When you ask most people to think of a double reed instrument, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the oboe or bassoon. But there are many other types of double reed instruments that you might not have heard of.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at 12 different double reed instruments and explore some of their history and how they’ve been used over the years. Let’s get started with the Oboe.
First up, we have probably the most known double reed instrument, the Oboe.
The oboe was invented towards the end of the 1600s. It developed out of its predecessor the Shawm (which we’ll look at later in this article). They became very popular with baroque composers and were used extensively in the 18th century.
Typically made out of wood, modern oboes have 46 metals keys that the musician covers to produce the different pitches of notes.
You’ll find oboes in concert bands, symphony orchestras, and chamber ensembles and interestingly, they are the instrument that orchestras tune to.
Another popular double reed instrument, the Bassoon is the woodwind instrument that occupies that bass and tenor ranges in an orchestra.
Made out of wood and with five different parts it has a very unique shape with a large long tube made out of wood that’s like it’s been folded in two.
The bassoon has a few ancestors but it developed from a renaissance woodwind instrument called the Dulcian. Over the 17th and 18th centuries, more and more keys were added to the bassoons until in the 19th century we arrived at what we’d now recognize as a modern bassoon.
Bassoons are one of the common woodwind instruments in an orchestra where you’ll find typically two bassoons. You can also get the contrabassoon which is an even larger one that sounds an octave lower!
3. Cor Anglais
Also referred to as the English Horn, the Cor Anglais is another popular double reed instrument that belongs to the oboe family.
Despite its name meaning ‘English Horn’ in French, the cor anglais is neither from France nor England, the name first appeared in Vienna in the early 1700s.
To look at, the cor anglais looks remarkably like the oboe, but it’s quite a bit longer, has a bent crook at one end and a pear-shaped bell at the other which is called a Liebesfuss.
Cor anglais have similar fingering and playing techniques to oboes so musicians will often double on them when needed.
Next up we have another double reed instrument from the oboe family called the Heckelphone. It was invented by Wilhelm Heckel in 1904 after german composer Richard Wagner suggested it to him.
It occupies the bass section of the oboe family helping bridge the gap between the oboe and the bassoon.
The first time the heckelphone was used in a performance was believed to have been in 1905 in the opera Salome by Richard Straus.
Nowadays though, it’s very rare to see them used in orchestral music as only around 150 of them were ever made.
Now we come to one of the ancestors of many double reed instruments, the Shawm. As you’ll hear in the video above, the Shawm has a very distinctive sound.
The shawm came on the scene in Europe in the 13th century and became one of the most popular instruments during the late medieval period and into the renaissance era.
Typically, they were made out of a single piece of wood that had finger holes cut into it so that the musician can change the pitch. Like other wind instruments, it then has a flared bell at the end.
As with most types of instruments, Shawms come in lots of different sizes, the larger they are the lower their pitch and vice versa, the smaller they are, the higher the pitch.
Next, we have an instrument that looks like a cross between a bassoon and a saxophone, the Sarrusophone is a double reed instrument that was made by Pierre-Louis Gautrot in 1856.
It got its name from Pierre-Auguste Sarrus, a french musician who came up with the idea for the Sarrusophone and who Gautrot named it after.
Unlike all the other instruments we’ve looked at so far, the Sarrusophone is made out of metal.
It’s incredibly rare to see them in classical music today with very few parts being written for them. However, you’ll hear the contrabass sarrusophone in some pieces such as Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas or Ravel’s Shéhérazade.
The next instrument, the Crumhorn (which means curved horn) is a woodwind musical instrument from the Renaissance period and was made popular in the English court of Henry VIII.
As its name suggests, the crumhorn isn’t straight like lots of instruments but bent featuring a unique ‘J curve’. This doesn’t actually affect the sound but is purely aesthetic.
The crumhorn is unique so far in our list in that it’s what’s called a capped reed instrument – this means that you don’t actually put your lips over the double reed, instead you blow air through an opening in the cap.
This has one benefit in that you’re less likely to damage your reeds (which are very delicate) but one disadvantage is that you can’t control the dynamics.
Another double reed instrument from the renaissance period is the Cornamuse which sounds quite similar to the crumhorn.
Like the crumhorn, it’s also a capped reed instrument meaning that you don’t place your lips on the reed but instead blow through a gap at the end of the instrument.
Popular in the Renaissance era, they fell out of favor in the transition to the baroque period, and sadly no original cornamuse have survived. This means that all the modern-day instruments are made from pictures and descriptions.
Another woodwind instrument from the Renaissance period, the Dulcian or Curtal is the predecessor of the bassoon. The sound it produces is deep and is very similar to a bassoon.
Although it’s not known who or when it was invented, it was very popular during the later 1500s and into the 1600s being used in a lot of chamber music.
Dulcians are made out of wood, usually maple. They’re constructed by drilling two holes into them that the air passes down and then back up to a flared bell.
The double reed is then fixed to the end of the bocal or crook.
10. Oboe da Caccia
The Oboe da Caccia or Oboe da Silva is another double reed instrument that’s a member of the oboe family.
Thought to be invented by J.H. Eichentopf in Germany, it was first mentioned in 1722. It then became a very popular baroque instrument with composers like Bach and Fasch writing extensively for it.
Like the crumhorn that we looked at earlier, the Oboe da Caccia is also a curved tube shape although it sounds more similar to the cor anglais.
Also called a Sausage Bassoon or Cervelas, the Rackett is a wind instrument from the Renaissance era.
It was first introduced towards the end of the 16th century, but its exact origins are unknown. It’s thought to be from Germany due to some paintings of it being found there.
Considering it’s such a small instrument, the Rackett made a sound that is surprisingly low-pitched. This is capable thanks to its clever design which features 9 bores holes that are connected.
But, it didn’t last very long and was replaced by the bassoon by the late 1600s.
12. Oboe d’amore
And last, but by no means least, we have the Oboe d’Amore which is another woodwind instrument from the oboe family.
Its name which translated means “Oboe of Love,” most likely comes from the deep mellow tone that it produced, with other instruments like the viola d’amore and flute d’amore inspiring this name.
To look at, the Oboe d’Amore is larger than the oboe and its role is to bridge the gap in the range between the oboe and the cor anglais.
Summing up our List of Double Reed Instruments
There you have it, the 12 most common double reed instruments.
As you can tell by now, this grand family of musical instruments has a lot of variation and flexibility to offer when it comes to sound and construction.
There are lots more that we haven’t included on this list so we’ll be adding to it soon. Let us know which ones you think we should add!