Wind Instruments - From Origins to Mobile Apps

Aug 31, 2015

This is our very first blog post …. and since our PlaywithaPro artists are masters of wind instruments, then why not  start by taking a brief trip back to the origins of some of these wind instruments? Is there something interesting one can learn from this recursion in time? Here are some learnings from our trip to The Danish Music Museum.

The Beginning

The beginning of the story takes us back many centuries ago, when the primitive man found out that hollow pieces of wood and sea or fruit shells can produce a “harmonious” sound when being blown in a specific way. Soon enough this became a magical and sacred act through which humans could get in touch with nature and invoke protective spirits. If you can’t imagine the sound that they made, try to find a hollow piece of wood or a sea shell and give it a try.

The later adding of finger holes led to a new level of sound experimentation and to the invention of flute like instruments and whistles. This gave new opportunities for experimentation and creativity. As we move further in time, wind instruments get new meanings and purposes in different cultures. Let’s  take a peek at some of them.

A bit about the Oldest Ones

Testimonies of some of the oldest wind instruments date back in Ancient Egypt. Since music had a significant role in everyday life and religious rituals, it’s not surprising that they had a wide variety of instruments. As ancient depictions show, wood was one of the most accessible resources. This might be a reason why egyptians focused on improving the technique for wind instruments such as flutes, the precursors of the clarinet (zummara) and of the oboe, and trumpets. With the discovery of metal, trumpets were later made out of silver or bronze. What it’s interesting here, is that egyptians were using not only brass instruments, but also single and double reeds.

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The Instruments of the Gods

In Ancient Greece wind instruments receive a more artistic meaning as they become associated with the gods and used in tragedies and for celebrations.The most noble wind instrument, the aulos, was associated with the god of sun Apollo or the god of wine Dionysos (it varies depending on location). The conch-shell was a natural wind instrument associated with Triton, the son of the sea god, Poseidon. This instrument reminds us of the “primordial” wind instruments we were talking about before, but with a more complex playing technique.

Probably an innovation at that time was the pan flute or syrinx which was made by tying together several reeds of different lengths and blowing them alternatively and like so being able to create various pitches. This was considered to be a humble instrument associated with the half breed god Pan. Shepherds used to play it to please their protective god Pan.

The Greek myth of the pan flute is way too interesting not to note it down. Legend has it, that the god of the shepherds, Pan, fell in love with the nymph Syrinx. In her attempt to escape from him, she was transformed into reeds by Zeus. When Pan reached the reeds to kiss them, he noticed the sound made when blowing through them and decided to tie them together.

greek wind instruments.jpgDanger? Wind Instruments to the rescue

Some civilizations used wind instruments to signal danger. Blowing a horn instantly alerted villagers or shepherds. Around the thirteenth century, trumpets were the main instruments used for security and some towns even forbade the random usage of them during the night. A bit later on, trumpets became actual music instruments.

Biblical Times

The Bible mentions several wind instruments which are being used in religious ceremonies. The horn and the trumpets are some of the most referred to instruments. The trumpet is described as the instrument of the angels meant to announce or praise the will of God and his Son.

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Back to Nowadays

You could write thick books about the development of wind instruments( which there are plenty of…), but we'll skip a few chapters and  jump to a very interesting contemporary trend. Since today we have mobile apps for everything, then why not have some which enable us to play instruments? As one might expect piano apps are quite popular and since the piano works by pressing its keys, these actions are quite easy to simulate on phones and tablets. But, what we didn’t really expect was to find an app for playing ocarina which actually works by blowing air in the phone. The app´s description sounds something like this “Turn your phone into an ancient flute and experience the magic”. You can watch the video here .  Even though these apps can’t really replace  instruments, they become a fun and interactive way in which regular users can get closer to playing music.

Please watch this fun video that explains it better...


These are just of the few meanings and purposes of wind instruments over time.What we find interesting  is, how an apparently simple act of blowing wind through a hollow piece of wood serves as a trigger for creativity, passion and evolution from a basic sound towards complex meaning and sophisticated music. Now stop reading and go blow that horn!


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