Flutes often play the highest and fastest notes in an orchestra. Flutes sit next to the 1st oboe, their most important colleague outside the flute section. Flutes often work with the 1st violins, because they play in the same register. The flute section contains the highest-pitched instrument in the entire orchestra, the piccolo.
The 1st oboe plays the pitch A to which the orchestra tunes before a rehearsal or concert. Oboe solos are often plaintive and expressive. The essential element in the oboe is the reed, which oboists make themselves out of two pieces of cane. Reeds of various sensitivity are needed for different kinds of music. The oboe section includes the lower-sounding cor anglais, or English horn.
Clarinets often play soft and rapid music in the middle register. Because of its wide range, the clarinet can be paired with any other instrument in the woodwinds. The clarinet section includes the shrill, high E flat clarinet and the low, saxophone-like bass clarinet.
The bassoon is the bass instrument of the woodwinds. It is the foundation of the woodwinds and often works with the cellos and sometimes as an addition to the horn section. The lowest member of the bassoon section is the contrabassoon, which plays very low, down with the tuba and double basses.