Woodwind instruments used to be made just of wood but today they’re 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. You play them by blowing air through the mouthpiece and opening or closing the holes with your fingers to change the pitch. 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.
You’ll find a wide range of woodwind instruments in orchestras and sometimes on their own in small ensembles, mostly playing classical music. Otherwise, you don’t see them that often, with the exception perhaps of the clarinet in pre-war jazz (here’s Acker Bilk playing Stranger on the Shore) and the flute occasionally in pop and folk music (remember Jethro Tull?).
Here’s a list of the most common woodwind instruments along with their ranges:
|How this is scored:||How this sounds:|
|Piccolo||Treble clef||D4-C7||Up one octave, i.e. D5-C8|
|Flute||Treble clef||C4-D7||As written|
|Oboe||Treble clef||Bb3-A6||As written|
|Clarinet||Treble clef||E3-C7||Bb clarinet: down two semi-tones|
|A clarinet: down three semi-tones|
|Eb clarinet: up three semi-tones|
|Bassoon||Bass clef||Bb1-Eb5||As written|
So, I have had a go at composing for a woodwind ensemble. Rather than try something classical, I’ve taken an existing song, which has the feel of a traditional show tune, and re-arranged this for a quartet of flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon. To produce this, I used the Symphony Series – Woodwind Solo samples from Native Instruments, which definitely do the job.
What am I going to do?
Here’s a video of the same piece, showing the score:
This exercise was a lot of fun and I’ll definitely try creating some more woodwind pieces in other genres.