  • 0:43 The Flute
  • 1:27 The Oboe and Bassoon
  • 2:31 The Clarinet
  • 3:15 The Saxophone
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erika Svanoe

Erika has taught several college music courses and has a doctorate of musical arts in conducting.

In this lesson, you will learn what types of common instruments belong to the woodwind family. You'll also understand the traits of woodwinds and how the instruments produce their unique sounds.

The Woodwind Family

Instruments of the woodwind family are used today in orchestras and bands and can be heard in several different types of music, including classical and jazz. Woodwind instruments work by blowing air, or wind, into the instrument, which causes the air in the instrument to vibrate. This vibration is what causes the instrument to produce a sound. In woodwind instruments, this vibration is made by either causing a thin piece of wood called a reed to vibrate, or by blowing across an opening in the instrument.

While different materials can be used to make modern woodwind instruments today, many of the earliest woodwind instruments were originally made out of wood. Let's check out the most well-known members of the woodwind family!

The Flute

The flute is used in orchestras and bands, but can also be used as a solo instrument in many different kinds of music. The flute is a member of the woodwind family because the sound is created by blowing across a hole near the top of the flute, causing the air inside to vibrate. The modern flute that is used most often in classical music is made of metal, but there are many other kinds of flutes that are made from wood or other materials.

The flute is able to play notes that sound high in pitch. There is a smaller version of the flute, called the piccolo, that can play even higher than the flute and is one of the highest sounding instruments in the orchestra. If you're looking for an example of this instrument, you can hear a flute solo in the song 'California Dreamin' by the Mamas and the Papas.

The Oboe

The oboe is also a member of the woodwind family. It is usually made from wood but can also be made from plastic. Sound is created in the oboe by blowing air into a double reed at the top of the instrument. This double-reed is made up of two very thin pieces of wood that are tied together and vibrate when air passes through them.

The sound of the oboe is quite distinctive and can be heard over other instruments of the orchestra. It is often used to play important melodies because of its piercing, nasal sound quality. The oboe also sounds quite high, but generally cannot play as high as the flute. You can hear an oboe in the chorus of 'I Got You Babe' by Sonny and Cher.

The Bassoon

Another member of the woodwind family that uses a double reed is the bassoon. Like the oboe, the modern bassoon can be made from wood or plastic. However, it is much larger than the oboe, so it is able to play much lower. The bassoon often plays the lowest notes in the woodwind section of an orchestra, but can also play melodies that have a middle range. The bassoon can be heard during the introduction of 'The Tears of a Clown' by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

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