What Is the Difference between Wind and Brass Instruments?

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  • Written By: Brandon May
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2019
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In a musical orchestra, there are groups separated by make of instrument due to the sound and voice they play. Two distinct groups of wind instruments, woodwind and brass instruments, are similar in some aspects but widely recognized for their differences. Woodwind instruments, for example, are made out of wood and are played using a wooden reed and metal keys. Brass instruments, on the other hand, are made out of metal or brass and contain no wood or reed. Both types of instruments require a force of air to create a sound, however, they use very different techniques to achieve the same goal.

The main difference between woodwind and brass instruments is the type of material each instrument is made of. Most woodwind instruments, like clarinets, saxophones and flutes, are made from either wood or metal. Brass instruments, however, are exclusively made out of brass or metal and contain a different type of mouthpiece for blowing air. For woodwind instruments, the mouthpiece usually requires a wooden reed, with the exception of the flute. Reeds are not essential for brass instruments, as the sound depends mostly on the vibrations of the mouth against the mouthpiece.


Wind and brass instruments both rely on the user to supply the instrument with enough air to make a sound, however, the technique by which a note is played varies between the two instrument groups. Woodwind instruments blow air that causes the resonator within the instrument to vibrate and produce a note. Brass instruments also use air, however, the sound they play relies mainly on altering the flow of air and lip tension. Valves, instead of keys, are used to create a note.

Brass instruments use valves to help direct air in and out of the instrument, creating different pitches. Woodwind instruments require the use of keys alongside the body of the instrument to vary air flow to create different notes. Even this difference seems to connect wind and brass instruments, as both valves and keys utilize the air that is given by the player to create sound. A common difference of brass instruments, compared to wind instruments, is that many of the tuba and trombone instruments require more air to fill the instrument than a smaller wind instrument.


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