The important difference between woodwinds and brass is how the sound is first produced.


Wood and Brass: Instrument Materials

Calling the two main wind sections of the orchestra woodwinds and brass is a bit misleading. The important difference between the two groups is how the sound is first produced, not what the instrument is made of. (In a "brass" instrument, the lips are buzzed against the rim of the mouthpiece. In a "woodwind", the sound begins either with one or two vibrating reeds, or at a sharp edge in the mouthpiece.)
"Brass" instruments are usually made of brass, an alloy of copper and zinc. They may be the normal color of brass metal, or they may be tinted to a different metallic color. For example, nickel may be added to the alloy to give the instrument a silver color. Occasionally brass instruments are not made of metal at all; for example, the sousaphone, a tuba used in marching bands, is often made of (lighter-weight) fiberglass.
"Woodwinds" are often made of hardwood, but saxophones are normally made of brass, and most orchestral flutes are made of "nickel-silver" brass. There are also good-quality plastic woodwinds that may be preferable to the wooden versions in some situations - for example, playing in rain, heat, or cold.
Other materials are often needed to make an instrument work well. Felt pads, pieces of cork, metal keys, and various oils help to keep the valve and key action quiet while keeping the instrument from leaking air in the wrong places.

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