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Instruments of the orchestra - Woodwinds

Get to know the woodwind family of the orchestra
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - April 8, 2010
By: Goh Mei Yi
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Instruments of the orchestra - Woodwinds

The wind section is traditionally known as the woodwinds even though some of the instruments are not made of wood (eg, the flute). They are also known as aerophones, which means that they use air to produce different notes. As a section, the woodwinds have the greatest variance in tonal and dynamic characteristics.

In an orchestra, you may find the piccolo, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, and contrabassoon, besides the flute, in this section. The saxophone is also a woodwind instrument although it is more commonly used in a jazz band.

The term woodwind is applied to musical instruments whose sound is produced by blowing air into a tube and vibrating that column of air. The tube has holes in it, and the length of the vibrating column is altered by covering and uncovering the holes.

Each instrument is subdivided into a family of different sizes and pitches, much like the four voices of a choir. For example, the flute family consists of four instruments of varying lengths – the concert flute, piccolo, alto flute and bass flute.

There are two different ways to play the woodwinds. The first way is to blow across a mouthpiece while holding the instrument sideways, the method used for playing the flute.

The second method is to blow through a reed, which is a slice of cane, inserted into the instrument to create vibrating air inside the tube. It is akin to making a sound by blowing through a blade of grass or two halves of a thin sheet of paper held together. The clarinet uses one reed while the oboe and bassoon are double-reed instruments, meaning that they have two reeds back to back rather than a mouthpiece.

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