Choosing an instrument to study can be a challenging task. Each instrument is unique, so understanding a few key concepts about each instrument can really help in making the decision.
The main instruments available to beginning woodwind players are
Important characteristics to consider when making a decision are
- the sound of the instrument
- how the mouth is shaped to play (embouchure)
- how the instrument is held (posture)
- how many fingers need to press keys
The most important factor in choosing an instrument to study is the sound that it makes.
The flute produces mostly higher pitches with a light, bright, and feathery sound.
The oboe produces mostly higher pitches with a unique, nasal sound.
The clarinet produces high to mid-low pitches with a round, dark sound.
The saxophone produces mid-high to low pitches with a bright, brassy sound.
The flute embouchure is formed by keeping the lips closed, pulling the corners of the lips back and blowing a stream of air through a small opening in the center of the lips. The oboe embouchure is formed by rolling both lips inward slightly, and lightly squeezing the double reed.The clarinet and saxophone embouchures are formed by rolling the bottom lip over the bottom teeth and placing the top teeth onto the mouthpiece.
The flute is held with the mouthpiece at the mouth and the body of the flute to the right side of the player, almost parallel to the ground.
The oboe and clarinet are held with the mouthpiece in the mouth and the body of the instrument pointing down, directly in front of the players body.
The saxophone is held with the mouthpiece in the mouth, and the body of the saxophone coming down to the right side of the player’s right hip.
All four of these woodwind instruments use 9 out of 10 fingers to press keys. The right thumb is used to help hold the weight of the instrument and is not used to press keys.
The flute and oboe use all 9 fingers when playing ‘do, re, mi’ in the key of concert B-flat, which is what most beginning band methods use.
The clarinet and the saxophone use only 3 fingers and a thumb to play ‘do, re, mi’ in the key of concert B-flat, which is what most beginning band methods use.