6 Popular Songs for Woodwinds

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been taking a look at some of the best popular songs to practice your music with. We started on this journey with the best popular songs for practicing the guitar, and last week we took a swing at a few songs to help you with your vocal practice.

We’re going to continue that theme this week, but rather than focus on an instrument that is commonly found in modern popular music, like the guitar or the piano, this week we’re going to take a look at a section of the orchestra that most people think of as “old” instruments that aren’t used too much in modern music writing: the woodwinds.

Just because you’re more likely to find a clarinet in a sonata than in a Hot 100 hit doesn’t mean they can’t be found, nor doe it mean that you have to stick to that dusty old orchestral music. In fact, you might just be surprised at how often the woodwinds actually do make an appearance in pop music, and even when they don’t, there’s no reason you can’t do your own cover!

So, without further ado, let’s dive in.

Flute

While you might not know it from today’s music, the flute used to be an integral part of a great many rock bands throughout the 60s and 70s. For some reason, this trend has faded significantly, but the flute hasn’t faded completely from rock music. Here’s just a taste for you to consider adding to your practice.

Jethro Tull – Basically Anything

Okay, I’m starting off with a little bit of a cheat. Jethro Tull was a flute-rock band by design. Which, if I do say so myself, actually makes them the perfect place to begin. Though they are most definitley a rock and roll act, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson is widely recognized as one of the best flutist to ever play, no matter if the genre is classical, jazz, or rock.

Pretty much any Jethro Tull song will feature the flute at some point, of course, being the master that he was, you may have to work up to this level.

Beastie Boys – “Flute Loop”

The perfectly named “Flute Loop” was released in 1994, on the Beastie Boy’s album Ill Communication, which also had the mammoth hit “Sabotage,” and would eventually go on to reach triple platinum sales.

As you can probably guess from the title, the flute take center-stage for the entire run-time of the track, even playing over muffled vocals, wondefully jazzy guitars and choppy keys. The only problem with it is that it’s short, lasting less than two minutes. But even with its short time, it proves that the flute can work well with a beat.

Clarinet

The clarinet is an old instrument, with similar instruments dating as far back as 3000 BC. But it wasn’t until Mozart realized its abilities as a solo instrument that it really began to take off.

Gershwin – “Rhapsody in Blue”

The actual genre for George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” can be a little tough to nail down. It has elements of classical, jazz, marches, and a touch of the blues. But regardless of it’s exact place in the spectrum of musical genres, it certainly is a crowd pleaser! It just doesn’t get much more iconic than this. Of course, now having said that, you better practice that clarinet solo. This song is so well known that it’s more likely to be noticed if you make a mistake in a performance. No pressure!

Imagine Dragons – “Radioactive” (Cover)

“Radioactive” by American rock band Imagine Dragons doesn’t have a single note played by a clarinet at all. Instead, it’s an alternative, electronic song with elements of dubstep. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still play it!

This cover done by Ferenc Clarinet shows off just how versatile the clarinet can be, as he very successfully covers one of the best-selling singles of all time. In fact, the clarinet lends itself to the electronic sounds, beat, and even the vocals. Go out there and experiment!

Saxophone

The saxophone is probably the woodwind that is most widely used across genres today. As a matter of fact, it crosses into just about every musical genre, from classical orchestras, to jazz bands, rock, pop, and even rap and hip-hop! This has made it very hard to pick just two songs, so if you play the sax and want more, it’s not difficult to find modern popular music with just a simple internet search.

Eddie Harris – “Cold Duck Time”

One of the most important genre for the saxophone is jazz. And although it’s perhaps not among the most well known songs to practice your sax playing with, “Cold Duck Time” by Eddie Harris is a wonderful tune to practice with. It’s a straight-eighth note jam, and the F blues scale pretty much covers the whole song. But a little understanding of the subtleties of the Db6/9 and Eb6/9 chords can help you start to think about improvisation with a bit more nuance than simply relying on the blues scale.

Men At Work – “Who Can It Be Now”

I couldn’t resist ending on this fun tune! This silly but catchy song from Men At Work came out in 1981, and features that iconic saxophone riff throughout. Iconic as it is, the sax riff is fun to playm is simple enough, and is repeated often. While some people might see this as boring, I would say instead that it gives the perfect opportunity to practice some variation, and that all important jazz saxophone skill: improvisation!

As usual, this is by no means a comprehensive list of the best songs for you to practice your woodwind skills. Do your own research. Find your favourite songs, or covers of them. Branch out and you might be surprised at what you find. For example, while doing the research for this blog, I discovered a genre called “flute-rap.” Who knew? Check it out for yourself!