Woodwind Instruments Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about woodwind instruments. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Woodwind Instruments. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Invite children to explore music and musical instruments! Help them develop an appreciation for music and encourage them to learn to play an instrument. This movie will introduce woodwinds, which include flutes and reed instruments. We highly recommend reviewing the Musical Instruments movie before exploring woodwinds.

If possible, hold up a flute and a recorder or show pictures of them. How are they alike and different? If you can, play each instrument and have children compare and contrast. You can also play flute music and recorder music from the Internet. Explain that while the flute and recorder seem different, they are both woodwind instruments.

Woodwinds are a family of musical instruments that include the flute, recorder, saxophone, clarinet, oboe, and bassoon. What do these instruments have in common? To play a woodwind, you blow air against or across the instrument (as in a flute) or you blow air into a mouthpiece (as in a recorder or saxophone). A column of air vibrates in the instruments to produce sound. Help children understand that woodwind instruments are not necessarily made of wood. Historically many woodwinds were made from wood, but today they are made from metal, plastic, or a combination of different materials. We divide woodwinds into two groups, flutes and reeds.

To play some types of flutes, you blow air across an opening. You may wish to watch videos or performances of flautists to help children see how musicians blow air across the hole in the mouthpiece. You can even demonstrate this effect by having children blow across the top of a plastic or glass bottle. On the classical flute, you press down keys or holes to play different pitches. Remind children that pitch describes how high or low a sound is. The flute can play notes that are pretty high, but a piccolo can play really, really high notes. The piccolo is thinner and shorter, which helps give it a higher pitch. Guide children in comparing the flute to the piccolo.

A pan flute is an instrument that has a series of tubes connected to together. It is played by blowing across the top of the tubes. The longer tubes play lower pitches. What pitch might the shorter tubes play? You can demonstrate this concept by blowing across pipes, tubes, bottles, or glasses of different sizes. Help children understand that the recorder is also a type of flute—it is an end-blown flute. The body of the recorder has small holes, which you cover with your fingers to change the pitch.

Help children understand that some of the oldest instruments on Earth are flutes. Introduce them to different flutes all around the world. The ocarina is a woodwind that has been around for over twelve thousand years. It is a small rounded hollow instrument with a mouthpiece and small holes for the fingers. The ney is a woodwind instrument that plays a prominent role in Arabic, Turkish, and Persian music. The ney is an end-blown flute that consists of a long hollowed cane with holes for the fingers. This woodwind is over five thousand years old, making it one of the oldest musical instruments still in use. The ancient Egyptians played neys and many have been found in archaeological digs of the area.

Reed instruments are another category of woodwinds. Saxophones, clarinets, oboes, and bassoons are all reed instruments. Remind children that a reed is a very thin piece of wood. On the saxophone, the reed is attached to the mouthpiece. The musician blows through the mouthpiece and the reed vibrates back and forth to produce sound. Then the musician presses the keys to change the pitch. Help children realize that there are different types of saxophones. The soprano saxophone can play pitches that are fairly high. The baritone saxophone plays pitches that are much lower. The alto and the tenor saxophones play in between. Show pictures of different saxophones to children and help them draw inferences about the size and length of the instrument and the pitch they produce. The saxophone and clarinet are single reed instruments. The oboe and bassoon are double reed instruments. This mean they have two reeds that vibrate against each other. While the clarinet and oboe may look similar, they produce different pitches and tones. Help children explore other reed instruments, from all around world, such as the bagpipes and the zurna.

Help children explore music and develop an appreciation and understanding. Inspire them to become musicians and singers! They can easily make their own woodwinds to explore how shape can affect sound.