Let’s blow! Discovering wind instruments

Let me introduce a new series of posts in which we’ll be combining music with elements of visual arts. I want to present portions of music theory in such an easy way that you as a parent can understand (or often rather recall something you already know) and explain some musical facts, principles and know-hows to your child in a fun, visual way. Every new post in the series will bring you a piece of information and an opportunity to get creative.

Let’s start with musical instruments…

For some reason most of us seem to think musical instruments are really complicated. In front of a full orchestra we get so intimidated that we don’t even know what to look at. We may be able to categorize musicians in the front rows wiggling their fingers on violins and cellos. But the back seats? That’s a completely different story. We can’t tell apart an oboe from trombone or bass horn. And what about a bassoon? French horn? What exactly is that?! We’ve managed to survive 20 or 30 years without such knowledge and we’d probably survive twice that long since no one ever asks us about that stuff… unless we have a kid.

Since you’re reading this, you probably have one. Or there’s a child in your family or at work asking many surprisingly difficult questions. If that’s the case, I guess it’s worth knowing a little bit about music and specific instruments. Let’s start with those wildest, those that you need to blow…

Facts about wind instruments

First, some basic facts:

  1. Musical instruments (all of them) produce sounds.
  2. A sound is something you hear when the acoustic wave produced by an instrument wafts through the air and reaches your ears.
  3. Each group of instruments has its own way of producing those waves and therefore making the sounds.

In the wind instruments it’s the mouthpiece what makes the air column inside the instrument vibrate. Musicians use holes, flaps or a slide to control the length of the air column. And that allows them to play different sounds and pitches. Vibrations travel through air and reach the eardrum, making it resonate. Those vibrations are then translated into a sensory experience in your inner ear and interpreted as sounds by your brain.

Types of wind instruments

Wind instruments can be divided into 2 groups:

Brass instruments: trumpet, French horn, trombone, bass horn

and

Woodwind instruments: saxophone, clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon

Ok, but why saxophone is among the woodwind instruments? It doesn’t look very woody… That’s because it has a wooden reed in its mouthpiece. It’s the reed that matters when we classify wind instruments.

That’s the theory.

Now it’s time to blow.

Wind instruments for kids not only for making music

If you want to, you can try to build your own wind instruments for kids – or engage the child and build the instrument together. Here’s how to do that.

But now we’re going to do something quite different. We’re going to use the strength of our blow to make a picture – a real spring time, meadow masterpiece. And at the same time we’re going to learn how to control and use our breath when blowing a wind instrument.

You will need:

– A cardboard or a sketchpad

– Watercolours or paints (preferably green)

– A brush

– A straw

– Some water

First, make a few centimetres long stain at the bottom of the page using paint and a really wet brush. The stain has to be really, really wet, almost like a little puddle.

Then take the straw, point it at the stain and blow – so that the colourful drops start to move across the page.

You can try to move the straw and moderate the blow of air to direct the drops (but sometimes they’ll probably go in surprising directions, anyway). Remember to breathe deeply and take breaks!

Add some ornaments or paint some butterflies and your picture is done!

As you can see having fun with instruments for kids is not only about music. You can combine some pieces of musical knowledge with visual arts or other areas.

Let me know if you try to paint your own musical picture! Trying to move those paint drops can be really fun – not only for children!