What can I play?

Woodwind Instruments

  • Woodwind instruments are usually played by blowing on a reed attached to a mouthpiece of an instrument (like a clarinet) or by blowing across a hole in a tube (like a flute).
  • The notes are played by opening and closing the holes on the instrument.
  • Many woodwind instruments are made in several parts that are fitted together.
  • The instruments in this family all used to be made of wood, which gives them their name. Today, they are made of wood, metal, plastic or some combination.
  • They are all basically narrow cylinders or pipes, with holes, an opening at the bottom end and a mouthpiece at the top.
  • The mouthpieces for some woodwinds, including the clarinet, oboe and bassoon, use a thin piece of wood called a reed, which vibrates when you blow across it. 
  • Just as with the stringed instruments, the smaller woodwinds play higher pitches while the longer and larger instruments play the lower notes.

Find out more about the different woodwind instruments below.


image of a fife

  • fife is a small, high-pitched, aerophone, that is similar to the piccolo. It originated in medieval Europe and is often used in fife and drum corpsmilitary units, and marching bands.
  • Fifes are made primarily of wood, but some fifes are entirely made of metal or plastic.
  • It is a tube with holes, which tou play by blowing across a embouchure hole and covering the 6 finger holes with both hands to change the pitch
  • Fifes are most commonly used in Fife and Drum Corps, but can also be found in folk music, particularly Celtic music. Some Caribbean music makes use of fifes, which are usually made from bamboo.


image of a recorder

  • The recorder is first documented in Europe in the Middle Ages, and continued to enjoy wide popularity in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It was revived in the twentieth century as part of the historically informed performance movement, and became a popular amateur and educational instrument.Shakespeare mentions the recorder in Hamlet, written at the turn of the seventeenth century,
  • The recorder produces sound in the manner of a whistle or an organ flue pipe. The recorder is held with both hands, covering the fingerholes or depressing the keys with the pads of the fingers:  You make a sound by blowing into the head joint and covering the finger holes, in combination or partially covered, the change the pitch and sound of the instrument.
  • recorders are popular in schools, as they are one of the cheapest instruments to buy in bulk They are also relatively easy to play at a basic level because sound production needs only breath, and pitch is primarily determined by fingering
  • The recorder is a very social instrument and many recorder players participate in large groups.



  • The flute is the oldest of all instruments that produce pitched sounds (not just rhythms),
  • You play the flute by holding it sideways with both hands and blowing across a hole in the mouthpiece, much like blowing across the top of a bottle. Your fingers open and close the keys, which changes the pitch.
  • It was originally made from wood, stone, clay or hollow reeds like bamboo. Modern flutes are made of silver, gold or platinum;
  • there are generally 2 to 4 flutes in an orchestra.


image of a clarinet

  • The clarinet could easily be mistaken for an oboe, except for the mouthpiece, which uses a single reed.
  • You play the clarinet as you do an oboe, by holding it upright, blowing through the reed, and using your hands to change the pitches by opening and closing the keys with your fingers.
  • Clarinets come in a number of different sizes, and the standard B-flat clarinet is just over 2 feet long. Some musical works require the clarinetist to play several types of clarinet in the same piece.
  • There are 2 to 4 clarinets in the orchestra play both melodies and harmonies, and they have a dark rich sound in their lower notes, while the upper part of the clarinet's range is bright and resonant.


image of a saxophone

  • The saxophone is an instrument with a tone somewhere between a brass instrument and a woodwind with a smooth bright sound.
  •  The sax is a must in all types of music from jazz, to classical and pop,
  • It is made up of brass and it is played with a single-reed mouthpiece. It has holes in it which player closes using a system of key mechanisms.     


 image of an oboeThe oboe is a 2 foot long black cylinder with metal keys covering its holes, uses a double reed, which vibrates when you blow through it. T

  • To play it, you hold the oboe upright, blow through the double reed in your mouth, and use both hands to press down on the keys to open and close the holes and change the pitch.
  • There are usually 2 to 4 oboes in an orchestra and they produce a wide range of pitches, from haunting sounds to warm, velvety smooth notes, which make the sound of the oboe very memorable.
  • In addition to playing in the orchestra, the first oboist is also responsible for tuning the orchestra before each concert. Listen for the special note "A" that the oboe plays before the music begins.

Find out more about musical instruments on the BBC Bitesize website