What Are Wind Instruments?

In my previous blogs, I looked at the histories of the piano, violin, and guitar, as well as how to play them for beginners. String instruments have become one of the most popular instruments to play in the modern world, and they are featured in many songs and orchestras, as you may know now.

Today, I will talk about the next popular musical instrument nowadays—the wind instrument. Wind instruments are a type of musical instrument that contains a resonator, usually a tube, which becomes a channel to produce sound by vibrating air. The technical word is known as an aerophone.

Wind instruments are also broken down into two categories; the first is those that contain vibrating air (such as the flute, clarinet, oboe, trumpet, and others), and the second is those where the instrument’s vibrating air is not confined within it, like the accordion, harmonica, and harmonium.

The invention of woodwind and brass wind instruments

Normally, wind instruments come in two materials: wood and brass, and both serve different purposes. The woodwind instruments, as the name indicates, are made of wood, and the brass instruments are made of an alloy that contains brass.

But that was back in the 17th and 18th centuries, and nowadays, wind instruments have evolved. Starting in the 19th century, both types have intersected and grown a little more complicated due to technology and new instruments' invention.

In the beginning of the 20th century, a classification system was implemented. It explains how the intersection occurred because the sound-producing system, or the sound generation, categorizes the family and subfamily of a wind instrument.

What are the brass instruments?

Brasses are wind instruments that produce music through the vibration of a player's lips against a mouthpiece. The sound changes based on the player's lip muscles contracting and the mouthpiece model, like the ones in the trumpet, tuba, trombone, and horn.

The woodwinds

Woodwinds are types of wind instruments that produce sounds by using wooden reeds, and they are also mainly made of woods.

Do you know the saxophone and clarinet? Despite its main material being brass ever since its inception in 1864, it is, nevertheless, a woodwind instrument. This is due to the reed, which is a thin strip of material that vibrates to produce a sound that is normally made of wood. However, reeds nowadays are made out of wood, ivory, synthetic materials, or even metal.

A clarinet, a woodwind instrument

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To generate sound in a woodwind instrument, the air vibrates in one of three ways:

  1. Use a bevel to channel breath, like the one in records and ocarinas.

  2. Direct breath, like the flute and panpipes.

  3. Single or double reed, like the clarinet, saxophone, oboe, bassoon, and bagpipes. Some of these instruments are made of brass.

What are reeds?

Reeds are made of a gigantic cane (Arundo donax) that grows mostly in the south of France. These reeds are trimmed to length for each instrument, and the texture (hardness) of the reeds varies based on the demand and talent of the musician. Normally, beginners prefer soft or extremely thin reeds, and advanced musicians prefer harder and thicker reeds.

Reed instruments make music by concentrating air into a mouthpiece, which causes a reed (or reeds) to vibrate. Reed pipes are also classified into two varieties, similar to flutes: single reed and double reed.

Single-reed woodwinds produce sound by fixing a reed onto the mouthpiece opening. When air is blown into the reed and mouthpiece, the reed will vibrate the air column of the instrument, producing a unique sound. You can see this on clarinets and saxophones.

Double-reed instruments use two small pieces of cane that are the same size and are bound together at the base of the instrument. When air is forced into the instrument, it will vibrate the air column between the two pieces. The family of reed pipes is divided into two subfamilies: the exposed double reed and the capped double reed.

Woodwind instruments that use double-reeds, despite its real material.

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You can see exposed double-reed instruments in the oboe, bassoon, or English horn, where you have the reed pieces directly between the player’s lips. As for capped double-reed, you will see a player blow through a hole in a cap that covers the reed pieces, like the crumhorn and bagpipe.

Bagpipes, widely played in the U.K.

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What else would you like to know about the wind instruments? Let us know in the comment section below!

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