The flute produces a high, clear sound and is the most agile of the woodwinds. To play the flute you hold it sideways, set your lips as if you were about to whistle, and then blow across the air hole. Although the modern flute is made entirely of metal, the flute originally was fashioned from wood and is still considered a member of the woodwind family.
The clarinet has a warm, dark tone and the widest range of any of the woodwind instruments. The sound is begun by a wooden reed which vibrates against the mouthpiece when a player blows air through the instrument. The clarinet is also generally the most versatile of the woodwinds, and is equally at home in either symphonic or jazz ensembles. Many clarinets are still crafted from wood, but modern student-level clarinets are made of plastic for economy and durability.
The saxophone is something of a hybrid instrument: its body is made of brass, but it is classified as a woodwind because it uses a reed to create the sound. The saxophone is larger and requires more air than any of the other members of the woodwind family, and it produces a sound of great volume and projection. As a result, only a few are necessary for a balanced band sound. Students wishing to play saxophone will often begin on clarinet or flute and then switch to sax later.
The trumpet has a very familiar sound long associated with ceremony, from weddings and military funerals to inaugurations and coronations. It is perhaps the most versatile of all the winds, and can be heard in music of a great many other styles as well. As with the rest of the brass family, the sound is produced by buzzing one's lips into the mouthpiece. The characteristic tone of a trumpet is full and focused, and can project strongly through even the largest of ensembles.
The French horn produces a warm, rich sound and is capable of a very wide range of notes and tone colors. It can blend equally well with other brasses or with woodwinds in ensemble playing, and can be sensitive or stirring as the music requires. The mouthpiece for the horn is small in diameter like that of a trumpet, but is funnel-shaped rather than cup-shaped in order to produce a more mellow sound. The horn is probably the most difficult of the brasses for a beginner, so ordinarily a student interested in horn will start on trumpet.
The trombone is the only member of the brass family which makes use of a handslide rather than valves to change the length of the instrument. It has much the same tone quality as a trumpet, but its sound is even more full and broad. The trombone is an important member of both symphonic (band or orchestra) and jazz ensembles, and its medium-sized mouthpiece is an advantage for most beginners as well.
The euphonium/baritone is made of roughly the same length of tubing as the trombone, but it is designed in the shape of a tuba. As a result, it has the same range as a trombone but a somewhat mellower sound, and uses valves rather than a handslide.
The tuba is the largest member of the brass family, and has a deep, dark, powerful tone. It requires more air than any of the other brasses, and its massive tone is the foundation of the symphonic band sound.
There are two groups within the percussion family: melodic and rhythmic. The melodic percussion instruments, which include the xylophone, marimba, and timpani, are tuned to specific pitches so that they can be used to play individual notes or melodies.
The rhythmic group, which includes instruments like the snare drum and the bass drum, is responsible for the pulse that drives the band during a piece of music. All hand-held percussion instruments, like the tambourine, maracas, and claves, are also members of the rhythmic group.