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


Auxiliary woodwinds

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.

Flutes: Piccolo

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.


Reed making

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.