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Chapter 4 Contents


The instruments of the woodwind section can be identified as families, the type of reed used, or whether they transpose or not.


The Wind Families

• Flute–piccolo, flute, alto flute, and bass flute.

• Oboe–oboe, English horn, bassoon and contrabassoon.

• Clarinet–c,d,e-flat, b flat, and a clarinets, alto e-flat clarinet, b-flat bass

   clarinet, contrabass clarinet.

• Sax–sopranino e-flat, sop b-flat, alto e-flat, tenor, b-flat, and bass b-flat.



Types of reeds: 

• Non-reed–flutes and (recorders).

• Single reed–clarinets and (saxes).

• Double reeds–oboe family.



• Flutes, oboes and bassoon do not, others do.


Wind Instruments Registral Descriptions

The flute is weak with limited carrying power.  Has a luscious color and can be both clear and harsh.  The oboe is thick and heavy with a clear and pinched reedy sound.  The clarinet has three registers with very different colors.  The first is chalumeau.  It is dark and thin.  The second is throat tones which are sonorous and strong.  The third is the clarion which is bright and penetrating.  The English horn can be deep, rich or mellow and has a thin pinched reedy sound.  And the lowest of the wind section, the bassoon is sonorous and dark but can also be expressively sweet.  Additional instruments within these families are identified in Illustration 4.3.


When making decisions about the use of wind instruments, consider their registral and color differences.  These important decisions can have a major impact on the outcome of the scene.  Ask if your choice of color is the correct match for the place, character, or psychology of the scene.


Illustration 4.5 The Ranges and Color Descriptions of the Wind Family.


Scoring for Woodwinds

Consider that these wind instruments cannot complete overly long phrases in one breath.  However, oboes use less air so they can play longer phrases.  Winds are used for solo passages, doubling melodies in other instrument sections, harmonic background (separate or double other section), and they provide color contrast.  Additionally, they are great for interweaving ideas between sections or within their own.  The passing of phrases from one color the other can be a very effective idea for creating coloristic interest.


Winds are good for creating pedal tones and providing counterpoint, harmonic support and accompaniment.  Choose the instrument color(s) that best fit with your motif, character or emotion.  For example, solo English horn or oboe would be excellent for creating an impression of loneliness, while flutes and piccolo can create an icy impression in the proper register.  Since wind instruments are rarely in tune with each other, avoid doubling especially in solo passages.  There is a loss of personal expression when they play in unison as well.  It is better to double at the octave to give them freedom to shape their phrases.


Voicing the Wind Section

There are four ways of voicing wind instruments in a homophonic setting.  They are:

• Juxtaposing or superimposing one woodwind pair over the other.

• Interlocking instrument pairs.

• Enclosing one instrumental group within another.

• Overlapping–using common tone.  This obscures timbral character and 

   emphasizes notes that may not need emphasis–good for tutti sections 


Consider light or dark shading and a loud or soft dynamic.


Illustration 4.6.1 Voicing for chords using woodwind pairs.


Duncan Metcalfe


Furthermore, the wind section can create an overall brightness or darkness to the work.  Bright color is created by using the higher register and dark by using lower registers.  While the following illustration demonstrates these two voicing possibilities, it is important to not always commit to proven voicings and experiment with colors to create additional hues that are not muddy.


Illustration 4.6.2  Woodwind Voicing for Bright and Dark Colors.


Duncan Metcalfe


Additional Wind Voicing Considerations

Be sure that the pitches are practical for each instrument otherwise the virtual sound will sound fabricated.  To sound more realistic be sure that different pitches are not assigned solely to different instruments, it is better to double at other than unison.  Also, consider how the timbres of the instruments work together, i.e., oboe and bassoon, clarinet and flute, or English horn matches.  Assign the same chordal pitches to complimentary instruments.

Furthermore, consider the spacing of the voices–more spacing in the bass with higher notes in a more closed position.  Be careful not to change the intent of the chord by over using one of the pitches–root is strongest, third and fifth next strongest with seventh, ninth, eleventh and thirteenth to be used sparingly and only for harmonic color.  Don’t over use the third in first inversion chords however it is acceptable to use the root in first inversion chords and the fifth in second inversion chords as the fundamental pitch.


Furthermore, the wind section is well used when it provides a contrasting color especially when alternating between sections.  When creating a contrapuntal texture consider a different color for each unique rhythm.  Use the dovetailing technique between phrases and when alternating with other sections of the orchestra.  Change colors as the melody rises in intensity and pitch.


Last, use tutti (full orchestra) for climaxes and the more dramatic sections of the cue.


 MIDI Tip 4.3

Copy and paste a woodwind of your choice that performs a solo line into a second track.  They must both be audio files.  Then put the second track out of phase by about 20 milliseconds.  This will give you a richer overall tone.  Experiment with putting the files further and further out of phase for different results.


 Exercise 4.2

Using the Illustrations for voicing winds, create an eight track wind section using the model below.  Assign appropriate notes and create an eight-note chord, tonal or atonal, for voicing.  Be sure to make the duration of the chord eight measures long using ties for audio playback.  Now voice in four different ways and discuss outcomes.  You may also wish to invent your own voicing and compare and contrast it with the others.

Illustration 4.7  Open Score Voicings


Wind Instrument Playing Techniques

Much like other sections of the orchestra, wind instruments have several performance techniques that may or may not be executed using virtual instruments.  The most important controllers will be the modulation and pitch wheels (or joy sticks), aftertouch, touch control and breath control.  The latter is best for creating realistic crescendos and decrescendos.  Some other data such as attack and glissando can also be edited in the event list.  Here are some possibilities that may be replicated in the digital domain:


Illustration 4.8  Wind Performance Techniques–Analog versus Digital





 COD 4.0

For the first creativity on demand, create three single line motives of no more than 8 measures in length that capture the emotion of loneliness, fear, and sorrow.  Choose appropriate timbres from either winds or strings.  You have 25 minutes.  Present in class and have other students determine which of the examples are connected to and demonstrate each emotion.  Discuss and make constructive suggestions about choice of colour, mode (tonality), and overall impressions.

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