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Guide to Shawms

Shawm : What is it?

Shawms

Shawms are early wind instruments consisting of a straight wooden tube with a conical bore. They feature a double reed construction, which uses two pieces of cane vibrating against each other to produce sound. Shawms have seven to eight finger holes, with the eighth serving as the thumb hole. Considered the forerunner of the modern oboe, they were widely used in the Renaissance period and were given different names in various European countries. Modern shawms are commonly used for traditional dance music.

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Types of Shawms

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Kinds of Shawms include the following:

Catalan shawms

Catalan shawms have sharply tapered bores producing a loud, earthy tone. They are commonly used for Catalonian folk music in Northern Spain. There are two types – the tible and the tenora. The tible plays the treble notes, while the tenora plays tenor notes pitch one-fifth of an octave lower.

Renaissance shawms

Renaissance shawms have broad cane reeds controlled by a smaller pipe extending from the tube. They are available in several sizes, ranging from small handheld shawms to floor-length ones used in large bands. Smaller models may be placed inside a protective funnel, known as a pirouette, to prevent lip fatigue and protect the cane reed.

Medieval shawms

Medieval shawms, also called oriental shawms, have narrow bores that produce a shrill, compact tone. The reeds are attached to a metal base, which the player uses to blow air into the tube. They are commonly used in street bands, along with drums and trumpets. 

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Choosing Shawms (Buying tips)

Finger holes: Choose a shawm with evenly spaced finger holes that you can easily span with your hand. Make sure you can easily reach the thumb hole while blocking one or more of the finger holes.

Length: Choose a shawm that you can hold comfortably while playing. Look for one that you can span with your arm so that all the keys are accessible. 

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