In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Woodwind Instruments

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historical and Social Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Periodicals
  • Museum and Private-Collection Catalogues
  • Iconographical and Artistic Studies
  • Repertory Listings and Musical Analyses
  • Treatises and Method Books
  • Performance Practice and Technique
  • Woodwind Makers
  • Geographic Studies
  • Biographies of Makers
  • Biographies of Players
  • Historical Woodwinds
  • Recorder and Related Instruments
  • Oboe and Related Instruments
  • Bassoon and Related Instruments
  • Clarinet and Related Instruments
  • Saxophone
  • Bagpipes

Music Woodwind Instruments
Albert R. Rice
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0079


Woodwind instruments are wind instruments made of wood or metal and include the recorder, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, saxophone, bagpipe, and their family members. The orchestral and band instruments (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone) were developed in Europe during the 17th through the 19th centuries, although ancient examples of related instruments were played in Egypt as early as 2700 BCE. Less evidence has been found for the use of the bagpipe in ancient Greece, and the earliest clear depictions in pictures and carvings appear during the 1200s in England. The earliest extant recorders date from the 1300s, found in Germany and the Netherlands. Bagpipes and recorders were dispersed to various areas of the world from the 1300s, as were flutes, flageolets, oboes, and bassoons from the late 1600s; clarinets from the last third of the 1700s; and saxophones from the late 1800s. Bagpipes have the greatest variety of forms, developed in many different countries and regions. Some European woodwinds developed during the 18th and 19th centuries are the fife, tabor pipe, piccolo, alto flute, bass flute, English horn, bass oboe, Heckelphone, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, and contrabassoon. European woodwinds developed after 1500 and extinct instruments include flute d’amour, csakan, oboe da caccia, bass oboe, shawm, crumhorn, sarrusophone, rothophone, reed contrabass, contrabassophone, chalumeau, clarinet d’amour, and curtal. In the early 21st century the most-common woodwind instruments are played in ensembles, in chamber music, and as solo instruments with piano, orchestral or band accompaniment. This article addresses a range of woodwind-related subjects.

General Overviews

These sources provide definitions of most types of instruments, overviews of instrument families, and extended articles on specific instruments and instrument makers. A useful general dictionary by instrument name is Baines 1992. When the name of an instrument is not known, a useful guide by shape arranged in general categories is Diagram Group 1997. For more-specific topics, some of the most useful sources are found in specific articles on instruments, makers, or cities found in the five-volume Libin 2014. Oxford Music Online incorporates Grove Music Online with Garrett 2013 and other Grove dictionaries that specifically discuss opera, jazz, American music, and musical instruments. This useful and up-to-date online source has extensive biographies of musicians, inventors, makers, and manufacturers, as well as articles on instruments, cities, and historical periods. Explanations of woodwind mechanisms and schematic drawings of various types of woodwinds are available in Voorhees 2003. A broad discussion of instruments in their social contexts is in Nettl, et al. 1998–2002, arranged by countries.

  • Baines, Anthony. The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

    This useful alphabetical listing of all types of instruments from ancient to modern times includes historical and technical information. There are over three hundred photos of instruments, performers, artwork, line drawings, and musical examples. Baines’s informative definitions include several detailed drawings of mechanisms and fingering charts. An appendix at the end of the book lists makers, manufacturers, inventors, suppliers, and dealers of musical instruments cited in the articles. Martin Elste translated this book into German published in 2010.

  • Diagram Group. Musical Instruments of the World: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York: Sterling, 1997.

    A useful and comprehensive one-volume encyclopedia with more than four thousand drawings organized according to the Hornbostel and Sachs classification system. It is particularly helpful in identifying instruments from various countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Indonesia, and Oceania.

  • Finscher, Ludwig, ed. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik. 2d ed. 29 vols. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1994–2007.

    A comprehensive and important German encyclopedia with entries on instruments, prominent makers, and collections of musical instruments, with extensive illustrations, line drawings, bibliographies, indexes, and a CD-ROM. The first ten volumes are arranged by subject (Sachteil); the next seventeen are biographical (Personenteil). Although the encyclopedia is in German, the contributors are international and represent many of the world’s leading experts.

  • Garrett, Charles Hiroshi, ed. The Grove Dictionary of American Music. 8 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    A comprehensive dictionary including musical instruments and makers active in the United States, popular music, cities and regions, musical theater, opera, concert music, music technology, and musical traditions of ethnic and cultural groups. Short definitions and longer examinations of subjects are included by 1,500 authors, including most of the top scholars in the field, with over four hundred images and 140 musical examples. There is an abbreviations list, a list of contributors, and tips on the use of the dictionary.

  • Libin, Laurence, ed. The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. 2d ed. 5 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    A comprehensive dictionary of musical instruments, including ancient, folk, electronic, and experimental, instrument design and manufacture, acousticians, collectors, curators, dealers, and makers. New topics include the human body as an instrument, the voice, whistling, body percussion, instrument archaeology, authentication, conservation, copying, faking and forgery, found instruments, virtual instruments, player-instrument interfaces, maker’s marks, occupational hazards, and sustainability of resources. There are many more articles on modern makers, scholars, and dealers, and a large number of illustrations and line drawings. The contributors include most of the top scholars in the field. The last volume includes a detailed index. The dictionary is accessible online, an expanded version of The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. The online version allows for later corrections and additions by the authors.

  • Nettl, Bruno, Ruth Stone, James Porter, and Timothy Rice, eds. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. 10 vols. New York: Garland, 1998–2002.

    An extensive source arranged topically, regionally, or by ethnic group, covering regional overviews, music in its social context, and the musical traditions of individual countries or ethnic groups. Although each volume differs because of the nature of the material, musical instruments are described within their performing contexts. There are extensive bibliographies, resource guides, filmographies, discographies, photographs, detailed indexes, and CDs of unrecorded music for each volume. Each volume is also sold separately.

  • Voorhees, Jerry L. The Development of Woodwind Fingering Systems in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Hammond, LA: Jerry L. Voorhees, 2003.

    Arranged in three parts: acoustics and keys, specific mechanisms, and diagrams. The large and clear drawings of the key mechanisms, tone holes, ring keys, rods, and levers are essential in revealing the mechanics of how fingering is achieved. Voorhees’s detailed diagrams of several fingering systems for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone are models of clarity. Many of the studied examples are in the Bate Collection in Oxford and are extremely helpful in understanding how many complicated mechanisms operate. Appendixes are on the Schaffner system, Benedikt Pentenrieder’s flute and clarinet, a biographical index of makers, and bibliography.

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