Woodwind Doubler Census results, part 7: doubling tips

We’re close to the end of the results from the Great Woodwind Doubler Census of 2011. I’m particularly excited to share your answers from one of the final questions:

Q. What is/are your best woodwind doubling tip(s)?

Your answers covered a lot of ground, but a few main themes showed up in many of your responses:

A little explanation:

  • Practice (quantity, quality): No surprise here—a large number of you mentioned the need for consistent, organized, focused, and/or extensive practicing.
  • Each instrument is different: A number of respondents pointed out that each instrument must be studied and played on its own terms, without depending on skills to transfer from one to the other. (It’s worth noting that a few of you saw the other side of this issue: that similarities between the instruments can perhaps be leveraged for more efficient improvement.)
  • Get good instruction
  • Work on fundamentals
  • Practice switching: Several of you suggested practicing the actual act of switching quickly between instruments.
  • Get quality gear
  • Flute-specific advice: Some of you offered advice about the flute, mostly about the particular challenges of maintaining a good flute embouchure on limited practice time.
  • Get experience: A few of you mentioned university or community groups as good ways to log some hours of experience on secondary instruments.

Here’s the full list of woodwind doubling tips. If you missed out on the survey, you’re welcome to add your own tips in the comments section.

  • Practice, especially changing from one to another and getting used to quick changes. And don’t be shy
  • If you’re serious about an instrument, any instrument, it’s worth it to get a good one
  • Read up and/or take lessons.
    Play a lot.
    Always have a critical ear on yourself.
    Do the community-type gig to get experience on a new instrument.
  • Listen to as many professionals play as possible.
  • Be able to partition off your brain into different instruments so that it’s like booting a computer with different operating systems. Each is its own separate entity but can access the other’s information.
  • Take a moment to stop, breathe, and mentally switch gears from one instrument to another. If you rush into your next instrument in practice or performance, you may make silly mistakes with fingering or embouchure. Ensure that you truly understand the exact idea of the embouchure you want, as well as how you want your tone to sound. TAKE LESSONS from talented musicians of each instrument.
  • Do lots of scales and embouchure exercices, to become comfortable with the different fingerings and the change of embouchure.
  • Find a rotation in your practice routine to balance the needs of each instrument.
    Use moderate setups (close to medium facings, medium strength reeds).
    Find enough practice time to stay current on flute.
  • treat each instrument as it’s own beast with it’s own set of problems and challenges. Respect the instrument you are playing at the time and play it as if it were the only instrument you played.
  • This is more of a general tip than geared toward woodwind doublers, however a typcial doubler should apply this to all of his/her doubles. Playing pretty with a gorgeous tone is only part of what you need to learn. It’s all about what the MD, Contractor, Leader, Bossman, etc. wants to hear out of you. If they want to hear you play out of tune (for example to mimic a child learning to play an instrument on stage while you’re in a pit), hopefully you’ll be able to do that.
    On a similar topic- practice different styles on all your doubles, and know some key players in those styles… That way you don’t look too baffled if someone says play more like Braxton you have an idea of what they are looking for (or you could walk out at that point).
  • Play in tune, show up early
  • spend 90% of practice time on fundamentals of tone production and finger/toungue technique
  • Be disciplined in your practice time, and make sure to give each instrument attention, even you only have a short practice session.
  • LONG TONES -start with the flute – go to clarinet – then end with the saxophone
  • Remember that any practicing improvement on ONE instrument is improvement on ALL.
  • Practise!
  • Practice… Practice… doubling instruments means DOUBLE the practice time.
  • Tip no.1: Get a good teacher on all of the instruments is a good tip. I did this and it helped me with playing each of the instruments to a reasonable standard. This didn’t actually help though to learn how to actually double. I think I’ve learned more about how to double from two sources: 1. The internet and the many sites and blogs 2. From actually ‘practicing’ doubling in the woodshed.
    Tip no.2: Persistence. This is the best tip because the road to doubling can be fraught with frustration.
    Tip no.3: Practice
    Tip no.4: Practice etc.
  • Practice needs to be practical and fast – I always play all scales as soon as I can on a new instrument to get familiar with all key signatures, I also do a lot of play-along CDs to recreate the feeling of playing in an ensemble (tuning, band doesn’t wait for you, embouchure strengthening).
  • Be sure to get top quality instruments, especially the ones that are not the strongest of your instruments. A bad instrument will make a good player sound bad.
  • Gotta love the reed!
  • Find fun material to help you with your doubles
  • Buy the best equipment you can afford. Practice long tones and lyrical etudes as much or more than technical etudes. And, give up your social life because you’re going to be practicing 24/7 for the rest of your life! :)
  • still coming to terms with it however planning and schedule are probably important to keep on top of everything… a little like watering a vegetable garden, some things need more water.
  • Find similar mouthpiece setups!! Don’t try to double using wildly different embrochures…
  • Stop looking at yourself as a primary vs. secondary instrumentalist. Take your secondary instruments seriously enough that you can comfortably call them your primary instrument when necessary.
  • Learn your doubles as if it’s your primary instrument. Jump through the same hoops as one would if it’s your primary instrument, and take each instrument seriously. And LONG TONES!
  • 1) Be flexible — all setups (i.e. mouthpiece/reed/ligature combinations) are not the same on any given day. You have to be willing to use a plastic reed if the clarinet is going to sit out in the pit and play 2 notes at the end of the gig.
    2) Don’t be a gear snob. There are a lot of cats who sound fabulous on their cheap/ugly horns.
  • Study each instrument with an expert on that instrument, so that you learn how to play each instrument correctly. I studied with a doubler, and I believe I learned some things incorrectly on flute, especially.
  • Practice tons! Buy great equipment that doesn’t limit you.
  • Pracitce practice practice!
  • Warm-up on flute, first! Always!
  • before you start even the basics, save up the money, and try to get a “beginner lesson” from a university educator if at all possible. Videotape your face and hands while they set your playing position.
  • Practise.
  • Be able to read not only normal notation, but transpose to concert and other transposed pitches on sight.
  • Practice both instruments, but always spend more time on your primary instrument.
  • (As learned from Bret Pimentel’s website) This of each instrument as you’re playing it as though it is your primary. i.e. even though I’m a saxophone major, I still practice clarinet thoroughly instead of just trying to get through the parts I have on a gig.
  • Play more than one in any given practice session. This helps not only to keep the chops up, but keeps the switching fresh in the brain.
  • Practise
  • its all about the sound and intonation
  • Take lessons and play in professional, college ensembles
  • get cases/gig bags with shoulder straps
  • Do it!
  • – Have a reed supplier for doubles, or keep a good supply of singles.
    – Never over-exaggerate your skill to get a gig. You’ll be found out quickly.
    – Teaching others is the best way to figure out your own issues.
  • Go to grad school with Bret. ;P
  • Practice going from one instrument to another and back again. Spending time switching axes is so important so you can adjust to the new instrument instantly.
  • Practice your main instrument, and practice your doubles when required for gig.
    Make sure non primary instruments are in top condition.
    Look into synthetic reeds – specially on secondary instruments – much easier when sitting in a pit and swapping instruments.
  • Practice, and TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. Do not pick up the flute (or whatever), learn all the fingerings, then think you’re done. Take lessons, study REAL repertoire (sonatas, concerti, orchestral excerpts, etc) and treat every instrument with the respect it deserves.
  • Practice, just practice!
  • Focus on the flute (and piccolo). That tends to be one of the weaker instruments for many doublers (in terms of good sound and control)
  • Start early! And play in as many different situations as you can on as many different instruments.
    By 10th grade I already had in my arsenal flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone (and trumpet!) so by the time I got to college, I already had a comfort level on all these instruments and could play in all sort of ensembles and groups early on.
    By the time I had graduated high school I had already played 4 musicals in and out of school – 3 of them were doubling books (including one with single/double reeds and flute)
    AND PLAY DOUBLE REEDS. (and auxiliary like piccolo, bass clarinet, etc.)
    I have gotten gigs over other people so many times because of my extensive double reed and auxiliary work.
  • Plan your practice time well, and DON’T agree to do more than one family of woodwinds during a major concert, like a Wind Ensemble or Orchestra. It will be painful.
  • practice the way you play. if you play pits, switch instruments during practice every few minutes. if you mostly play bands, practice instruments in isolation.
  • Each instrument has its own personality, and your job is to learn each one. For example, even though you finger them the same, soprano, alto, and tenor sax are completely different instruments. And A clarinet is a completely different voice from Bb.
  • Don’t try to move too quickly when learning new instruments. You may have the technique to play advanced literature within a few months, but your embouchure will take much longer to develop. Allow your teacher to set the pace of the lessons.
  • more long tones!
  • understand and respect the differences betweent the instruments
  • Try to develop an excellent concept of the sound you’d like to produce with your instrument.
  • Experience on one instrument transfers and adds to the others so that your total knowledge becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
  • Approach each instrument as a separate entity.
  • Keep playing, if you stop playing even one of them for a few days you lose so much time and practice.
  • start early, and just suck it up and do it all. learn double-reeds, if you can.
  • I’m thinking synthetic reeds may be the way to go for some instruments, especially for larger reeds that wrinkle when they aren’t being played – like bass clarinet, tenor sax, bari sax, etc.
  • Learn each instrument from the ground up—don’t skip any steps.
  • Treat each instrument separately and as such play it in a totally different way – don’t try to impose characteristics of one instrument onto another.
  • If you want to work in musical theater, invest in a wind synthesizer and become proficient on it. Most theaters will only hire a fraction of the musicians that any given show calls for, and if you can add additional voicing from books that wouldn’t be covered otherwise, it will greatly increase your marketability.
  • try to remain aware of the differences between every instrument … don’t think of the bass clarinet as “just a big clarinet” or the bari sax as an alto which plays an octave lower
  • Treat instrument as a separate thing. The clarinet is not a saxophone with funny fingerings. The flute is not a saxophone you blow into funnily.
  • Practice. There is no shortcut.
  • Join an ensemble as soon as possible on any secondary instruments, even an informal one, because it helps you stay motivated to practice and get better.
  • Always be willing to study and learn!
  • play your primary instrument to an exceptional level, then add others.
    Plays in as many situations/gigs as possible.
    learn to be able to sightread anything
  • if you can only pick up one horn, grab your flute—your lose your flute sound quicker than the reed instruments.
  • Approach every horn on its own. And take lessons!!!
  • consistant practice on all of your doubles.
  • Play at least one double from each family every day you practice. Even if it’s only 15 minutes, consistency over time is key.
  • Forget what the “experts” say about piccolo when working in the “Pit”.
    Shows with sax,clarinet,flute,pic and others, require a larger opening of the appeture(hole) when blowing into the instrument. Role “in” ever so slightly, and do not make the embouchure too small. You’ll find with constant “switches” that your pic. sound will be more constant.(I know this is against the usual rules of instuction,but playing show IS a different “animal”. Also,use softer reeds than you think you’ll need.
    Why kill yourself when you must play multiple instruments over a long period.
  • Treat each instrument as its own. Play the flute like a flutist, not like a saxophonist who plays flute, etc. This will give you that distinct sound that you need to make it in the professional world.
  • Practice, practice, practice. And: avoid tightening the embouchure. Stay flexible.
  • As with anything, practice, practice, practice. Find the cross-over skills and use them but don’t get so ****y thinking because you have succeeded at one instrument, you will automatically succeed at all.
  • My bests tip are to prioritize, organize, and manage time very wisely. A woodwind specialist needs to be able to manage their time like crazy just to be able to rightfully call themselves a woodwind specialist. Also, practice time must always be efficient and very focused. There should be several goals for each practice session so there is direction to practice time. We absolutely cannot afford to lose time as woodwind specialists!
  • Practice instrument changes. Be aware of what your embouchure is doing with each instrument you play. The first show I played sax in, after getting the music, I laid out my instruments (fl, cl, sax) to practice. As I went through the music, I put down the sax, picked up my flute and not a sound came out. I had to analyze what my lips were doing so that my flute tone didn’t suffer. Choreograph the instrument changes. Sometimes there is not enough time to carefully put down one instrument to pick up another.
  • Have a ball being a generalist, but be prepared to accept the fact that you probably will never reach the level of refinement on one instrument as a specialist.
  • I’m mostly self-taught, and I wouldn’t recommend that, honestly. I’m going to start taking lessons and I would recommend everyone do the same, if only for a little while, when learning a new instrument.
  • Start on clarinet ;)
  • If you want to get to the “hirable” point on a given instrument, put in a lot of time up front (hours a day). Then after many months, when you get to and maintain a professional level, you can practice it more moderately to leave room for your other areas. But still practice to maintain what you can do.
  • Find a way to keep your horns available to you all day. As a saxophonist / bassoonist, I find my flute and clarinet doubles require more attention. Because of this, I set up those instruments that are a challenge by me and pick them up here and there all day. 5 minutes here and there can do a lot for improving one’s ability to pick up a double on the fly and play it competently.
  • Practice both instruments as if they’re your primary. You obviously learned one before the other – but don’t make it so obvious that the person sitting next to assumes you’re a doubler.
  • Leave them on a stand so that you pick them up every day.
  • practice transitions between the instruments (even from one saxophone to another) so you can get fully into the mindset of the target instrument and completely out when you are done, instead of having an amalgam of techniques that interfere with each other.
  • sticky notes are great to mark your switches!
  • practice long tones. Alot!
  • Don’t play flute, picc, and sax right after one another!
  • Have patience with yourself on the secondary instrument.
  • Sometimes it is necessary to concentrate on one instrument and put others aside, sometimes it is important to play more than one in a practice session to get used to switching. Accept there needs to be flexibility in practice routines depending on circumstance, and even sometimes mood.
  • Get a cart for the heavy doubles, and always practice your weakest instrument most!
  • Practice a lot, take lessons, listen, study. Don’t be afraid to try to find parallels between instruments.
  • Don’t think of yourself as a doubler…when you are holding a flute, you are a flute player etc…
  • It’s not enough to just practice the different woodwinds. In my experience, you really have to practice going from any one woodind family to another. This is essential in performing for musicals or even some big bands. I have found this especially useful in going from clarinet or sax to flute or picc. However, I’ve found that going from oboe to flute actually seems to boost my flute chops.
  • Develop an effective practice routine (especially important where time is an issue), zone in on range extremeties (they can easily get neglected). Listen to top performers who are specialists in their instrument, keep being inspired.
  • Watch out when you hook up the bassoon that you don’t poke the reed halfway through your upper or lower lip. (I make this statement on the basis of bitter experience.)
  • Mention your doubling abilities even if you’re only demonstrating one instrument for a gig/audition/etc.
  • If at all possible, own as many different instruments as you can. So many gigs I have gotten largely because I was the only one that had the requisite instrument(s). That being said, they aren’t much use if you can’t play them well, also.
  • If you hear it/feel it, keep at it – don’t give up.
  • practice…long tones!!!
  • Listen to people who play really well, ask a lot of questions
  • Get the best instruments you can afford and keep them in excellent working order
  • Clean all your reeds and mouthpieces in an ultrasonic cleaner every night.
  • practice
  • You must practice regularly on all of the instruments! I find that I have major embouchure and wind strength issues if I have only been playing on one for a while and not the others.
  • Go for mastery. Mastery is being to able to calmly and with no physical strain be able to express what one needs to express—it’s not about how fast or high or how many tunes or orchestral excerpts you can play; that’s expertise, which you won’t achieve on every instrument. The world is full of experts…be a master.
  • study all instruments with a good teacher
  • Be prepared. Spend a couple extra bucks to get a black silk type swab for the clarinet, have cigarette paper or something similar on hand in case tone wholes get clogged with water,. I like to find time to listen and also play along with a CD of a show whenever possible, I find it’s good for my ear, and also helps in tempos, pauses, etc. Of course, super players probably don’t find it necessary. But, it helps be feel both more acquanted and prepared. Finally, this also helps in preparing for fast switching of instruments, which is often important to notate in the score. Oftentimes, it is important to have a saxophone attached to my neckstrap at the onset of a song even though it may begin on clarinet. It makes the later switch to sax that much easier. Obviously, if there’s plenty of time, that isn’t necessary, but it pays to know what is required.
  • Study each instrument from a person who plays only that instrument. An example, study flute from a professional flute player. Not another doubler.
  • Don’t overdo it, just work piece by piece on improving. Think about how you want to sound. Conceptualisation is very important.
  • Practice a lot, take lessons, and get to know people that contract shows
  • practise all instruments
  • Play each instrument as if it were a unique person; just as we treat each person differently according to their personalities, quirks, likes, and dislikes, so must we with instruments. Although many skills do transfer, do not assume that they do; practice on each instrument!
  • When you are done practicing, practice some more.
  • practice, practice, practice
  • Buy decent gear, study with specialists.
  • Buy nice instruments and start learning on nice instruments. Learning on a bad horn just makes the learning process all the worse, and it’s easier to pick up bad habits that way.
  • You simply have to put in your time
  • Start learning as many instruments as early as possible. Don’t rule out any instruments.
  • Have your horns out every day. Play one to the others throughout the day, whenever possible. Study each double with the finest teacher of that instrument you can find.
  • Good pitch, good tone, perfect technique. Play every instrument like it’s your primary.
  • practice x 3
  • Watch the lips.
  • find great teachers for every instrument
  • The hardest part of doubling is the transitions. For example, after playing an extended sax passage, having to pick up the flute and play a nice lyrical passage in the midrange of the flute. (Playing any of the wooden reed woodwind causes your lips to swell slightly which can throw off the best flute embouchure.) Play flute for a bit, find your center and your best tone. Then play the sax passage. Before just picking up the flute, think about how everything felt when you first found your good sound. Then play and see how long it takes before you feel that you’re back to your original good sound. Repeat trying to shorten the time it takes to get to the good sound, with no or almost no degredation in sound quality being the ideal.
    This works about the same from flute to reeds or reed to reeds because the embouchures are different from each. Moving from passage to passage start out by taking the time to make sure that the embouchure is set. Clarinet and Sax are the hardest since they have similar qualities.
  • Practice as many instruments as you can. If you have less time to practice, the more of it you have to spend on fundamentals.
  • 1) Treat each new double as if you’ve never played before. Every instrument has it’s own technique/history/embouchure etc.
    2) If you buy a new horn to double on, make sure it’s an informed decision and purchase the best horn you can afford. No need to struggle with something less-than-adequate.
    3) It’s fine to study with a professional doubler initially – they can be invaluable with helping with the transition to the new horn and pitfalls of doubling, however you NEED to study with a professional specialist. For example, you want to double on flute, eventually you need to go out and get a high quality flute instructor.
    4) Find somewhere to play your doubles. For me, I got my clarinet chops together playing a bunch of community/semi-pro musicals, but community concert bands are another great place to get some chops together.
  • During practice switching instruments. I’ve found that embouchure changes for C flute to Alto flute to be as demanding as Sax to Flute.
  • start flute before age 40, unless you find a gorgeous young teacher
  • Finding the parallels between the instruments, so the differences can be the ones you practice.
  • For me it is always best to have one primary instrument, and always keep working on the others when you have time.
  • Practice
  • To have a really good stand for the instruments to be on. Sometimes its tempting to leave e.g. a saxophone across your lap – but this has led to many a broken reed/dodgy shoulder!
  • Start playing instruments early. Because I started sax, oboe clarinet and bassoon early enough, when I play them they all sound like my first instrument. I can tell when I hear other doublers that they aren’t oboe players. You can’t tell that with my playing. i haven’t really learned flute yet, but I’ve learned the proper embouchure and can get a good clear tone.

Coming up next:

Some additional comments from the survey, and a few of my thoughts.

1 thought on “Woodwind Doubler Census results, part 7: doubling tips”

  1. Great tips! Pretty much covers every issue in terms of being a “multi-reedist”. Thanks Bret for putting the survey together and reporting the results.


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