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Suggested Reading

1. Rehearsal Rooms

Struggling to improve the acoustics in your band room? Check out how the Medan Band did it.

2. Concerned about playing swing music properly?

Check out my guidelines

3. Ear training exercises for bands

Unlike piano players, ear training is essential for wind band performers. But how many band directors bother to give their bands suitable exercises?

4. Intonation problems

While tuning is simple act of adjusting a length of tubing on a wind instrument (often by reference to a single note), intonation is an ongoing process in which a player strives to match the pitch of others in the ensemble during performance. 

5. “Blowing” a wind instrument

A common misconception among wind players is to believe that the air moves through the instrument in order to produce the sound. This is simply not true. 

6. Conducting – suggestions for home practice

The best way for a conductor to improve is in front of a live ensemble. The unfortunate reality, however, is that this is not always possible. Aspiring conductors therefore have little choice but to find other ways of honing their skills.

 

Definition

Most people think they have a fairly good idea what woodwind instruments are.  Demand a definition rather than a list of examples, however, and even woodwind players look uneasy.  Despite the name, not all woodwinds are (or were) made of wood.  The saxophone is the obvious exception.  Nor do they all use a wooden reed as a tone generator.  The flute, as an “air reed” instrument, uses the principle of a sharp edge splitting the airstream.  In fact, as the following table makes clear, just about every common denominator worth considering as part of a working definition has at least one important exception.

Woodwinds: In Search of a Definition

Generalization

Exception

Originally made of wood.

Saxophone

Use a wooden reed as a tone generator.

Flute

Open tone holes that are covered with the fingers

Saxophone

Behave acoustically as conical bore instruments

Clarinet

Perhaps the best that can be said by way of definition – and it is not much of one -- is that woodwind instruments are musical instruments that are or were made of wood and/or use a reed as a sound generator.  In other words, they all have some connection with wood.  This definition effectively distinguishes them from brass instruments, but still makes the woodwind family seem more like a collection of disparate instruments rather than a homogeneous group. 

Classifying woodwind instruments into subcategories is much easier.  This is done according to the way the sound is produced.  The clarinets and saxophones comprise the single reed category, while the double reed category is made up of the oboe and bassoon. [A third member, the Cor Anglais or English Horn, only rarely makes an appearance in the wind band]. In the wind band, the flute and piccolo stand apart since they depend upon an “air reed”.  The humble recorder follows a similar principle, but is not considered a regular member of the secondary school or college wind band. 

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