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What Instruments Are Included in the Woodwind Family?

By Patti Kate
Updated May 23, 2024
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The oboe, bassoon, and clarinet are common instruments of the woodwind family included in orchestras. Many school bands offer students the opportunity to play woodwind instruments, including the saxophone and flute. The piccolo and french horn also belong to the woodwind family. Most all woodwind instruments are cylindrical and made with a hole or reed for allowing forced air to create musical sounds.

Instruments in the woodwind family may be made of variety of materials. Some instruments are made of wood, while others are made of ivory or metal. Children's toys, such as saxophones and flutes, are often made of plastic.

Bagpipes are a popular woodwind musical instrument commonly played in Scotland. The name come from the large sack-like bag the instrument features. Blowing through the pipes will fill the bag with air, producing the distinctive musical sound the instrument is known for.

An alto saxophone belongs to the woodwind family, and is most suitable for beginners, due to its small size. The alto saxophone does not require as much forced air to play, also making it a good choice for young children. The saxophone uses a single reed that causes air to vibrate and enable the instrument to create various sounds. This woodwind instrument is typically constructed of brass.

A recorder is a woodwind instrument that resembles a flute, and it is most suitable for children or beginners. Most recorders are constructed of solid wood, although children's varieties may be made of durable plastic. The sounds produced by the recorder resemble that of a high-pitched whistle.

The ocarina has been around since ancient times and is believed to have originated in China. The ocarina belongs to the woodwind family and has a teardrop-shaped appearance. Many ocarinas are made with ceramic materials, although some variations exist. One type of ocarina is often referred to as a mini or pendant style, and this is lightweight and small, ideal for traveling.

Maintenance and care is required for most woodwind instruments. Due to the fact that these instruments are played using mouthpieces, sanitation is essential. Sanitizing the lip plate or mouthpiece of a woodwind instrument will prevent the growth of bacteria. A professional should perform preventive maintenance on the instrument approximately every 12 months.

Many books relating to the history of woodwind instruments have been published. Pictorial books are generally created for the child or beginner. Publications relating to woodwind instrument design are often written in an encyclopedic format.

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Discussion Comments

By PinkLady4 — On Nov 07, 2011

I've learned a few things about the woodwind instrument family. I never realized that the alto saxophone, because of its smaller size, is recommended for a child. I always thought the sax was for older kids. I think that saxophone is my favorite woodwind instrument. I like the sound of it very much.

I know how the bagpipe works, but I never actually thought of it belonging with the woodwinds.

And the ocarina - I've never seen one of those. I'll bet it has a nice sound.

By Esther11 — On Nov 06, 2011

I just went to my granddaughter's elementary school and attended the third grade class recorder concert. There were more than 100 children trying to stay together. They actually did pretty well.

The recorder is a great instrument to begin with. It's light weight, and is a fairly easy instrument to learn.

My granddaughter wants to take music lessons next year. She is thinking about the clarinet or the flute.

By strawCake — On Nov 06, 2011

I have a piece of advice for students who are choosing an instrument from a woodwind instrument list. This may seem a bit shallow, but it's a good idea to choose an instrument that is small enough for you to carry (keep in mind you'll be carrying it with you in a case)!

When you play an instrument at school, usually you have to carry it with you to and from school. Some of those instruments (the tuba comes to mind) are quite heavy! Once you factor in carrying a backpack and a lunchbox too, going to and from school on a bus can be quite the job!

By Azuza — On Nov 06, 2011

@vogueknit17 - I played clarinet in elementary school and continued in middle school. I think it is definitely fairly common to play two instruments in the same family. I did! After I learned how to play the clarinet, I taught myself how to play the flute!

I think just about anyone who plays one woodwind instrument could teach themselves how to play another. For me, it was very easy, even though a clarinet is reed instrument and a flute is not. It only took me about 6 months before I was fairly proficient at the flute.

By BambooForest — On Nov 05, 2011

@vogueknit17- I think that's true for string instruments as well. I learned to play some piano at a young age, which is technically also a string instrument, and I was able to pick up guitar pretty easily as a teenager. I've also tried playing a friend's cello a few times, although they're too expensive for me to get one myself just to try; the mechanics of playing it were similar though, and felt familiar to me after piano and guitar.

By vogueknit17 — On Nov 04, 2011

I think it is true that people can learn several instruments in the same "family" fairly easily. I have a friend who plays piccolo and flute, and another who plays clarinet and bassoon. My best friend plays trumpet, but also has played french horn, cornet, and tuba. I don't know about instruments in the string family as much, but I know with woodwind and brasswind instruments it is pretty common for people to learn several.

By andee — On Nov 04, 2011

@myharley - I can give you a little bit of insight from personal experience, but it will come down to personal preference for your daughter.

When my sister and I were in band, I played the clarinet and she played the saxophone, so the woodwind family instruments were common in our family.

My sister stuck with the saxophone longer than I stayed with the clarinet. As far as learning how to play them, I think there are a lot of similarities between them.

One of the things most common between them is that they are both reed instruments. Other than that, it is a matter of learning the notes.

The clarinet has a different tone than the saxophone, and is also much lighter to carry around. If this is something she is going to be hauling to and from school, that is something she may want to think about.

My sister didn't like carrying the heavier saxophone with her, while my clarinet was much easier and lighter to carry back and forth.

By myharley — On Nov 03, 2011

Does anyone have any suggestions about a preference for the clarinet or saxophone?

My daughter is trying to decide between the two of them. This is her fist exposure to playing an instrument. At her school, they are required to choose something from the woodwind instrument family for their first year in the music program.

I am not sure why they have this policy, but this pretty much leaves her to decide between one of these two woodwind instruments.

Whichever one she goes with, we are just going to rent the instrument for a year and see how she gets along with it.

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