Woodwind instrument

Woodwind instrument, the conventional designation for instruments in which the oscillation of the air column is formed by air-laying or reed. The instruments do not always exist, of wood; For example, the first known flutes were made ​​of bone, and many contemporary woodwind instruments are made ​​of metal or plastics. On the other hand, for example, the zinc from wood, but is to be among the brass instruments because of the nature of its oscillation generation.


A precise definition of which include instruments to woodwind instruments is difficult.

  • The "typical" woodwind instruments such as flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, saxophones are blown by the player directly to the mouth,
  • The pitch is given by the length of the vibratory column of air in the instrument ( the frequencies of the sound produced are natural frequencies of the column of air )
  • And the air column length is from the player by opening and closing of tone holes - selected - either with your fingers or by means flaps.
  • In a wider sense, some woodwind instruments are also those that can produce a single pitch only ever, and therefore have no tone holes, such as the whistle of the panpipes, the whistles, and not blown with the mouth instruments such as the flue pipes of the organ.
  • In yet another sense, be regarded as woodwind instruments, in which a column of air is available, the pitch, however, is determined by the natural frequency of a resilient tongue. The air column can be tuned to resonance with the tongue; This has a major impact on the volume and tone color, but only a minor effect on the pitch. Such instruments always produce only one pitch and therefore have no finger holes. This group includes the drones of a bagpipe and reed pipes of an organ. Because of the similarity in structure, partly in sound, this tongue instruments are often confused with the reed instruments ( such as the clarinet, oboe, etc.).

The following text refers only to a large extent on the "typical" wood wind instruments with tone holes.



The column of air in the instrument is excited by the player at the mouthpiece to vibrate. Here are three kinds of woodwind instruments can be distinguished:

  • A flat shaped air ( " air blade " ) strikes a Anblaskante (Latin labium, lip ) and gets there to oscillate (eg flutes),
  • Or a single reed vibrates against a fixed orifice (eg Clarinet, Saxophone )
  • Or a symmetrical pair of reeds vibrate against each other (eg, oboe, bassoon).

By operation of the tone holes a certain length of the oscillatory air column is selected ( sometimes with a predetermined position of an additional wave node in the course ). The vibration then adjusts itself through resonance with the air column, thus forming a standing wave at the desired pitch. The lowest note results when all tone holes are closed, the air column thus has the length of the entire instrument.

As with any musical instrument, the oscillation is not purely sinusoidal, thus contains not only the length of the air column corresponding tone, but also harmonics. These determine the sound color. The proportions of the different overtones from hanging

  • The nature of the vibrational excitation (air sheet, simple reed double reed )
  • The blowing pressure,
  • The material of the instrument body (more precisely, the reflection and absorption properties of the inner wall of sound waves of different frequencies)
  • Of the shape of the bore of the instrument: conical with the largest diameter at the bell (oboe, saxophone), conical, with the largest diameter at the mouthpiece (recorder, flute ), cylindrical (clarinet, Boehm flute),
  • Irregularities and roughness of the inner wall. These include the tone holes. Arthur Benade reported from an experiment to blow an ordinary plastic pipe with a double-reed mouthpiece, and describes its sound as dull and unattractive. The same plastic tube, provided with suitable holes for handle holes, on the other hand provided a sound with twangy, warm wood timbre, which already resembled an oboe.

There must be swaying at the beginning of each sound, the vibration of the air column only ( transient ), woodwinds respond slower than about a percussion instrument or piano and have to be " forward-looking " played. For good " speech " of an instrument shortest possible transient response is standard on all tones.

The physics of Tonentstehung in woodwind instruments is not yet understood despite many years of efforts in every detail.

Length and pitch

The practical experience and since the 19th century, mathematical and physical considerations of scientists such as Hermann von Helmholtz and John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh brought the realization that when a reed instrument with a cylindrical bore (like the clarinet) is the wavelength of the fundamental four times as great as the length of the air column is for any other woodwind instruments, however, only twice. This explains, for example, why a clarinet at approximately the same size much deeper tones achieved as a flute or oboe.


Overblowing the names of the techniques by increasing the Anblasdrucks or other measures, the instrument in a higher position (sometimes called " the Register" ) to play, so instead of the fundamental vibration of the air column one of their higher nature sounds (and its more overtones ) to stimulate. In practice, woodwind instruments can be overblown only until the third or fourth natural.


  • Air sheet instruments: the air sheet instruments or flutes can be divided into two groups, each with several sub-species divide: longitudinal flutes (for example, recorders ) and flutes. The flue pipes of the organ are also among the flutes. The article is one flute, with a slightly different classification, many special types of flutes on. Some of them are to be expected only in a very broad sense to the music instrument group discussed here.
  • With a single reed instruments: including Chalumeau, saxophone, clarinet, basset clarinet, basset horn, bass clarinet
  • Instruments with double-reed Shawm instruments (the player holding the double-reed between the lips ): including shawm, Pommer, oboe, English horn, oboe d' amore, Heckelphone, bassoon, contrabassoon, dulcian, rankett, suona, duduk

Root Head

Woodwinds, like other instruments for more detailed description often referred to as a tone name: It is said that the oboe "is a C instrument" or " is in C", sometimes a little misleading, " the oboe is pitched in C". This refers to the root head, so that the major scale, which is playable on the instrument the easiest and best, such as C major on the soprano or F major on the alto recorder. The more different a key to the root ladder, the more difficult it is playing technique. Clarinet in the symphony orchestra why not always use the same instrument, but depending on the key and according to the specifications of the composer a clarinet in A or in B.

Sometimes " tuned in C" with just meant that the scores for this instrument are usually written in the real pitch, not transposed (see transposing musical instrument ). Accordingly, for example, " in B voted " for some instruments ( clarinet), that the usual notation is done by a whole tone higher than the actual sound. For recorders on the other hand, it is also available with various root ladders, transposed notes are not common.


The mood in the sense of the absolute level of a particular tone - the practice of a1 - is given by the construction of the instrument and can be, unlike strings, change only within very narrow limits (about a quarter tone ). Modern instruments have, for example, a1 = 440 or 442 Hz, baroque instruments (original or copied ) is often 395-415 Hz, Renaissance instruments and 466 Hz


Woodwind are among the first instruments ever. One of the oldest discovered to date instruments, a flute from swan bones ( wing bone of a swan ) from a cave in Blaubeuren is estimated to be more than 40,000 years. From the Middle Ages until around 1800, the instruments developed more slowly. Since the beginning of the 19th century, however, they changed significantly, mainly due to the improved possibilities to build complicated flaps tuners.