Wind instrument

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A wind instrument is a musical instrument that contains some type of resonator (usually a tube), in which a column of air is set into vibration by the player blowing into (or over) a mouthpiece set at the end of the resonator. The pitch of the vibration is determined by the length of the tube and by manual modifications of the effective length of the vibrating column of air. In the case of some wind instruments, sound is produced by blowing through a reed; others require buzzing into a metal mouthpiece.


Methods for obtaining different notes

  • Changing the length of the vibrating air column, by changing the effective length of the tube through opening or closing holes in the side of the tube. This can be done by covering the holes with fingers or pressing a key which then closes the hole. This method is used in nearly all woodwind instruments.
  • Changing the length of the vibrating air column, by changing the length of the tube, through engaging valves (see rotary valve, piston valve) which route the air through additional tubing, thereby increasing overall tube length, thereby lowering the fundamental pitch. This method is used on nearly all brass instruments.
  • Changing the length of the vibrating air column, by lengthening and/or shortening the tube using a sliding mechanism. This method is used on the trombone and the slide whistle.
  • Making the column of air vibrate at different harmonics, without changing the length of the column of air (see harmonic series).

All wind instruments use a combination of the first or second or third and the fourth method to extend their register.

Types of wind instruments

Wind instruments are typically grouped into two different families: [1]

Although brass instruments were originally made of brass and woodwind instruments have traditionally been made of wood, the material used to make the body of the instrument is not always a reliable guide to its family type. A more accurate way to determine whether an instrument is brass or woodwind is to examine how the player produces sound. In brass instruments, the player's lips vibrate, causing the air within the instrument to vibrate. In woodwind instruments the player either:

  • causes a reed to vibrate, which agitates the column of air (as in a clarinet, oboe or duduk)
  • blows against an edge or fipple (as in a recorder), or
  • blows across the edge of an open hole (as in a flute).

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