The best _____ for woodwind doublers

flute and clarinet
Photo, Jope 1978

What are the best instruments, mouthpieces, reeds, headjoints, method books, and other products for woodwind doublers?

I often see this question asked on online message boards (“I’m a saxophone player, so which clarinet mouthpiece should I buy?”) or answered in advertising copy (“The perfect flute headjoint for the woodwind doubler”).

When aspiring doublers ask this question, I think often what they are really asking is, “What product can I purchase that will save me having to really learn a new instrument?” If you’re serious about playing the flute, you’ll want to use the kind of flute that a good flutist would use. If you’re serious about the clarinet, you’ll seek out the kinds of reeds, mouthpieces, and instruments favored by fine clarinetists. In other words, the best clarinet for a woodwind doubler is… the best clarinet.

To double successfully, you have to abandon the idea that you can double on flute and clarinet (and so forth) without having to commit to being a flutist and a clarinetist. There are no shortcuts!

Understanding woodwind key nomenclature systems

bamboo flutes
Photo, Allan Reyes

Most woodwind instruments come in several sizes, and a naming system is required for describing the size and pitch of each. The most familiar for players of modern Western woodwinds is that used for (for example) the clarinet and saxophone families, with most of those instruments being described as “in B-flat” or “in E-flat.” However, there are several other systems in use in the larger woodwind family tree. This can be confounding for newcomers to folk, ethnic, and period woodwinds, but I’ll attempt to shed some light on things.

Here are the four primary systems. The names are my own:

  • Modern. This system is used for modern Western orchestral/band woodwinds and brasses. In this system, each member of the instrument family (such as all of the clarinets) match a written pitch to a fingering, so that, for example, a written C can be fingered the same way on any of the clarinets, and the actual pitch produced depends on the instrument’s size. (Playing written C, incidentally, produces the sounding pitch for which an instrument is named: Playing “C” on a B-flat clarinet produces a sounding B-flat, “C” on an A clarinet produces a sounding A, and so forth.) This is convenient to the clarinetist, but awkward for composers, copyists, conductors, and others dealing with multiple transpositions. It also leads to oddities such as the lowest contrabass clarinets, like all their clarinet siblings, being notated in treble clef. Continue reading “Understanding woodwind key nomenclature systems”

The Doublers Collective: progressive jazz saxophone quintet

The Doublers Collective is a new quintet of accomplished jazz saxophonists with strong doubling abilities, based in Phoenix, Arizona. The group is the brainchild of Monica Shriver, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the NASA conference last year.

Check them out in this video:

For more about the Doublers Collective:

Dibs on first review of their forthcoming CD!

Do it yourself: replace a tenon cork

One of the most common woodwind repair needs is replacement of a clarinet or oboe tenon cork (or bassoon, if you have cork joints, or wooden piccolo, or recorder…). It’s an easy job, and doesn’t require much more than a piece of cork and a few minutes. Let’s do it.

A few weeks ago, I replaced the bell tenon cork on this clarinet with a composite cork product, made from compressed cork bits. It’s cheaper than traditional solid cork, so I thought I would give it a try to see how well it compares. But the cork I used was too thin, and the bell was too loose. I’m going to try the experiment again with a thicker composite cork, but you can do this exactly the same way whether you’re using solid or composite. You can get either kind from

First peel off the old cork.

Continue reading “Do it yourself: replace a tenon cork”