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Music and dance

Woodwind instruments

The nadhaswaram, an Indian wind instrumentThe nadhaswaram, an Indian wind instrumentThe woodwind section of the modern orchestra consists of flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon. Often added to these instruments are the piccolo, cor anglais, bass clarinet and contrabassoon. A woodwind instrument may be made of any material, not just wood. All woodwinds produce their sounds when a column of air inside a tube is made to vibrate. The vibrations are set off by a player’s breath. The longer the tube and its column of air, the lower the note produced by the instrument. To produce different notes, holes are cut in the walls of the tube. When these are sealed off, using a system of keys operated by the fingers (or in the case of the recorder, the fingers themselves), the tube vibrates along its full length and produces the lowest note. As different holes are uncovered, different lengths of tube vibrate, and so produce notes of different pitches. Players can also produce different notes by varying the degree of pressure they use when blowing into the instrument.

13th-century illustration of flute players13th-century illustration of flute players


A flute is a reedless wind instrument. Flutes are the oldest of all musical instruments. Some flutes, no more than simple tubes made out of bone or tusk with holes punched into them, date back more than 40,000 years. The side-blown or transverse flute, which is held horizontally while the player blows across a hole near one end, may have originated in India in around 1500 BC. Wooden transverse flutes, today known as traversos or Baroque flutes, were played in European classical music from the early 18th century to the early 19th century. 

In the early 1700s, the practice of playing the natural trumpet in its high register was known as clarino. This was named after the clarion, an early trumpet. The name “clarinet” probably came from this. Trumpet players may have used this newly developed instrument—similar in sound—to play particularly difficult clarino passages.

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