The woodwind family is a wide and varied group stemming from many different cultures to create the instruments of the band and orchestra that we know today. Going to see a professional concert band or orchestra can make for a relaxing evening. In these performances, many instruments are included. They could be stringed instruments, brass instruments, percussion instruments, or woodwind instruments. Woodwind instruments are played by blowing into a mouthpiece and opening and closing keys or holes to change pitch. These instruments are descended from instruments that were once entirely made of wood. Modern instruments are made of a combination of wood, plastic, and metals. The woodwind family is split into two main categories: flutes and reeded instruments.
Flutes are any instrument that is played by splitting air across a hole to create vibrations. The two subcategories of flute are open and closed.
The closed transverse (sideways) modern flute is the one most commonly seen in bands or orchestras. It is played by blowing air across the sharp edge of the embouchure hole. The instrument rests on the player's lip, making contact with the large side of the embouchure plate. Pitches are changed by adjusting which keys are pressed and air speed. The player must hold the instrument up to the right to play it. Most modern flutes are made of an alloy of silver, gold, copper, or nickel. Another modern flute seen in a band or orchestra is the piccolo. It looks like a miniature version of the modern transverse flute, and requires higher air speeds to play. It has a very high pitch. The modern transverse flute less commonly comes in alto and bass versions, which are much larger and bent shaped to accommodate the longer tube required for the lower sound. Other examples of open flute are the pan flute (panpipes) and the ocarina.
The most commonly used closed flute is the recorder, which is played in many elementary school classes. This instrument requires the player to blow into a hole that splits the air. The pitch is changed by covering and uncovering the holes and by changing the air speed. It is an easy instrument to make a sound on, so it is ideal for children. It has a more tribal timbre than the modern transverse flute, so the recorder is sometimes used in ethnic sounding concert pieces in place of the flute. Another example of closed flute are the organ pipes.
Reeded instruments are any instrument that uses air to vibrate a reed to produce a sound. They have a very characteristic timbre. The two main subcategories of reeded instrument are single reed and double reed, though there are a few oddities in this category as well.
The two most common single-reeded instruments are the saxophone and the clarinet. The saxophone would be found in a band setting, but never in an orchestra setting. Both of these instruments come in pitch ranges of soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The sound is produced by attaching a single reed to a mouthpiece using a ligature. The reed and mouthpiece form a tiny hole for the air to pass through and vibrate the air in the horn to make the sound. The appropriate embouchure position for these instruments is "teeth on top (of the mouthpiece)" and "lip on bottom (covering the teeth to protect the reed)."
The double-reeded instruments commonly seen in both bands and orchestras are the oboe and the bassoon, which are known as exposed double reeds. The player must curl their lips to cover their teeth to protect the fragile reeds. The oboe is the highest pitched double reed instrument, and the contrabassoon is the lowest. One double reed instrument that makes frequent appearances in both types of ensembles is the English horn. Double reed instruments produce sound by using two precisely cut pieces of cane bound together at the base. The reeds vibrate together to produce sound.
The oddities include capped double reeds, such as the crumhorn and the bagpipes, and free reed aerophones, such as the harmonica and accordion. Capped double reeds use two or more reeds, but instead of the player touching the reeds directly, the player blows through a hole that then vibrates the reeds. In the free reed aerophone category, small metal tongues are arranged in rows within a metal or wooden frame. The player either uses breath, as in the case of the harmonica, or bellows, as in the case of the accordion to create airflow.