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Band Orchestral Woodwind Instruments

The woodwind family includes a lot of instruments that can appear drastically different. Each one requires air to create sound and involves pressing and releasing keys. Understanding how to play and care for these instruments is important to their longevity.

What is a woodwind instrument?

The woodwind family is made up of the piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, bassoon, and contrabassoon. All of these instruments require air to be blown into them in order to make a sound. This requirement is what defines a woodwind instrument. Pitch is changed based on the number of keys or holes covered or uncovered at any given time. Some holes are simply open and covered with fingers while others have keys to press down on.

What materials are these instruments made from?

Woodwinds are made from a variety of metals and plastics. The body may be made out of one material while the keys are made out of another. For instance, lots of clarinet designs have a plastic body with metal keys. Saxophones are the opposite. They are often made of a metallic body with plastic or a different variety of metal keys. Reeds are most often made from bamboo and plant material.

What types of mouthpieces do woodwind instruments have?

Woodwind instruments have a variety of mouthpieces, single reeds, and double reeds. The piccolo, flute, and English horn utilize special kinds of mouthpieces that require air to be blown into them at a particular angle in order to create a sound. Saxophones and clarinets utilize a single reed held in a mouthpiece to create tones. The wood vibrates against other material as air is blown in. Oboes and bassoons require a double reed that is played by blowing air in by holding the mouth and lips a certain way. The mouth and lip position required for each woodwind is called an embouchure.

How do you care for woodwind instruments?

Different instruments require different cleaning processes. Most woodwinds are sold with a fluffy swab that can be inserted into the instrument and wiggled around to remove accumulated saliva, grime, and dust buildup. Instruments can also be wiped down with a soft, clean cloth. Periodically, woodwind instruments should be taken to a music shop to be completely and professionally cleaned out. Oftentimes, this process includes the use of sulfuric acid and should not be attempted at home.

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