A woodwind instrument is an instrument made (at least traditionally) of wood that contains a vibrating column of air excited by breath being blown into or across the instrument. The vibration starts either with a reed (single or double) or by the airflow being disrupted by a hard edge. Examples would be piccolo, flute, bassoon, oboe, and clarinet as well as non-orchestral instruments such as the recorder and the harmonica.
The saxophone, although it is made of metal, is an honorary member of the woodwind family rather than the brass family since it uses a reed rather than the lips to initiate the sound.
Since the baroque period, or even earlier, the woodwind section has been an indispensable component of the classical orchestra, and with good reason. The varied timbres of its members individually or in ensemble cut through the mass of string sound in a piercing but more delicate way than those of the brass section. Many of the woodwind instruments have been featured as solo instruments also. The saxophone is indispensible to 20th century and contemporary popular music, in particular jazz and swing.
If you are unsure about which instrument to learn, then why not listen to Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf", where characters are represented by orchestral instruments. The cat (clarinet), the bird (flute) and the duck (oboe) enjoy some entertaining dramatic interaction!
At Yamaha Music London we stock a wide range of woodwind instruments with prices designed to suit beginners, amateurs and professionals.