The History of Wind Instruments

By Carl Harper ; Updated September 15, 2017
The history of wind instruments dates back thousands of years.

The history of wind instruments dates back thousands of years ago when the first individuals to live began blowing into items and projecting musical notes. But over time the development of pipes, wood, bronze and metal came into view and were used to make legitimate wind instruments with a multiple note fingering system.

The First Wind Instruments

According to, over twenty thousand years ago, primitive man realized he could produce a musical note by blowing into a piece of hollow cane or dried fruit shell. While vocalists and percussion instruments were the first and second forms of music, respectively, wind instruments are strongly considered to be the third. Blowing through a dead bone or a cut plant and producing musical notes was considered magic to man at the time, and they used this process to communicate with spirits, cure disease and protect crops.

Multiple Musical Notes

Primitive man initially used multiple one-note instruments to get multiple notes. However, he also figured out that blowing harder would produce other notes--and, if blown right, harmonics of the basic note. While South Americans developed pan pipes and Zulu shepherds worked on one-note wind instruments, ancient civilizations in Egypt, China and Samaria invented finger hole instruments. With the addition of one, two, three and even four holes, they created pentatonic melodies by using root notes with harmonics. A basic musical scale and progression soon followed after the invention.

Bagpipes and Reeds

As ancient nations continued to use different items as wind instruments, the discovery of pipes proved to be huge in the development of modern day wind instruments. Blowing into two pipes at the same time produced a melody and a harmony. The invention of bagpipes derived from the pipes after people added an airbag. Further instrumental developments of reed instruments were invented like the oboe, bassoon and clarinet. It wasn't until the 16th century that the use of mechanics enhanced the fingering system on the instruments.


Woodwind instruments like the clarinet, oboe, flute and saxophone all have distinct backgrounds and different times at when they came into existence. While the clarinet first appeared in Islamic and Asian countries 700 years ago, the oboe was a French instrument that was first used in the court of Louis XIV. In the 18th century it became a popular solo instrument that was mainly used by famous composers such as Bach and Telemann. The saxophone was invented by Adolph Sax in 1841 after he had worked on perfecting the bass clarinet. The flute was developed more than 1,000 years ago in ancient Asia.


Brass instruments including the trombone and trumpet emerged thousands of years apart. Drawings of trumpets in the Egyptian culture date back to 1500 BC. Other ancient trumpets have come from several countries including Rome, Israel, Greece, India, China and Japan. These first types of trumpets were made from bamboo, silver, shell, ivory, wood and bone. The earliest of the typical trumpet that we know of today were simply long tubes with a bell on the end. They were only used to call an army into battle or announce a royalty arrival. The trombone was created in the late 16th century and there were three sizes: the alto, tenor and bass. The name trombone came from the Italian word "trombe" which means trumpet and the word "one" which means big.