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What Is The Difference Between Brass And Woodwind?

November 14th, 2022 | 2 min read

By Ewan Moore

A trumpet and a saxophone pictured in close-up with sheet music.

What exactly is the difference between brass and woodwind instruments? 

While the two families both belong under the category of wind instruments, orchestras, and other ensembles typically divide these instruments into brass and woodwind sections. 

Although the two share some similarities, key differences keep brass and woodwind apart, including the material they're made from and the technique behind playing them. 

Examples Of Woodwind Instruments

Some examples of woodwind instruments include:

  • Flute
  • Recorder
  • Saxophone
  • Clarinet
  • Bassoon 
  • Piccolo 
  • Oboe
  • English horn

Examples Of Brass Instruments

 Some examples of brass instruments include:

  • Trumpet
  • Trombone
  • Tuba
  • French Horn
  • Cornet
  • Bugle

Is a Saxophone a Brass Instrument?

While a saxophone certainly looks and sounds like a brass instrument, and is made of metal just like a brass instrument, it is classed as a woodwind instrument. This is because it generates sound with a single reed.

Are you okay to carry on? Good. 

Differences in materials between brass and woodwind instruments

The biggest and most obvious difference between brass and woodwind instruments comes down to what they're made of (with a few exceptions, such as the saxophone). 

Woodwind instruments like clarinets are wood or metal, while brass instruments are usually made from metal or brass. It's worth noting, however, that plastic brass instruments are also available - although they have unique advantages and disadvantages


There are also plastic woodwind instruments, most notably the recorder. Because recorders have a simple design and are easier to play than many other woodwind instruments, this makes them a popular choice for beginner players. Plastic recorders add to the affordability and can be a great starter instrument for learning the flute...or a fantastic-sounding instrument in their own right!

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Reeds are also a major factor. As we mentioned in relation to the saxophone, including the reed separates it from brass. While both types of instruments use a force of air to produce sound, mouthpieces of woodwind instruments need a reed. Brass mouthpieces don't.

What are the different playing techniques between brass and woodwind?

Wind and brass both require players to produce a sound by using the air from their lungs, however, the technique used to do so varies greatly between the two. Brass players will vibrate their lips to produce a sound, controlling the airflow and lip tension to create different sounds and pitches. 

Meanwhile, creating a different pitch and sound on a woodwind instrument involves blowing through the reed to cause air within the resonator to vibrate. The reed is located at the back of the mouthpiece and vibrates the mouthpiece to make a sound.

What are valves and keys?

The final, crucial distinction between brass and woodwind instruments is this: brass instruments typically use valves to help direct air, while woodwind instruments use keys alongside the body to change the airflow. On both groups of instruments, this helps create different tones and pitches. 

Find Out More!

Feel free to browse through our comprehensive trombone learning guide, or take a look at the full range of pInstruments to see if there might be a better fit for you. And if you still feel you need to do a little more research, check out the following articles:

Ewan Moore

After seven years writing about video games, Ewan made the jump to the music instrument industry to stop his family asking when he was going to get a real job. Mostly, though, he adores music and is passionate about its vital role throughout life - especially in education. He also played guitar in several bands with deeply embarrassing names that won't be revealed here. With a degree in journalism from an NCTJ-accredited university under his belt, Ewan uses everything he learned as a writer over the last decade to help answer any questions you might have about pBone Music in an accessible (and hopefully entertaining) way. Because if you can write 1,000 words on SSDs and ray-tracing, you can explain why plastic instruments are accessible, sustainable, and fun.