This section of the orchestra got its name from the fact that many of its instruments were originally made from wood. Now they can be made from plastic, silver, gold - even platinum!
The four instruments that make up the woodwind section in an orchestra are the oboe, flute, clarinet and bassoon. Other woodwind instruments found in modern day orchestras include the piccolo, English horn and contrabassoon.
The woodwind instruments are categorised into three categories, according to whether or not they have a reed – a thin piece of wood that is attached to the instrument. Some have none, as in the case of the flute, some have one, such as the clarinet, and some even have two.
The oboe is made of wood with metal keys, and played by blowing a double reed (two pieces of reed joined together). It looks a lot like a clarinet, except for the mouthpiece. There are two to four oboes in an orchestra.
The oboe makes a beautiful sound, clear and penetrating, and when an orchestra tunes up it acts as the guide for the other instruments.
To play it, you hold the oboe in up-and-down position, put the end of the double reed in your mouth and blow. You use both hands to press on the keys to open and close the holes, and change the pitch of the sounds.
A standard oboe is 2 feet long.
The bassoon is so long that it has to be bent in half! It is the lowest of the woodwind instruments. It is made out of maple wood (or plastic) and has a double reed. The bassoon is a very versatile instrument. It can play very low notes and still get quite high. It can also play very quick passages of music. Its warm, dark and reedy voice closely resembles that of a male baritone voice.
The clarinet is played with a reed, which is a very thin piece of wood that vibrates when you blow through it. A relative youngster in the orchestra, the clarinet is only about 300 years old, although it does have more than a dozen types! There are two to four clarinets in an orchestra.
It is a long slender tube made of wood with metal keys to press. The bottom of the clarinet is shaped like a bell. Most clarinets played in an orchestra are made from African hardwoods, although you can find some made from plastic, rubber, metal and even ivory.
To play it, you hold the clarinet in an up-and-down position, put the mouthpiece and the reed in your mouth, and blow. You use both hands to press on the keys to open and close the holes, and change the pitch of the sounds. A standard clarinet is 26 inches long.
Throughout history, flutes have been made from lots of materials, such as wood, and the earliest examples found were made from a bear's bone with holes in! Today flutes are usually made from silver, gold or some other type of metal. There are between two and four flutes in an orchestra.
In addition to the flute, a flute player can also play other related instruments. The piccolo looks like the flute, but is much smaller and sounds very high. The alto flute sounds lower than the flute, and is a little longer. A standard flute is around 27 1/2 inches long.