Here are recordings of the main woodwind instruments found in a symphony orchestra, from highest to lowest: flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon.
After being introduced to these main instruments, you’ll see examples of less-common or auxiliary versions of these instruments (e.g., piccolo, English horn, bass clarinet) and a demonstration of how sound is made on woodwinds.
Main orchestral woodwind instruments
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Flight of the Bumblebee (1900), performed by James Galway
Maurice Ravel, Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2 (excerpt) (1912), performed by Emmanuel Pahud
George Friedrich Handel, “Hence, Iris, hence away” HWV58 (1774), performed by Albrecht Mayer
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, I. Allegro (1791), performed by Sharon Kam
Johannes Brahms, Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, I. Allegro (1891), performed by David Shifrin (clarinet) and the Guarnieri Quartet (2 violins, viola, cello)
Artie Shaw, Concerto for Clarinet (1940), performed by Artie Shaw
Carl Maria von Weber, Concerto in F Major, Op. 75 (1811), performed by Michele Bowen
Lady Gaga medley, performed by The Breaking Winds Bassoon Quartet
Woodwind players are usually required to play several versions of their instruments — these are referred to as “auxiliary instruments.” All the flutes here, for example, produce sound in the same way a “normal” flute does, but the instrument is much smaller or much bigger than the standard flute. Composers and performers use these auxiliary instruments to help expand the palette of sounds they have at their disposal and create new sonic effects.
Daniel Dorff, Tweet (2015), performed by Gudrun Hinze
Flutes: Alto flute
Demonstration by Jose Valentino
Flutes: Subcontrabass flute
Demonstration by Gareth McLearnon
Oboes: English horn
A demonstration by Eric Behr and Anna Steltenpohl
Clarinets: The entire clarinet family
Demonstrated by Cyrille Mercadier. The two clarinets usually played in orchestra are the A clarinet and the B-flat clarinet (switching between them doesn’t produce much of a difference of sound; it just makes the fingerings easier for the player, depending on what scale is being played). The bass clarinet and E-flat clarinet are also used fairly often. All the other clarinets in this video are rare.
Bassoon and oboe players must make their own reeds for their instruments. They make several at a time, and each reed (assuming they make it properly, the weather conditions don’t change too drastically, and they’re not playing on it excessively) lasts a couple of weeks.