The most popular thing on my website is the Woodwind doubling in Broadway musicals page, which brings in visitors from around the world. I’ve even been lucky enough to hear occasionally from major woodwind doublers who are working on Broadway.
I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the most common combinations of instruments called for. I’m including a table at the end of this post that shows every combination that occurs 10 or more times on the current version of the list. The first column numbers the rows for convenience in referring to specific data; the second column indicates how many times that particular combination occur.
Six of the top seven “combinations” are actually “straight” books, calling for only a single instrument (or multiple instruments within the same family, such as flute plus piccolo). The fifth most common “combination” on my list is a question mark, which indicates that I know (or have reason to believe) that a reed book exists, but don’t have specific information on the instruments required.
The most common “straight” book is clarinet only (I use “clarinet” on the list to mean B-flat or unspecified clarinet, and “clarinet in A” when I know that is what is used). If you include lines 13 and 14, which call for clarinet plus bass clarinet, or B-flat clarinet and A clarinet, the total count of clarinet-only books is 399. This would seem to imply that if you play only a single instrument and want to work in musical theater, then clarinet may be the best option. However, this fails to take into account a number of other things—for one example, it seems to me that “straight” books have become less common as pit orchestras have shrunk, so clarinet-only players may be less employable in theater now than they once were.
Bassoon alone comes in second, followed by flute only and oboe only, though if flute-plus-piccolo and oboe-plus-English-horn books are included in the counts, they each outnumber the straight bassoon books. Straight saxophone books are relatively rare, with 19 alto-only books and 16 tenor-only. No combination of multiple saxophones occurs more than 10 times, unless it also includes other woodwinds.
The most common true doubling book is piccolo, flute, clarinet, and alto saxophone, with 80 occurences. Another 184 doubling books are subsets of this group of instruments. Adding tenor saxophone to the group adds 110 more books.
Doubling combinations with oboe/English horn most often use clarinet and/or tenor saxophone, totaling 69 books.
The most common low reeds book is clarinet, bass clarinet, and baritone saxophone (27 books); adding bassoon and/or flutes adds more possibilities for the low reeds player.
Among the “rarer” instruments, alto flute is the only one that appears on this list, though it appears with relative frequency in the full list. Its infrequency here is because it is used in such widely varying combinations of instruments. Its appearance here (line 50) is as part of a straight book with flute and piccolo.
Of the 1983 books included here, 616 are doubling books. Of these, fully 584 call for clarinet. 355 call for flute, 266 call for alto saxophone, 182 call for tenor saxophone, 162 call for piccolo, 128 call for bass clarinet, 74 call for baritone saxophone, 69 call for oboe, 59 call for English horn, 33 call for soprano saxophone, and 25 call for bassoon.
|7.||85||Oboe, English horn|
|8.||80||Piccolo, flute, clarinet, alto saxophone|
|9.||65||Flute, clarinet, alto saxophone|
|10.||55||Clarinet, tenor saxophone|
|11.||47||Clarinet, alto saxophone|
|12.||39||Flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone|
|13.||37||Clarinet, bass clarinet|
|14.||35||Clarinet, clarinet in A|
|15.||32||Oboe, English horn, clarinet, tenor saxophone|
|16.||32||Piccolo, flute, clarinet|
|17.||27||Clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone|
|19.||21||Piccolo, flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone|
|20.||20||Clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone|
|22.||17||Oboe, English horn, clarinet|
|23.||17||Clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone|
|26.||16||Piccolo, flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone|
|27.||14||Clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, baritone saxophone|
|28.||14||Flute, clarinet, bass clarinet|
|29.||14||Flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone|
|30.||13||Piccolo, flute, alto saxophone|
|31.||12||Flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone|
|32.||11||Clarinet, baritone saxophone|
|33.||11||Clarinet, bassoon, baritone saxophone|
|34.||11||Flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone|
|35.||11||Flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, baritone saxophone|
|36.||10||Oboe [optional], English horn [optional], clarinet, tenor saxophone|
|37.||10||Oboe, clarinet, tenor saxophone|
|38.||10||Piccolo, flute, alto flute|