Woodwind Doubler Census results, part 5: challenges

Back for more, I see? Thanks to all who are still reading results from the Great Woodwind Doubler Census of 2011. At this point we are getting into some more of the questions with free-form answers, and I think your responses are really interesting.

Q: What is your greatest challenge as a woodwind doubler?

I categorized the answers as best I could, with many of your responses falling into multiple categories. Here are some of the most common issues raised:

By far, the most common issue reported was finding the time to practice multiple instruments—I’ll reveal that this was my own answer, as well.

Flute-specific problems were also frequently mentioned, with oboe, clarinet, and bassoon appearing lower on the list (the saxophone got only a mention or two). I do think that the flute as a double has some particular challenges, but, as we know, it’s also one of the most common doubles. It would be interesting to assemble a group of doublers who play all five major woodwinds at a somewhat equal level, and take a poll to see which instrument they think is the biggest challenge.

11% of respondents to this question mentioned embouchure issues. That made it the third-most-frequent response category, but still not an overwhelming number. I’m pleased to see this number come in fairly low, as it has been something of a soapbox topic for me that playing multiple instruments, done right, doesn’t ruin your embouchure. (To be clear, the 11% number includes those who mentioned any kind of embouchure issue, not necessarily actual embouchure ruination.)

A number of people mentioned the problem of making fast switches between instruments in performance. Almost as many specifically mentioned the problem of trying to play instruments at a sufficiently high level; this idea may be implicit in many additional responses.

A few mentioned the problem of establishing a reputation as a competent/professional musician on more than one instrument, and overcoming the doubler/dabbler stereotype. I think this is a real problem—how many times have you been asked, “But what’s your main instrument?”

And now, in random order, all the responses, mostly unedited.

  • Pricey.
  • flexibilty as to various musical styles
  • Finding time to maintain skill levels across the various families of instruments.
  • Letting go of the ego long enough on a “double” to allow my skills to take over rather than my doubts!
    Pitch on the 3rd octave of the flute, oboe reeds, jazz improvisation.
  • Switching to flute
  • 1. Having time to practice both of my primary instruments. I am a high school student( age 15) and have tons of homework.
    2. Convincing the directors at my youth orchestra that I am a serious oboe player. Even though I am the best oboe player in the orchestra (I am going to [music camp] this summer), they can’t get over the fact that I can also play alto sax very well and bassoon. They wouldn’t let me play the sax solo in Pictures at an Exhibition even though I was better than the player they found.
  • Finding a gig.
  • Putting up with the old-school jazz guys who think they’re amazing but play the flute (clar/oboe/god forbid, bassoon) like drunk high school kids.
  • Unability to find a degree that supports multiple instruments.
  • Purchasing the professional quality instruments I double on.
  • Some touring broadway show books such as West Side Story bk 4, Young Frankenstein bk3, Spamalot bk2, Legally Blonde bk2, Producers bk4
  • Finding musicians interested in collaborating in my preferred style (jazz).
  • Being good enough on all nstruments .
  • As someone that started on saxophone, I find the following issues most challenging as a woodwind doubler:
    – Conserving my air and limiting my voicing while playing clarinet in order to avoid the occasional ‘scoop’
    – Making sure that my lower lip is rolled out, and that my aperture is not too small while playing flute
    – Oboe reed making
  • Greatest challenge is shifting mindset (and lipset!) between the two instruments
  • The oboe. It’s really frustrating.
  • Oboe…..Oboe Reeds….or just Oboe in general
  • Getting to, and maintaining, a reasonable standard of playing on all instruments
  • As a double-reed specialist. staying on top of making quality reeds for both instruments. One week it’s principal oboe on Marriage of Figaro, and I have to be making oboe reeds, but then the very next week is bassoon on Rite of Spring and I have to be prepared for that also.
  • Trying to sound like every instrument in my arsenal could be my primary.
  • remembering the name/location of keys in the low part of clarinet. Proper playing above high C on Clarinet. Extreme upper range on sax. Switching from oboe/English Horn to Flute. Quick switches to piccolo from any instrument.
  • Keeping all my instruments in shape and getting around to working on all of them.
  • Finding time to hold down a day job and keep a regular practice routine on this many instruments.
  • The greatest challenge is budgeting time. Each time doing one thing takes time away from something else, so you have to prioritize what is the most important. This is especially hard when balancing jazz and classical music or composition as well.
  • Finding time to actually play all those instruments…much less keep up on them!
  • Remembering the alternative fingers across the instruments i.e. F# is not the same on Flute and Clarinet etc
  • Keeping up with everything that goes into each instrument. Like I’m strong with flute and saxophone, but my clarinet skills could definitely be stronger.
  • Quite honestly, the expense.
    Even with a ‘day job’ and a steady amount of theater gigs, it is really difficult to have all the equipment I need (reeds, horns, etc), and in good working order. I’ve had to sell two of my horns and ‘downgrade’ so I could afford to pay rent or buy other equipment. It is heartbreaking at times.
    Also, it has caused me to turn away a few gigs for just oboe/English horn because I don’t own and English horn – despite the fact I studied oboe primarily in college, and spent the last two years of my degree playing English horn extensively (and almost exclusively)
  • Divided attention. With limited time, can I really develop meaningful skills on more than one instrument? (I play piano too).
  • practice time
  • Finding time to keep at least functional chops on multiple horns(and not incur the wrath of family/significant other).
  • practice time
  • sometimes changing out instruments during musicals
  • Keeping a soloist level on all instruments.
  • My greatest challenge is finding the time to practice all of my woodwinds. I am interested in so many things that I overbook myself and eventually have to go into “survival mode” with practicing for just the next gig(s)/lesson(s). I often wish that I could play just one family of instruments (for example, just clarinets), but then I realize that I wouldn’t be able to do as much cool stuff—like play in the sax section of a jazz ensemble.
  • Fingerings! I have moments where I just forget what instrument I’m playing and try to use flute fingerings.
  • More stuff to schlep around and possibly forget
  • playing the clarinet. I came from flute to reeds, so the saxophone seemed natural. The clarinet is harder for me, especially the higher it goes.
  • fingerings!
  • getting a good flute sound
  • Stupid Clarinet fingerings below the break
  • Practicing everything.
  • Finding the time to practice them all every day.
  • intonation
    bassoon fingering
  • Getting a good flute tone and playing low notes are difficult after having played a single reed instrument, especially clarinet.
  • Oboe to pic in a musical
  • Clarinet fingerings & flute embouchure!
  • Maintaining my proficiency during the “off-season.”
  • I’m having difficulty finding the time or even the drive to learn to play the flute. I’ve done a few shows with minimal amount , but I prefer a very tiny amount, as I don’t feel strong enough yet. Ideal would be playing a 2nd flute part.
  • Buying/transporting quality instruments, embouchure changes, and clef changes.
  • Raising the standard of my doubles to that of my primary instrument.
  • Keeping up with all the instruments; not letting my attention on any one fall to a less-than-professional level.
  • Embouchure and breath control
  • Finding gigs that high school students can participate in, in my area.
  • finding the time… to try and finish all the doubles practice before 12 noon and then realise i have to practice tenor saxophone
  • Occasional symphonic gigs
  • Finding the time to devote to each instrument.
  • dealing with double reeds
  • Generally, instrument switches, even within families (bass clarinet to soprano clarinet) has always been problematic for me. If I have several bars to make the mental adjustment I’m fine, however being able to pick up a cold instrument and play it well and compensate for the time it’s been sitting cooling off is difficult.
    I would have to say that of my doubles, flute is my toughest double.
  • Having reeds that play at a moment’s notice (without having to go the synthetic route)
  • Distributing my limited practice time among the doubles. Also, I am at the mercy of my unit (Army) whether I have access to double-reed instruments on which to practice. Sometimes they are available, other times not.
  • Juggling gigs.
  • Time to keep ALL the instruments at a level I wish to be at (i.e a professional level). Preferably need 10 minutes warm up to adapt to change of instrument where possible.
  • Getting time on my new instruments (flute and clarinet).
  • Finding time to practice them all.
  • The mechanical condition of my flute. It’s a real drag to play it sometimes because it feels so bad. I don’t have enough time between gigs to take it into the shop for the amount of work it needs.
  • Keeping skills at a high level
  • None – it’s all fun
  • Keeping everything (insts and reeds) in working order, having everything feel comfortable enough that I can pick it up on a moments notice and play
  • Continuing to improve on everything—it’s agonizingly slow. Also, being taken seriously by the “jazz cats” who turn into neurotic crybabies whenever they see a clarinet double in a big band book.
    Oh yeah… it’s also expensive.
  • Keeping my “doubles” sounding presentable!
  • Time management.
  • Forcing myself to work on the basics for each instrument to play each of them at the highest level possible.
  • Vibrato between instruments.
  • Being prepared to play any of them on a gig on short notice.
  • Affording all of the instruments needed.
    getting time to practice all the instruments
  • finding the time to practice everything, i still have to concentrate on highschool
  • Affording the equipment, always looking to expand but restricted by finances, having the time to keep all of them up.
  • Keeping all my many doubles in shape for any possible requirement.
  • Finding enough money to buy the horns!! …also, finding subs for musicals is hard in my area….lots of single instrumentalists…not a lot of doublers.
  • Changing quickly between instruments and keeping good tone and intonation across all ranges of all instruments.
  • playing the flute like a flutist
  • 3rd octave flute fingerings and embouchure. The hard work to get flute to the same level as saxophone. (Not there yet!)
  • Maintaining a high standard on all 3 “main” doubling instruments is very challenging, given my lack of available practice time. Embouchure changes, some quite drastic, are also difficult to manage.
  • Anything on clarinet!
  • Transitioning between instruments – I also play french horn, percussion and electric bass.
  • Being recognized as a true doubler, not just a clarinet player who can play the flute as well.
  • The cost to buy and maintain quality instruments. Oh and finding time to practice everything.
  • Splitting practice time between instruments. Also owning and maintenance of good equipment.
  • not as many classical gigs as I’d like
  • reeds
  • playing the flute
  • Unable to practice with the limited time I have.
  • getting the gig
  • Trying to deal with bassoon parts
  • to perform all woodwind parts of “peter and the wolf” from Prokoviev
  • Maintaining proficiency on the instruments I don’t consider “primary” especially since I don’t own many of the ones I have been asked to double on.
  • finding time to practice!
  • Time. Because with more doubles means more practicing, I have to have a really clear and efficient practice routine in order to accomplish everything I want to.
  • So far, my greatest challenge is managing the time and consistency in doubling. With several performances and work-related things taking up my time, it is difficult to maintain a great practice schedule for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone. Also, I find myself currently slipping into bad habits of inconsistency in my embouchure due to a lack of focus and a lack of truly feeling comfortable with doubling at the collegiate level. I have noticed great improvements in consistency when I stop and think before I play and become a flute player for the moment, instead of a saxophone player playing flute.
  • Keeping the secondary and ‘tertiary’ instrument up to par when there are few gigs on them.
  • Instrumentally, learning to get good at flute to the capacity of my other woodwinds. Economically, the fact that, as a bassoon doubler, many musicals will cut funding for lower chairs, rather than hire a full reed section.
  • Getting jobs with the right instrumentation
  • working on tone
  • Lip swelling
  • Getting a professional sound on all the instruments.
  • Maintenance of all instruments. Also, quick changing. I hate going from any reed instrument to flute, and have difficulty doing it well.
  • Keeping up with reed purchases and instrument maintenance for all the instruments.
  • For people to understand that playing many instruments does not make me less good at any of them.
  • Equality in dexterity on the less familiar.
  • time to work on double, frustration of being less proficient on the double
  • Convincing people that I play more than the instrument I majored in during college and finding time to practice all that I would like to.
  • Keeping up with maintainence and keeping enough good reeds in working order.
  • Balancing reed making with practice time between 3 “primary” instruments and 2 “secondary” instruments, let alone multiple adjunct positions and a bunch of students!
  • Being asked to play oboe in public. Retaining a decent flute embouchure for when it’s needed, but only picking up the instrument once a week for a few minutes.
  • I find it difficult to shift embouchures quickly, maintain a good sound on all instruments, and sight-read in registers with noticeably different fingerings.
  • Rotation of practice time.
  • Getting enough space to set up instruments in a comfortable configuration. Having time to swop instruments. Adjusting embouchure for some of the more extreme changes eg baritone sax to piccolo!!
  • quick embouchure changes
  • The embouchure change. By this point in my career I can read all the different cleffs and the fingerings are fine. However, my stamina on the bassoon is no where near as good as on the clarinet, simply because the two embouchures are completely different.
  • Coming from a background of clarinet as my primary instrument and learning to create an effective and natural vibrato on the flute and saxophone
  • Having enough time to keep up with everything. Sometimes you just have to work on what’s coming next and let some of the other stuff slide for a bit.
  • Moving from a double reed or flute embouchure to a saxophone or clarinet embouchure. Also, getting enough practice time on each instrument.
  • Consistent quick changes and sounding well. Leaders not understanding of the writing challenges given to doublers.
  • Allocating practice time.
  • keeping all horns up to speed and being able to go out on a moments notice on any instrument.
  • Practicing both instruments enough. It’s tempting to practice each instrument less when you play more instruments, but this inevitably means that you don’t end up playing them as well as you otherwise would.
  • Having enough time to keep the skills on all the instruments up to an acceptable level.
  • Buying so many high-quality instruments and keeping up on them; becoming known as a doubler and not just a clarinetist.
  • Maintaining the standard. And affording instruments, there’s always another one to buy, right?
  • REEDS!
  • Trying to add other instruments into the mix.
  • Cold instruments after long intervals of not being played.
  • Practice time
  • Carrying cases/stands and keeping in practice.
  • Keeping instruments warm.
  • Remembering all of the little difference between each one. I teach woodwind methods, so keeping all of that straight in my mind is paramount.
  • Finding work that doesn’t go outside of my doubling range.
  • Finding time to practice with a 2 year old!
  • Keeping up all the doubles!
  • The ever increasing “quick-change” in the scored music for pit orchestra.
    Being given less and less time to “set” myself for a change in instruments.
  • To be able to change from one instrument to another without having it result in a bad sound. For example, when I change from clarinet to flute my sound tends to be too closed, because I forget to loosen my lip tension.
  • swapping between instruments
  • Keeping it all up to marketable standards.
  • sight reading
  • Maintaining my chops on all instruments in my “arsenal” — day job (music educator teaching bowed string instruments to 4th, 5th, and 6th graders) helps create this challenge.
  • Getting regular practice time on each instrument.
  • Lack of time to practice everything.
  • Maintaining Flute/Picc chops. Anything involving the double reeds.
  • Keeping up on doubles. Life is finite.
  • mouthpieces , reeds and instruments
  • Keeping in practice on everything. Also keeping up enough practice on the clarinet, my main instrument. And keeping everything in repair, reeds etc.
  • Remaining proficient on more than one instrument.
  • Embouchure strength and not ruining ability on the primary instrument
  • keeping up with my other instruments.
  • Trying to pratice all of the instruments as it takes longer to practice multiple instruments
  • Switching instantly and adjusting to embouchure.
  • My biggest challenge and goal is having whatever instrument I’m playing feel as comfortable as my “primary” horn, even if I don’t consider it to be.
  • finding time to practice everything
  • practicing all the various instruments
  • maintaining flute embouchure while playing reeds a lot.
  • finding/making time to practice

1 thought on “Woodwind Doubler Census results, part 5: challenges”

  1. This was very informative to me. I am principally a clarinetist who ahas recently begun playing oboe. I also can play the bassoon. Thank you.


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