Woodwind instruments are a family of musical instruments within the more general category of wind instruments. Common examples include flute, clarinet, oboe, saxophone, and bassoon. There are two main types of woodwind instruments: flutes and reed instruments (otherwise called reed pipes).The Woodwind family does not include every instrument. all wind instruments are woodwinds. The difference between woodwind instruments and brass instruments (the other type of wind instrument) is actually pretty simple. Woodwind instruments create variations in sound due to the instrument itself. Brass instruments change sound because of the vibrations of the musician’s lips.
The most basic woodwind instruments include reed instruments, such as the oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, and contrabassoon. There are a few non-reed instruments, too, including the flute, piccolo, and recorder. Lots of these instruments have multiple forms (such as soprano instead of alto), so there are a surprising amount of options for woodwind instruments. Bagpipes count, too, although you won’t often see those in a traditional orchestra setting. being used!
The changes in sound and tone are due to the length of the instrument. The air travels through the column of the instrument. A high frequency has a high pitch and a short column for the air, whereas the larger instruments with more column space create a lower frequency with a low pitch. Humans hear high frequencies with more sensitivity, which is why it’s easier to notice the high-pitched trill of the piccolo over the low thrum of the bassoon. (Thanks to the folks at the University of New South Wales for explaining these concepts in a clear manner. For more details, check out their post related to the workings of woodwinds here.)