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Melody: Lesson 6

Melody: Lesson 6 – Melody in Woodwind

In this lesson, we will begin our discussion on melody in the woodwind instruments. Woodwind instruments have the most diversity in tone color; more than any other instrument group in the orchestra.


Professor Belkin Notes: There is in fact a good argument to be made that the WW are not one group at all, but rather, three (oboes and bassoons counting as one – double reed – family, with the English horn as intermediary). Unlike the strings, woodwinds do NOT behave similarly to one another in various registers. For example, flutes get softer as they get lower, whereas oboes/bassoons get louder. This diversity of color and of register is the main cause of the difficulty in writing well for winds. The beginner is advised to think of each woodwind instrument as really three in one: a high instrument, a medium one, and a low one. Although the transitions between registers are of course not really so drastic, combinations of woodwinds with each other and with from other families work differently depending on register. For example, a low flute melody requires a different accompaniment from a high flute melody.

This is also the reason that it is actually easier to score for a larger woodwind section than a smaller one: When the auxiliaries are available, the range available IN ANY GIVEN HOMOGENOUS TIMBRE is much increased. A chord scored for alto flute, regular flutes and piccolo will present less problems of blend and balance than one scored for 2 flutes and 2 oboes.

Of all the woodwinds, the oboe is one most likely to cause problems for the beginner. It is a natural “prima donna” and, while its melodic character can be wonderful in the right melody, it does not blend easily with most other timbres in the orchestra (exception: oboes blend quite well with SOFT, muted trumpets).