An Introduction to Brass and Woodwind Musical Instruments

The sound created from the families of brass and woodwind instruments depend on the length. The longer the instrument, the lower the sound. The sound you hear is created when air vibrates inside. The first woodwind instruments were created from wood. Today wood is still primary but some are made from metal. Brass instruments are just that, created from brass.

When listening to an orchestra, you will hear many instruments from the brass and woodwind group. The brass section of the orchestra has trumpets, tubas, trombones and French horns. The woodwind section is comprised of clarinets, flutes, bassoons, oboes and at times saxophones.

A great variety of music is played with the brass and woodwind musical instruments including folk music, pop, jazz and rock.

The French Horn

If you pulled a French horn straight out, it would be nearly 30 feet long. It is made from metal tubing which is coiled with a wide cone shaped bell at one end. The French horn plays a very important role in brass bands and orchestras. The French horn player puts one hand inside the bell to play. They blow into to mouthpiece and make the different sounds by changing the shape of their lips. There are three levers that the players push to create different sounds.

The Trumpet

Bronze and silver trumpets were played thousands of years ago by the ancient Egyptians. Since that time, trumpets have been played all over the world. Today they are tightly coiled metal tubes with a cone bell at one end and a mouthpiece at the other. The player of the trumpet pushes down the small valves to make the different notes.

The Trombone

The metal tube of the trombone is curled twice. It has a section which moves in and out to create the different notes. This section is called the slide The trombone plays lower notes than the trumpet as the tube is longer. It was first played approximately 600 years ago.

The Tuba

Widely known as the granddaddy of all brass instruments, the tuba plays the lowest notes. It is so large that whoever plays it must sit down and rest this large musical instrument on his or her knee. The biggest tuba is eight feet high and when uncoiled is nearly forty-five feed long.

The Sousaphone

John Philip Sousa, an American, invented the sousaphone approximately 100 years ago. He wanted to create a low sounding brass instrument for marching bands. The sousaphone does indeed have a very low deep sound. The size of this musical instrument is so large that the player has to carry it looped over their body and resting on their shoulder. Small button valves close and open to make the different sounds.

The Oboe

Beautiful sweet notes come from the long thin shape of the oboe. Oboe players blow through a double reed which is made from two small slices of cane which are tied together tightly. The player covers the finger holes and presses the small metal caps, called keys, to create the different notes. Oboes are used in orchestras and ensembles main for classical music.

The Clarinet

First heard in the 1700s the sound of the clarinet is sweet and shrill. It is also played through a reed made of cane and the player can change the sound by moving his or her mouth changing the vibrations made by the reed. There are finger holes and metals keys on the clarinet. These create the different notes. The soprano clarinet is the most common, but there are several types.

The Bassoon

The bassoon is a doubled up wooden tube with a curved metal crook. This crook holds the reed. The crook makes it much easier for the player to blow through the mouthpiece and to press the keys at the same time. The bassoonists wear their musical instrument on a neck strap when they play.

The Saxophone

The metal saxophone is actually a woodwind instrument and was invented about one hundred and fifty years ago. The saxophone is a tube of thin metal that widens at one end into a cone shape. There are 18-21 finger holes which are covered by small keys. A reed, made again of cane, is attached to the mouthpiece. The saxophone produces a rich smooth sound. The smallest saxophone plays the highest notes. The contrabass is the largest saxophone and the most popular are the alto and tenor.

The Harmonica

A small metal box with a row of reeds inside, the harmonica is played when the person blows or sucks on it. Harmonicas were first created about one hundred and fifty years ago and are also called mouth organs. Many people play the harmonica at the same time as the guitar and can be held in place by a metal frame around the singer's neck.

The Sheng

The Chinese sheng was invented thousands of years ago. It is made from 17 bamboo pipes and a gourd. A metal ban holds the pipes together and each has a finger hole and a reed that vibrates when the finger covers the hole. This musical instrument is played often in Chinese orchestras.


The bagpipes are just that, a bag of air with several pipes sticking out of it at various angles. The bagpipes are played in many countries, including Scotland, Ireland, England, Italy, France, Greece, India and Eastern European countries. The bagpipes make a loud wailing sound that carries a great distance. The bagpiper blows into a long pipe called a blowpipe. This fills the bag with air. The air escapes through the other pipes. A small pipe called the chanter has finger holes that the piper covers to make different notes.

By: Kim Novak

About the Author:

Kim Novak is a life long lover of music. She writes and instructs students in a variety of musical instruments. If you are looking for information or to purchase musical instruments, please visit Trusted Musical Instruments website.