The wind section is traditionally known as the woodwind section even though not all the instruments are made of wood (for example the saxophone is made of metal). The woodwind section usually includes flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons. Saxophones are less commonly used.
The phrases "double-" "triple-" and "quadruple-" woodwind are often used to mean that there are two three or four of each type of instrument. Typical lineups would be as follows (saxophones can be added to any of these):
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
2 flutes + piccolo, 2 oboes + English horn, 2 clarinets + bass clarinet, 2 bassoons + contrabassoon
3 flutes + piccolo, 3 oboes + English horn, 3 clarinets + bass clarinet, 3 bassoons + contrabassoon.
The standard woodwind section is made up of flutes, oboes clarinets and bassoons. Rollover the image below to find out more about the woodwind section...
The sounds that woodwind instruments make fall into two main types: clear sounding (flute and clarinet) and slightly 'reedy' sounding (oboe and bassoon). These two main 'colours' work well in combination with each other but may also be used separately. Over the years composers have continually explored the many sound combinations achievable within the woodwind section. By following links at the top of this page you will be able to listen to examples that illustrate the enormously wide range of tone colours that the woodwind section can achieve.
Clarity and 'Reediness'
In the early 18th century, during Bach's lifetime, the woodwind section typically consisted of recorders, oboes and bassoons, all of which were made of wood. The oboes and bassoons which uses a double reed to produce the sound were balanced by the clear tones of the recorder. Small recorders could also play very high notes and so enable the woodwind section to encompass a very wide range from the bottom of the bassoon to the top of the recorder with the oboe providing the mid range notes.
By the end of the 18th century, during Mozart's lifetime, the modern woodwind section had been born. Two major changes had taken place:
- Recorders were replaced by the more powerful sounding flutes, or 'transverse flutes' as they were known, which were typically made of wood. Metal flutes became popular during the 19th century.
- The clarinet became an established member of the woodwind section.