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Wind instruments

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What are wind instruments?

Wind instruments are

musical instruments

in which the musician blows air through the mouthpiece to produce a sound. The simplest wind instruments were flutes made of bone or reed. Today there is a wide variety of wind instruments made from different materials such as plastic, metal or wood. Wind instruments are used in various musical genres such as jazz and classical music. Many wind instruments are often played together in a wind orchestra. There are also other musical instruments that produce sound through airflow, such as




but these do not count as wind instruments. Wind instruments belong to the

Hornbostel-Sachs classification

belong to the aerophones.

History of wind instruments

Wind instruments have a long history and have been used since prehistoric times. The first wind instruments were simple flutes made of bone or reed, which were made by Neanderthals around 43,000 years ago. This information comes from archaeological finds in which flutes made of bone and ivory were discovered that were dated to the Neanderthal era. The flutes were found in several caves in Europe and are proof that the Neanderthals were able to make complex tools and produce musical sounds.

Over the course of time, wind instruments were developed and refined, and ever more complex and varied instruments were created. Wind instruments such as the aulos and the


were widespread in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Wind instruments such as the


the oboe and the bassoon


were mainly used in classical music in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, while in the Baroque period instruments such as the


and the


were popular. Nowadays there is a wide variety of wind instruments, from the simple recorder to complex saxophones and clarinets, which are also used in other musical genres such as jazz and pop music. Wind instruments are also important in modern

music production

and are often electronically altered and alienated to create new worlds of sound.

How is sound produced in a wind instrument?

The easiest way to do this with the recorder is to guide the air past an edge. This is the hole you see at the top of the recorder. The air then goes partly outside and partly into the flute and vibrates there. This is easy for the player, which is why the recorder is usually the first wind instrument a child learns to play. With the transverse flute or pan flute, the musician must blow correctly over the hole to produce the sound. That is much more difficult.

In the mouthpiece of the


and in the


a thin wooden plate is attached, which vibrates when blown and produces the sound. This plate is called a reed because it is made from reeds. This is why the saxophone is a woodwind instrument, even though it is largely made of brass. Because there is only a single reed here, this group is called the single reed instruments.



, the bassoon, the bagpipes and many other instruments need two reeds. This group is therefore called double-reed instruments. They are also woodwind instruments.

Brass instruments produce a completely different sound. This group includes the trumpet, the


all types of horns and many others. The mouthpiece has the shape of a kettle or funnel. The musician puts his lips to it. Depending on how hard he presses his lips together, how hard he blows and how long the instrument is, a different pitch is produced. You can even do this with a garden hose. The musician’s lips vibrate and set the air in motion.

How do you distinguish between woodwind and brass instruments?

The distinction between

woodwind instruments


brass instruments

is simple: if the instrument has holes through which the air can escape and thus produce different tones, it is a woodwind instrument. If these holes are missing, the instrument belongs to the group of brass instruments.

However, the name of these categories explains itself differently than one might expect. It does not matter what material the instrument is made of, only the mouthpiece. This is where the air is made to vibrate, which produces the sound.

The mouthpiece of brass instruments is made of metal. The sound is not produced by the vibrations of the mouthpiece, but by the vibration of the musician’s lips, which cause the air to vibrate.

Many woodwind instruments use one or two wooden reeds to generate the vibration. This is the reason why they are called woodwind instruments.

How are the different pitches created?

Woodwind instruments have holes on the instrument that the musician can either leave open or close one after the other with their fingers or keys. If the air column in the instrument becomes longer as the musician closes the holes, the tone becomes deeper. This is the case with the flute or clarinet, for example.

In contrast, with brass instruments the musician produces certain pitches through the tension of his lips and the air pressure from his lungs. The pitch can also be altered by the musician pulling out the slide trombone, for example, which makes the air column longer and the tone lower. Trumpets and some other wind instruments have valves that can be used to lengthen or shorten the tubes and thus the air column. So there are two ways to change the pitch here, which is a little more complicated.

List of wind instruments


Wind instruments