Wind instruments come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common — they are played by using your breath.
Despite that one similarity, wind instruments vary considerably, from high-pitched woodwinds like the piccolo and flute to the mellow sounds of reed instruments like the clarinet and oboe. And don’t forget about the brass instruments like the trumpet, trombone, and tuba.
With so many choices, picking one to start with can be a challenge.
In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the different wind instruments and make some recommendations about which ones may be the best options for beginners.
Table of Contents
- What Are the Types of Wind Instruments?
- Are Wind Instruments Difficult To Learn To Play?
- 5 Wind Instruments for Beginners
- Things To Consider To Help You Choose a Wind Instrument To Play
- Learn To Play a Variety of Wind Instruments With our Team at Northwest School of Music
What Are the Types of Wind Instruments?
Wind instruments are played when the musician pushes their own air through the instrument. Sound is created when the air vibrates either inside the instrument — like the flute, clarinet, or oboe — or outside the instrument — like the accordion or harmonica.
Though there are nearly 20 types of wind instruments, they can be broken down into two categories: woodwind and brass.
With the name woodwind, you’d probably assume that these instruments are made of wood. And you’d be partially right.
Though woodwind instruments used to be made of wood — and some still are — many woodwind instruments today are also made of metal, plastic, or a combination of the two.
Most woodwind instruments include a narrow cylinder with holes with a mouthpiece at the top and an opening at the bottom. A musician plays woodwind instruments by blowing into the mouthpiece and moving their fingers on the holes or keys to change notes.
Some woodwind instruments, like the clarinet, bassoon, and oboe, use a mouthpiece with a reed (or a double reed). The reed vibrates as the player blows across it.
Other instruments, like the flute or piccolo, don’t use a reed to make the sound. Rather, the musician blows their breath across a hole in the mouthpiece to produce the sound.
Just as with other wind and string instruments, the shortest instruments make higher-pitched sounds, while the longer instruments produce deeper and lower sounds.
Some of the most popular woodwind instruments include:
- English horn
- Bass clarinet
Yes, the brass instruments are made of brass, just as their name suggests.
The brass instruments are some of the loudest instruments in the orchestra and shine (in more ways than one) when they are in the spotlight.
Unlike cylindrical woodwinds, brass instruments are long pipes (sometimes twisted and curved) with a wide bell-shaped opening at the end.
Brass players make music by blowing their breath and vibrating their lips on a cup-shaped mouthpiece. Additionally, most brass instruments have valves on the long pipes, and the valves are moved up and down with the fingers to produce different notes. Other brass instruments, like the trombone, produce different tones by moving a slide in and out.
The most common brass instruments used in an orchestra or band include:
- French horn
Learning to play a wind instrument is a skill you can carry with you and enjoy throughout life. You can learn to play wind instruments at any age, and Northwest School of Music would be glad to lead you through the learning process.
Contact us today to get started.
Are Wind Instruments Difficult To Learn To Play?
The answer to this question depends on a variety of factors like the age of the student and their motivation, discipline, and previous musical skill and knowledge.
In general, though, with enough encouragement, motivation, patience, and perseverance, kids and adults can learn to play wind instruments — and enjoy the process.
5 Wind Instruments for Beginners
There are lots of wind instruments beginners can learn to play, so this is our short list of some of the most popular (and maybe easier) ones for beginners.
The flute is a woodwind instrument pitched in middle C and can be played up to three octaves, making it one of the highest-pitched instruments.
The flute is a popular instrument to learn to play because there are lots of opportunities to play in school bands and orchestras.
A new flute student will learn how to blow their breath across the mouthpiece to create sound and will learn the proper fingering patterns for the notes of the scale.
The flute is fairly easy to learn to play, but it may be challenging at first to breathe at the right angle and strength to produce a sound. In about six months, a beginner can begin playing simple tunes, but it could take six to eight years to master.
One plus is the size of the instrument — it’s easy to store and carry. Prices of flutes vary from $50 to $100 for a lower-end option to $2,500 for a professional instrument.
The clarinet is a cylindrical tube with a small bell shape at the end, and the mouthpiece includes a single reed that vibrates as the musician blows air into it.
Most clarinets are B-flat instruments, and the clarinet has an incredible range, covering over four octaves. Breathing from the diaphragm and correct posture are key to getting a beautiful sound from this instrument.
Like the flute, the clarinet is a smaller instrument, making it easy to tote to and from school or practice. And the clarinet is a popular instrument in school bands, orchestras, and other ensembles, which means beginners can find lots of opportunities to play.
Learning how to properly blow through the mouthpiece with the right force and embouchure and learning the proper fingerings can be challenging at the beginning. With regular practice, though, beginner students can make steady progress.
Also, like the flute, a beginner can play some simple music after six months, but it may take up to eight years to play like a master.
Clarinet costs range from $100 to $2,000.
A popular instrument in many jazz bands, the saxophone is played similarly to the clarinet. They both involve blowing through a mouthpiece to vibrate a reed to produce the sound. The main differences are the size and shape of the instrument and the finger holes and keys. Unlike the clarinet, the saxophone has a bell that curves upward, and instead of open holes, the musician presses down on keys to play different notes.
Saxophones come in three types — alto, tenor, and baritone. The alto sax, an E-flat instrument, is usually the easiest for beginners to start with and can be played up to four octaves.
Because the saxophone is a heavier instrument, it comes with a strap that helps make it more comfortable to hold. Learning to play the saxophone is relatively easy, but it will take time and practice to produce a rich and mellow sound.
Like the other instruments mentioned, it can take five to eight years to play the saxophone like a master. And it is a little bit larger instrument, so it will require more space to store and muscle to transport.
Saxophone prices can range from $200 for a beginner instrument to $4,000 for a professional one.
The trumpet is a popular B-flat instrument and is often the one beginners choose to learn to play. Like the flute and clarinet, the trumpet is a common instrument in bands and orchestras and is also featured in jazz bands.
Producing a sound from a trumpet can be awkward at first as the musician develops the proper embouchure. A good instructor can help beginners with tips to work on their embouchure and make it feel more natural.
Because the trumpet is played by blowing in a bell-shaped mouthpiece, which can cause a buzzing type sound/feeling with the lips, it can take a while to build the strength in the lips and the proper breath control to make a skillful sound.
The trumpet can take six to eight years to master and can also be one of the more costly instruments to play, with prices for professional trumpets costing up to $5,000.
The harmonica is a popular wind instrument and can be played in casual settings, in a band, or alone at home for fun. It’s often heard in folk, country, or blues music, and since it’s so small, it couldn’t be easier to carry around.
Harmonicas are tuned to different keys, so to play in a band or with another type of group, you’ll need several harmonicas so you can play songs in different keys.
The harmonica may be one of the easiest wind instruments to learn how to play, so it’s a great option for beginners. As with any instrument, there are techniques to learn to improve the quality of the sound, but beginners can play basic tunes quickly — often in less than an hour!
Harmonicas are also extremely economical ranging in price from $50 to $200.
Things To Consider To Help You Choose a Wind Instrument To Play
#1: Age and Size of the Musician
The age and size of the musician can be important factors when determining the best wind instrument to play.
For example, the flute and clarinet may be excellent choices for kids between the ages of 10 and 12.
Younger students may find these instruments a little too large for them, and they may have trouble covering the finger holes with their tiny hands. It may be best for them to get a little older before they pick up one of these larger wind instruments.
Size can also be a determining factor, even if they are older. A 12-year-old with a petite frame may be better off playing the clarinet than trying to learn the saxophone or trombone.
The key is being able to comfortably hold the instrument, so it might be a good idea to go to a music store and try a few out before you buy an instrument or start lessons.
Mouth shape and placement of the teeth can affect embouchure and may help determine the best wind instrument to learn to play.
If a child’s front teeth are loose or they are still young enough to be losing their baby teeth, it might be a good idea to wait until their permanent teeth are in place. Players use their teeth to stabilize the mouthpiece on many wind instruments, so waiting can make the experience more enjoyable and comfortable.
Embouchure is different for each instrument, so it’s key to learn proper technique from the start to avoid creating bad habits or techniques that are hard to correct later.
Our team of instructors at Northwest School of Music wants our lessons to be fun and enjoyable. We’ll work with each student to teach them the proper techniques to equip them for success and enjoyment.
As we’ve already discussed, instruments come in a wide variety of prices. Before you go shopping or consider what type of instrument to buy, it’s wise to set a budget. Know what you can afford, so you don’t end up overspending.
A low or medium-range instrument is a good place for children or beginners to start. You can always upgrade if you or your child show promise, but if you buy a high-quality, expensive instrument on the front end, you might regret the large purchase if your child loses interest.
But if you’re a musician who feels confident they will be playing professionally, it may be wise to invest in a quality instrument from the start.
#4: Motivation and Concentration
Learning anything new takes concentration, but sticking to something that’s difficult and challenging may take an extra ounce of motivation to keep going.
So, if your child is mildly interested or struggles with concentration, it might be easier to start with something simple, like a recorder. Beyond that, the flute and the clarinet are also good choices for students who may only be able to concentrate fully for 10 to 20 minutes.
As musicians grow in their concentration and skill, they may be ready to move to another instrument, like the bassoon or saxophone.
#5: Skill Level
Skill level covers several variables, like:
- Prior music theory knowledge
- Experience playing a wind instrument
- Experience playing other instruments
For example, if you’ve been playing the trombone for years, you might find it hard to play a woodwind instrument like a clarinet or flute.
In general, it’s easier to learn an advanced instrument that is similar to the one you already know how to play. If you play the clarinet, a good second instrument to learn might be the oboe or the saxophone.
Learn To Play a Variety of Wind Instruments With our Team at Northwest School of Music
Whether you’re ready to learn how to play a wind instrument for the first time or you’re interested in adding a second instrument to your skill set, Northwest School of Music is here to make your musical dreams a reality.
Our lessons for brass and woodwind instruments are year-round and are offered in 30, 45, and 60-minute durations.
Our wind instrument lessons include:
- French horn
And if wind instruments aren’t your gig, we also offer a variety of stringed instrument lessons, voice lessons, and choir.
Come see what we have to offer to foster your love for and desire to create music.