Advice on writing for doublers

Manuscript score
Photo, liza31337

I got an interesting question by email last week. I’m reprinting the message here, followed by the suggestions I sent in return (I’ve edited a bit).

Hi Bret,

I’m doing my first arrangement for a musical, which will be an amateur production.

I’m going to be hiring players from amateur/student orchestras (university), or simply people who play well enough to take on the parts. I don’t think at this time I will be able to have more than 3 wind players.

One wind player has advised (from their experience as a musician) not to expect a player at this level to be able to play both a single and double reed instrument. Is it common for this to be the case, in your own experience? Is there any doubling of a mix of certain double and single-reeds instruments that’s even commonplace amongst ‘amateur’ players?

Do you have any recommendations of how to group the players, in terms of if I only have 3 available, and they are ‘amateur’ (but still ‘good’) level?

I had a look at the reed books on this site, but had to bear in mind that when putting on professional productions, you’re more likely to find players who can switch between a wider range of instruments. Any tips you can provide would be greatly appreciated.


Thanks for stopping by my website and for taking the time to write. This is a great question with, I’m afraid, no great answers.

Woodwind doublers, like most commodities, are most easily found in larger cities, but can also pop up in odd places. Depending on where you are located, you may have more or fewer (or none) at your disposal. The best solution, when possible, is to line up your musicians in advance, and write for their strengths. Shows on Broadway are sometimes written this way.

Assuming that you can’t do that, you may have to hedge your bets somewhat. You might, for example, do something like this:

Reed 1: Piccolo, flute, clarinet [optional]

Reed 2: Flute [optional], clarinet, soprano saxophone [optional]

Reed 3: Bassoon, clarinet [optional]

In this case, the parts could be played by a flutist, a clarinetist, and a bassoonist. The optional parts could be notated on ossia lines for the “primary” instruments, or omitted according to your instructions. All of these books include clarinet writing, but you would want to put the important solos and the lead clarinet parts in book 2; likewise the Reed 2 flute parts would be harmony parts to Reed 1’s lead.

As for university-level musicians (or musicians of ANY level) who play both single and double reeds well: I would say that this is certainly not unheard of, though definitely on the rare side. Woodwind doublers can come with any variety of available instruments, but these combinations might be among the most common:

  • Saxophone with flute and/or clarinet. For some reason it’s unusual to see alto and tenor saxophone in the same book, but I’m not sure why. Many if not most serious saxophonists will have both available.
  • When oboe is used with doubles, they are most often (besides English horn) clarinet and/or tenor saxophone.
  • Low reeds: some combination of bassoon, bass clarinet, and/or baritone saxophone, maybe with some flute and clarinet as well.

Allow me to suggest that when it comes to hiring musicians, you avoid doing it by posting notices in music stores or university music departments. Instead, get in touch with:

  • Musical directors of other local musical theater productions
  • University music professors
  • Church music ministers
  • Personnel from local recording studios and live music venues

The way to get good, reliable musicians is by word-of-mouth recommendations. Even before you start writing, these kinds of contacts can give you an idea of whether you’ve got strong woodwind doublers available. Also, most professional musicians won’t be offended if you offer them the gig, even if the pay is low. They might not accept, but they may be willing to recommend their star students (who will work cheap, and maybe take your music in to their lessons).

I hope that helps.




2 responses to “Advice on writing for doublers”

  1. Steven Hugley Avatar
    Steven Hugley

    Dr. Pimentel,
    If a student were interested in playing more gigs that required doubling. What would you suggest the instruments the player should be able to play, and what parts should they expect? Stick to single reeds only, or use single and double. And what combinations are most common.

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