Shawms are what people played before they had oboes. They date back to medieval times. The "standard" soprano shawm has no keys, 7 fingerholes (all in the front), and a range of about 2 octaves (depending on the player's skill). It uses a wide double reed that resembles a miniature bassoon reed, fitted onto a brass tube the same way a bassoon reed fits onto its bocal. The bore is conical, like an oboe only wider. The shawm to the left here is a tenor shawm, pitched an octave below the soprano in C.
Shawms were made in sizes ranging from sopranino (in F, a fourth above) to great bass in C (two octaves below the soprano, but usually with range extended via keywork downward to G). "Great bass" is no exaggeration: they're about 9 feet tall. Shawms from alto down have at least one key. Bass and larger frequently have 3-4 keys to extend the range lower.
Shawms flourished throughout the middle ages and Renaissance, only to be replaced by the Baroque oboe.
My shawms (at right) are of the soprano and alto variety. The soprano I "built" myself from an Early Music Shop kit. The alto was made by Eric Moulder.
Last revised 2/21/96
Copyright © 1996 by Grant D. Green
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