“So, how many instruments do you play?” I get this a lot.
The way I prefer to answer is this: I play all of the major modern woodwind instruments, plus some folk and ethnic woodwinds.
That answer usually doesn’t cut it.
So, if pressed, I give a slightly more detailed response: I play flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone, plus recorders, whistles, and so forth.
By this point, people with musical background usually get the picture. But some people still demand a precise number, perhaps thinking that my caginess is modesty, and that it will be polite for them to insist upon an answer.
The truth of the matter, though, is that I avoid the question because I don’t exactly know the answer. A former teacher of mine indicates in his bio that he plays “over 45 instruments.” I can’t help but wonder how he came up with that impressive count. Is he including B-flat clarinet, A clarinet, E-flat clarinet, and bass clarinet? C clarinet, alto clarinet, basset horn, contrabasses in E-flat and B-flat…
I suppose I “play” all the members of all five major modern woodwind families. But I don’t own all of them, and some I only play very rarely and on borrowed instruments (contrabassoon, alto flute, oboe d’amore…), and there are even a few I’ve never really played at all (sopranino saxophone, clarinet in C…). Bringing in ethnic instruments, of course, just compounds the confusion.
How many instruments do I play? Don’t ask.
1 thought on “How many instruments do you play?”
The answer for me is, what will I play if I get paid for? Some instruments, such as oboe, English horn, recorder, shawn, crumhorn, Albert-system clarinets, pre-Boehm flutes, etc., I can make recognizable music out of, but it is not of sufficient quality for me to get paid. I can also make quasi-musical noise out of most brass instruments, and I use piano, electric bass and guitar when I compose, but I am not even good enough to play those instruments for my kids.
I have a rank order for proficiency and desire to play the instruments I will play in public:
1. baritone sax
2. alto sax
3. tenor sax
4. soprano sax *
5. bass clarinet
8. contrabass clarinet *
9. contra-alto clarinet *
10. Bb clarinet
11. A clarinet
12. alto flute
13. alto clarinet *
14. bass saxophone *
15. contrabassoon *
17. Eb clarinet
* means I don’t own one, but I can play it. I have been paid, or part of a professional-level amateur group, to play all of the above except contrabassoon. I have also appeared playing random percussion instruments here or there, but I do not consider myself a percusionist.
So, using this definition, I play 17 instruments.