Which multiple woodwinds degree programs should I apply to?

“Which multiple woodwinds degree programs should I apply to?” I get this question a lot, since I write about multiple woodwind degree programs here on the blog, have a couple of those degrees myself, and maintain a list of such programs.

(The list is meant to be comprehensive but probably isn’t. If you know of a program that isn’t listed, please let me know! These days I mostly depend on emails from interested parties to help keep the list up-to-date. I don’t have some secret source where I can find all the current available programs.)

The answer, of course, is that I don’t know which program you should choose. I graduated from two excellent programs, both of which I understand have evolved in the 10+ years since I finished school. Programs frequently change, and so do the faculty and administration that run them.

So, you should narrow down your list of possibilities the best you can, and reach out to schools to find out more. You might try to figure out from the school’s music faculty directory who is the head of the woodwind department, or contact the professor of your “main” instrument (if you have one).

If I were looking for a program today, here are some questions I might like to research on the school’s website, or ask a professor:

  • How many students are currently enrolled in the degree program? Are there any enrolled in multiple-woodwinds programs at other degree levels? Is this enrollment typical, or is it currently at a high or low?
  • How do the woodwind faculty feel about the program? Do they see woodwind doubling as a valuable, marketable skill? Are any of them doublers themselves? Do they try to push students into single-instrument degrees instead?
  • Do multiple-woodwinds students get the same kind of access/time/attention/instructional time from the faculty that single-instrument students get? Is there room for multiple woodwinds majors in, say, the oboe reedmaking class? The clarinet choir?
  • How big and how competitive is the music department in general? Is there any hope of auditioning into serious ensembles on secondary instruments?
  • Are there appropriate/relevant graduate assistantships available, like teaching or assisting with a woodwind methods class, or playing auxiliary woodwinds in the bands or orchestras?
  • How is the degree structured? What courses would I take? Would I have a minor, cognate field, etc?
  • How is individual instrumental study structured? Would I have a “main” instrument and “secondary” instruments? How would that affect the instruction and experience I get on each? Would I be studying multiple instruments each semester? How much total instruction would I get on each instrument? Would I perform on all my instruments in solo recitals and juries?
  • How strong do I need to be on each instrument for entry into the program? What is the audition process like? Do you have lists or guidelines for required audition repertoire?
  • Are there instruments available for my use? Do I need to own all the instruments I intend to study before I start the program?
  • What non-school-related opportunities are available in the area? Are students earning money playing gigs? Is there an active musical theater scene or some other kind of music-making that would value the services of an aspiring woodwind doubler?
  • What have former students in the program accomplished? Have they graduated? How long did it take them? Are they employed? Doing what?

I did one of my multiple woodwinds degrees at a well-known, name-brand music school, and later in academic job interviews hiring committees did notice and comment on it; it’s possible the name opened some doors. My other multiple woodwinds degree is from a smaller (but not small), high-quality but lower-name-recognition school, where I got much better access to the faculty, better opportunities to perform, better financial aid, and lower costs. Both were valuable experiences in different ways.

If you are in the US, there’s a decent chance that there’s a quality program or two within a few hours’ drive. Check with the faculty to find out about the details that are important to you. Give strong consideration to assistantship opportunities, especially if they involve teaching, as this experience has high educational value for you and can set your CV apart in an academic job search. If you’re having a hard time deciding between two similar programs, you probably won’t go wrong with either, so maybe choose the one that costs less and/or is closer to home.

Good luck and happy practicing!

University of New Mexico offers new multiple woodwinds degree

The University of New Mexico is now offering a masters degree program in multiple woodwinds. A few items of interest from the degree requirements (also see an update in the comments): It is a 4-instrument degree, with one “primary” and three “secondary” instruments. Two semesters of study are required on the primary instrument, and one … Read more

FAQ on multiple woodwinds degrees

I get to hear fairly often from aspiring woodwind doublers who are considering the option of a college degree in multiple woodwinds. Here are some of the questions I answer most often.

What school should I go to?

There are a few options for undergraduates, more at the masters degree level, and a few for doctoral students. I maintain a list that is meant to be comprehensive but probably isn’t; please let me know if there’s anything missing or erroneous.

Mostly, the schools that have multiple woodwinds degrees are ones that have large and reputable music programs. I personally did one multiple woodwinds degree at a music school that is widely regarded as one the best; this was an excellent experience but I found my opportunities limited in terms of professors’ attention and ensemble placement. I did a second multiple woodwinds degree at an excellent but less-famous music school, and got many more opportunities. Your mileage may vary.

Will I need to be able to play all the instruments well before I start the degree?

Most multiple woodwinds programs seem to be for either three instruments of your choice or for all five major/modern woodwinds (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone). In most cases you will need to enter with some level of proficiency on each instrument that is covered in the degree, and will need to be well-accomplished on at least one of them. By “proficiency” I mean evidence of a disciplined and serious approach to the instrument over a non-trivial period of time, preferably under the guidance of a good teacher. I entered my masters degree program with an undergraduate degree in saxophone, several serious summers’ worth of flute and clarinet lessons plus some experience playing those instruments in university ensembles, and a semester’s study each on oboe and bassoon.

Will I need to own all the instruments?

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Reader email: doubling opportunities

Photo, fantail media

A reader emailed me to ask this question (edited):

I was wondering if you could give me some information on what kind of opportunities being a doubler has opened up for you. I am beginning to consider options for graduate school and am looking into multiple woodwinds degrees. Thanks!

I do consider myself to be at the beginning of a hopefully long career, but doubling has already given me some opportunities that I surely wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Doubling isn’t a career that typically leads to fame outside the music business, but within the industry many of the best and best-known doublers are working in Broadway pit orchestras, in the Los Angeles recording studios, or on the road with touring jazz or pop acts.

I haven’t had any of those jobs, nor do I anticipate pursuing any of them at this point. But here are a few things doubling has done for me:

Doubling gigs. These are gigs where I am actually hired to perform on multiple instruments. Most reasonably large cities in the US seem to have at least a few community or school musical theater productions with large enough budgets to pay a professional or semi-pro orchestra, and woodwind doublers are generally in demand (bonus points for double reed players or “low reeds” players). Doubling gigs can also include being hired as a local to play behind a touring show or artist who is passing through town, or being a sort of utility woodwind player for local orchestras, churches, and so forth. Often for me these have been sort of write-your-own-job-description situations, where I’m hired to play one instrument, and later re-hired because I’m able and willing to cover some other parts, too.

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University of Northern Iowa offers new multiple woodwinds degree

The University of Northern Iowa is now offering a Master of Music degree with a multiple woodwinds (3-instrument) emphasis. A few points of interest, according to degree information from their website: Students take 6 credit hours of study on a “primary” instrument, and 4 hours on a “secondary” instrument, and must “demonstrate proficiency” on a … Read more

Reader email: multiple woodwinds degree or single-instrument degree?

photo, bobtravis

I get email on a pretty regular basis from people who are considering multiple woodwinds degree programs. They usually have excellent questions for which there are no real answers, but I’m always happy to try to offer whatever perspective I’ve got.

I heard recently from one of my readers who is working on a bachelor’s degree at a very large and well-respected university music department. They are currently enrolled as a double major in jazz studies (playing primarily saxophone) and flute performance, and have some skills in additional woodwinds.

The question was whether this person should continue on that track, or switch to a double major in jazz studies with a 5-instrument multiple woodwinds degree.

I like the idea of getting just a flute degree, because it makes it sound like I’m a REAL flute player. The woodwind degree also makes it sound like I can play any double—but I’m afraid it still kind of sounds like I’m just a “doubler.” (Not really an EXPERT at any of them).

The work I’d like to do after school is anything that utilizes woodwind doublers – playing in shows, playing on cruise ships, playing in big bands, playing in recording studios (dream job!).

What would you suggest I do?

Here’s the best advice I was able to come up with. (All quotes here are somewhat edited.)

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More thoughts on multiple woodwinds degrees

I often get email from people who are considering pursuing a college or conservatory degree in multiple woodwinds. Now that I’ve completed two of them myself, here are a few thoughts.

If you want to enter a multiple woodwinds degree program, you should already have at least a basic technical command of each instrument to be included on the degree. This really should include a background of good private instruction on each instrument. In my experience, self-taught players on any instrument are rarely very well prepared for the rigors of college-level study.

Bachelor’s-level programs are rare, and I think that’s with good reason. For most woodwind players, I think, diving right into college-level study of three or more instruments is ill-advised. You will do much better to spend those years focusing on your strongest instrument, developing your musicianship, learning good practicing techniques, and hopefully racking up some achievements like contest awards or high placement in top university ensembles. All of those things benefited me very much (my bachelor’s degree is in saxophone performance), and it’s likely I wouldn’t have been able to achieve as much if I had been dividing my practice hours between multiple instruments (plus completing music coursework AND general education coursework).

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Auditioning for a multiple woodwinds degree program

I had an exchange by email with someone today, that I thought might be of use to all you hordes of prospective multiple woodwinds majors out there.

Hi Mr. Pimentel,
My name is Mike ________ from _______ University, and I am an aspiring doubler. I have been doing some looking around at graduate schools and programs, and I have found there still are a few programs that still offer doubling. What I have not found are the requirements or guidelines for auditions. I was wondering how an audition for a doubling program would go. What kind of things should I prepare? Do I audition on all the instruments? Thanks for your insight.

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Brass doubling?

I have now successfully completed both my written and oral comprehensive exams, and am one large step closer to finishing a doctorate in multiple woodwinds performance.

In the oral exam, one of my professors asked why woodwind doubling is a well-recognized musical specialty, but doubling on brass instruments is not.  The question was an odd one, especially since brass instruments fall precisely outside my area of expertise. I didn’t have a good answer, except that brass players seem to be particularly protective of their embouchures, and presumably don’t want to risk ruining them by switching instruments. (That seemed to be satisfactory for purposes of the exam.)

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