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Woodwind Instruments vs Brass Instruments

Woodwind Instruments vs Brass Instruments


Woodwind Instruments

The woodwind instruments is a subset of the more general category of wind instruments. Within the woodwind family, there are two main types of instruments: reed instruments and flutes. The reason reed woodwind instruments are identified as “woodwind” is based on the way they produce their sound which is by splitting the player’s air stream on a sharp edge, such as a reed. Many people are confused by the name woodwind, thinking that these instruments should be made exclusively from wood. However, they can be made of any material such as wood, brass, cane, silver, gold or platinum.

Woodwind instruments for beginner and professional players as well as hobbyists are incredibly popular. Many young band students start their musical careers on a woodwind instrument and will go on to play several within the family.

Brass instrument

A brass instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound by sympathetic vibration of air in a tubular resonator in sympathy with the vibration of the player's lips. 

There are several factors involved in producing different pitches on a brass instrument. Slides, valves, crooks , or keys are used to change vibratory length of tubing, thus changing the available harmonic series, while the player's embouchure, lip tension and air flow serve to select the specific harmonic produced from the available series.

Thus one finds brass instruments made of wood, like the alphorn, the cornett, the serpent and the didgeridoo, while some woodwind instruments are made of brass, like the saxophone.

Woodwind and Brass Instruments

Wind instruments usually use a tube as a resonator, and produce music when air is blown into  the tube. Woodwind instruments and brass instruments are two different types of wind instruments. However, many parents mistakenly believe that woodwind instruments are only made of wood. Whilst the name “woodwind instruments” was derived from the fact that the instruments were originally made from wood, with the development and expansion of the woodwind family, some woodwind instruments are also made from brass and other materials. Thus woodwind instruments should be differentiated from brass instruments not by the material with which the instruments are made, but rather by how the musical instruments produce sound. With brass instruments, sound is produced through the vibrations of the players’ lips. Woodwind instruments can be divided into three types – single-reed instruments, double-reed instruments, and flutes. Sound is produced when air blown into the tube is split by a reed or a sharp edge. Some of the most common single-reed instruments are clarinets and saxophones, whilst oboes are common double-reed instruments, and Western concert flutes are common flute instruments.

Different Sound Characteristics of the Woodwind Family

Within the woodwind family of instruments, the sound quality of each type of musical instrument is different.

The flute produces a sound that is soft and bright, flowing like water. It is also very flexible, and multiple notes can be played in a short amount of time.

The clarinet produces a wide range of sounds. The high notes sound bright, the middle notes sound warm, and the low notes sound full and mysterious.

The sound of a saxophone can be mellow and bold, so it is widely used in jazz music.

The oboe has a sound that is rich in pastoral and melancholy feeling, and is very suitable for playing lyric songs.

Parents may wish to first try and understand what types of music their children like, and then let them try different kinds of instruments. For example, if children like light and bright songs, they may wish to learn to play the flute. Children who like lyrical, sentimental songs may want to consider learning to play the oboe.

The Role of Woodwind Instruments in Orchestras and Bands

As their music playing skills develop and mature, quite a few children will participate in group performances and experience the team spirit of collaborating with other people. Many woodwind students may participate in wind quintets which are typically comprised of a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and also a brass instrument, a horn. Clarinets, oboes and flutes are all necessary instruments for an orchestra. In addition to these instruments, saxophones may also be a part of orchestras and bands.  However, saxophones are not always a commonly used instrument in classical orchestras as the saxophone family of instruments was invented relatively later. Nevertheless, the unique sound characteristics of the saxophone - rich and full of emotion – make it a mainstay of jazz and pop music. Saxophones may even be considered to be the musical instrument most representative of jazz music.

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