Wind Instruments

Different wind instruments, what they sound like, and how they play.

There are many different kinds of wind instruments. Many people know the popular ones: trumpet, trombone, tuba, clarinet, flute. However, there are many, many more that add character to bands and orchestras in schools and professionally.


The trumpet is the highest and smallest of the brass instruments. It has a bright, clear tone and three valves. It frequently has solos or melody lines in music. It is in the key of B-flat.

French Horn

This is the next smallest of the brass instruments. It is round, with a large bell, and is played resting on the player's thigh. It has three valves, like the trumpet. A professional can actually play higher on the French horn than on the trumpet, though a school player will typically player lower. It has a dark, deep tone quality, partially because the player has his right hand in the bell. There are three kinds of horns: F, B-flat, and double. Most players use a double horn.


This is the first of "low brass." It typically doesn't have keys (though it can be made that way). Instead, it's played with a slide. It has a more present but deeper sound than a French horn does. It is frequently used in low melody lines and for solos.


This is a low brass instrument. It looks like a small tuba, and its range is roughly the same as a trombone's. It has a darker, more covered tone quality. It is also frequently used for melody lines or as a solo instrument. It is played sitting on the player's lap, with three valves.


This is the lowest and largest of the brass instruments. It has a very deep, dark tone quality. It is usually used to play the bass line, and is rarely used in melodies or solos, except in more advanced music. It's played sitting on the player's lap, with four valves.


This is the smallest of the woodwind instruments. It has an extremely bright, high tone quality. It is often made of grenadilla wood, though it's also made of metal. It is often used for solo lines.


This is the next smallest of the woodwind instruments. It has six tone holes and keys. It is played by blowing air across the hole in the mouthpiece, and is held parallel to the floor. It is frequently used in solos and melody lines.


This is the smallest of the single-reed instruments. It is played with keys and open tone holes. It has a darker tone quality and is sometimes used for solo and melody lines. It blends well with most instruments.

Bass Clarinet

This is a large clarinet, and the second most common. It is usually played with a stand on the floor, but can also be played using a neck strap. It has a dark, low tone quality and usually plays the bass lines. It is occasionally used for solo lines.


There are five saxophones: soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass. Almost no one plays bass. Alto is the most common and tenor is the second most common. This instrument is frequently used in both classical and jazz repertoire. It is played with a single reed but it is made of brass, so it has a brighter, louder tone quality than a clarinet does. It is played using a neckstrap.


This is the smallest of the double-reed instruments. It has a very "nasal" tone quality, and beginners are often described as sounding like a duck. Played well, it is often used for solo and melody lines. It stands out from the texture in an ensemble. It is played with keys and tone holes.

English Horn

This is like a large oboe. It has a similar "nasal" tone quality, except deeper and darker than the oboe's. It is almost always used for solo lines, and it isn't frequently used. Most oboe players learn to double on English horn.


This is lowest of the double reeds, except for the contra-bassoon (a larger, lower bassoon). It is played with many keys, in an entirely different fingering system than all other woodwind instruments. It has a deep, "nasal" tone quality. It also has a very rich sound and is frequently used for bass lines. The contra-bassoon is rarely used.

These are all of the wind instruments that are commonly played. Typically, school band programs will start students on trumpet, trombone, tuba, flute, clarinet, and saxophone. Some school districts allow beginners to play French horn. Later, students can choose to play euphonium, horn, oboe, bassoon, bass clarinet, or other instruments.

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