Is The Flute A Woodwind Instrument? (Explained)

Is The Flute A Woodwind Instrument? (Explained)
Written by Corey Morgan

Why Is The Flute A Woodwind Instrument?

Because flutes are not made from wood, this question has rather stirred confusion among many. The question that remains is why they are allowed to be classified as woodwind instruments despite this.

In order to answer this question in a way that is consistent with logic, I would like for us to first go over the specific characteristics of woodwind instruments. That is without a doubt an excellent segue way into your infamous question.

What Are Woodwind Instruments?

In this family, the instruments were all made of wood, which is what gave them their name. It is possible to find them constructed from a variety of materials these days. For the most part, they are just small cylinders or pipes with holes and an opening at the bottom.

Woodwind instruments are played by blowing air through the mouthpiece (the “wind” in “woodwind”) and adjusting the pitch of the holes using your fingers. The holes in most woodwind instruments are covered by metal coverings called keys.

Wind instruments that do not use lip reeds are known as “woodwind instruments”; lip reeds are used in brass instruments, which produce sound by vibrating the player’s lips.

Why Is The Flute A Woodwind Instrument?

1. The Way It Produces Sound

There is a wide variety of rhythmic expressions that can be achieved through the use of woodwind instruments. Reeds are the component of woodwind instruments that are most typically responsible for producing the sound of the instrument by vibrating when air is blown past them.

Reeds are small pieces of cane (or, due to developments in modern technology, sometimes plastic) that are placed on the mouthpiece of woodwind instruments. Reeds are also known as reed plates.

The fact that flutes do not employ a reed may lead you to believe that they are not a member of the family of wind instruments that are classified as woodwinds.

Despite this, flutes nevertheless operate according to an acoustic theory that is analogous to the idea of a reed. To be more specific, sound is produced by flutes when the air that is blown into the instrument by the performer is split by a sharp edge (the lip plate of the flute), which then causes the air inside the flute to vibrate and make a sound.

Similarly, the vibration of the reed causes the aperture of the mouthpiece to alternate between being open and closed. This, in turn, ultimately causes the air contained within the instrument to vibrate. In either scenario, the musician is not responsible for producing the sound; rather, a component of the instrument is.

The most significant distinction here is that sound is produced by woodwind instruments in some kind by the blowing of air by the artist playing them.

Even if the musician blows air into the instrument, it is the instrument itself that is responsible for producing the sound. Brass instruments, on the other hand, are only used to channel and intensify the sound that has already been generated by the buzzing of the musician’s lips. This is the only purpose brass instruments serve.

Given that flutes generate sound by breaking the airstream of the musician into two streams (that is, the instrument itself is actively making the sound), it should be abundantly evident that flutes belong in the category of instruments that are classified as woodwinds rather than brass.

2. How It Changes Its Pitch

Woodwind instruments, in general, are equipped with a set of keys. To close or open a hole in the instrument’s body, players press keys on the instrument’s buttons.

The pitch can be raised or lowered depending on whether or not air is allowed to escape from the instrument when a key is pressed. Pitch is lowered by forcing air to go through a longer area of the instrument as the performer presses down additional keys.

Brass instruments, on the other hand, typically use valves to alter the pitch. When pressed, a valve redirects airflow to a longer piping system. Take note that the sound from brass instruments exits the instrument in a consistent location (that is, the bell).

Because the sound travels via several lengths of tubing before reaching the bell, brass instruments do not need to provide an entrance for air to exit at a different location.

3. The Direction Of The Sound It Produces

The sound produced by a brass instrument is often directed in a particular direction, whereas the sound produced by a woodwind instrument can go in any and all directions. This makes perfect sense; given that the bell of a brass instrument is where all of the sound is released, it stands to reason that all of the sound will go in the same general direction.

When it comes to instruments that use woodwinds, the keys are what allow sound to be let out at various points throughout the instrument. Because it is going in all directions at once, the sound does not move in any specific direction as it travels.

Once again, we can observe that the flute is more closely related to other woodwind instruments than it is to brass instruments. Because the flute, like all other woodwind instruments, is played with keys, the sound frequently leaves the instrument far before it reaches the bell and travels in all directions at once.

Is The Material That An Instrument Is Made Out Of A Determining Factor In How It Is Classified?

The classification of an instrument has absolutely nothing to do with the material that it is built out of in any way, shape, or form. Woodwind instruments can be crafted from a variety of materials including metal, plastic, wood, and even different types of wood. Plastic can also be used in the production of brass instruments, despite the fact that brass instruments are traditionally built of brass.

At one point in time, the material that an instrument was made of was taken with consideration, which is why the words “woodwind” and “brass” were initially coined. Wood was the primary material used in the construction of early wind instruments such as clarinets, flutes, and even the earliest models of the saxophone.

However, as they were able to obtain access to manufacturing and plastic, producers of instruments began experimenting with constructing instruments using other materials while still adhering to the conventional designs for those instruments. Because of the enormous variety of materials available for use in the fabrication of instruments, the application of a material-based criterion is quickly becoming an outmoded practise.