What is a Woodwind Instrument?

Beginner's Guide to Woodwind Instruments

Although woodwind and brass typically fall under the wind instruments category, the woodwind family is a great place for a beginning musician to start. These instruments are generally easier to play because of the way the air is blown into them, and many musicians who begin their music education with an instrument from the woodwind family eventually move on to learn how to play instruments in the brass family. From the clarinet to the flute, find out what makes each of the woodwind instruments so special.


The clarinet, a single-reed instrument played by blowing into a mouthpiece, was heavily favored by Mozart. In fact, he featured the clarinet in several solos throughout his compositions. Due to its sheer versatility, the clarinet is featured in genres that range from classical and jazz to military and marching bands. Closely associated with early jazz and Dixieland music, the clarinet quickly became a staple of Big Band and Swing music. Included in the clarinet family are soprano, bass, B flat, and E flat clarinets- each producing a slightly different sound.


Thought to be the very first musical instrument, the flute creates a slightly higher sound than that of the clarinet. Pitched in the key of C with a range of three octaves, concert flutes are one of the most common instruments in an orchestra. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, the flute is a reedless wind instrument that produces its sound by the flow of air across an opening. Although flutes were rarely featured in early jazz music, the instrument has gradually found its way into Big Band, jazz, and even classic rock music.


Italian for “small”, the piccolo is essentially a small flute, with sound produced the same way as a regular-sized flute except an octave higher. Popular with Bach and Handel, perhaps the most notable piccolo piece is John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Gemeinhardt, a highly respected flute and piccolo manufacturer, manufactures a wide range of piccolos suited for professionals, students, and conservatory players alike. Whether playing in a professional orchestra or a high school marching band, Music & Arts has plenty of Gemeinhardt piccolos for you to choose from.

Gemeinhardt Model 4SP Piccolo Standard

The Gemeinhardt 4SP Piccolo is in the key of C. Silver-plated head, body, and keys; beryllium copper springs. Learn More.


Created by Adolfe Sax in 1846, the saxophone was meant to bridge the gap between the brass section and woodwinds. By coupling strong vocal quality with the agility often associated with woodwinds, the saxophone provides an ideal balance between the two. Although the saxophone was intended to be a military instrument, it has since found its place in concert music, marching bands, orchestras, symphonies, and chamber music. Since it’s closely associated with the two, it’s often used to double a woodwind or brass instrument. Yamaha saxophones are widely held is some of the best for both marching and concert performance.

amaha YTS-62III Professional Tenor Saxophone

Introduced in 1979, the YAS-62 and YTS-62 saxophones withstand the tests of time and competition and have been in a continual state of improvement since the launch of the YAS-61 in 1969. Learn More.


Upon first glance, the oboe looks very similar to the clarinet. What differentiates the oboe from the clarinet and other woodwind instruments rich, penetrating sound. Since its introduction in the 17th century, the oboe has become an orchestra staple highlighted in numerous classical compositions. Fox, one of the most influential oboe manufacturers, has a history of working with prominent musicians to combine expertise with precision. Since the oboe has such a distinct sound, it’s often used as a tuning instrument in orchestras and symphonies.

Fox Renard Model 330 Oboe Standard

The Fox Model 330 oboe features a high quality plastic resin body whose bore is hand-reamed and finished by Fox craftsmen. Learn More.


Generally described as sounding like a male baritone voice, the bassoon’s dark, reedy sound can’t be mistaken. It’s larger in size than most other woodwind instruments and is commonly used to double other instruments.Bassoon styles fall into one of two systems- the Heckel System and the Buffet System. Although the Buffet System is used throughout Europe and Latin America, the Heckel System is generally regarded as the universal standard. For information about the other part of the wind instrument family, check out our Brass Instruments Guide.

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