Some of the questions I am most frequently asked about woodwind doubling involve the similarities in fingerings between the instruments:
- “You play all those instruments? Well, I guess the fingerings must be pretty much the same, right?”
- “I play the oboe, and I would like to learn the saxophone. How close are the fingerings?”
There are, in my opinion, two misconceptions at work here:
- Fingerings are the biggest hurdle to switching instruments.
- Similar fingerings are a good thing.
In my experience, neither of these is true.
Memorizing, habituating, and internalizing fingerings for a new instrument isn’t exactly a weekend project, but it is fairly straightforward. Carefully practicing full-range scales and arpeggios with a good fingering chart will go a long way. To me, the subtleties of tone production (response, intonation, and tone quality) are a much greater challenge, and require deeper, longer-term study. They are also less suited to a do-it-yourself approach, really requiring the attuned ear, years of experience, and diagnostic skills of a good teacher.
On the second point, I don’t really find “similar” fingerings to be a significant advantage when switching instruments. Identical fingerings may simplify the process somewhat, but just kind-of-the-same fingerings introduce potential for confusion.
Suppose, for example, that, like many doublers, you started as a saxophonist and later added flute and clarinet. You might have found that the lowest-octave D major scale fingerings are very similar for saxophone and flute—so similar, in fact, that you can probably get away with using saxophone fingerings on the flute, and produce a mediocre but recognizable scale. You might ignore the pinky D-sharp key, use middle-finger F-sharp, and neglect to lift the left index finger for fourth-line D. This will still approximate a D scale, but with sacrifices to pitch, tone, and response. A new doubler might fall into the trap of habituating these compromised fingerings, and blaming deficiencies on equipment or embouchure.
With the clarinet, the fingerings for a lowest-octave D scale are significantly different, which forces the doubler to really learn the fingerings from scratch rather than falling back on close-enough saxophone fingerings.
Be conscientious and detailed about developing finger technique on each one of your instruments. No shortcuts!