Woodwind doubling for flutists

Here is a cleaned-up version of my lecture notes from a presentation on woodwind doubling I gave last week at the Mid-South Flute Festival:

Woodwind doubling for flutists

  • What is doubling?
    • Primary-to-secondary doubling: Playing multiple instruments within a family, such as flute (primary), piccolo (secondary), and alto flute (secondary)
    • Primary-to-primary doubling: Playing instruments from different families, such as flute (primary), clarinet (primary), and saxophone (primary) [The idea of primary-to-secondary or primary-to-primary doubling comes from a web article by Mary AllyeB Purtle.]
  • Why double?
    • More (and more varied) gigs. Also, doublers can sometimes get bonus pay.
    • More teaching opportunities
    • Larger network
    • Fun; expanded horizons
  • Flute with non-flute woodwinds
    • Doubling opportunities in musical theater, backing up singers, jazz big bands (requires strong saxophone). With strong enough skills on secondary instruments, gigs on those instruments become a possibility. Employers often value musicianship over virtuosity.
    • The flutist’s advantage: flute and especially piccolo are often weak spots for woodwind doublers. A strong, soloistic flutist with at least basic reed skills can be a hot commodity.
    • For maximum pre-existing gig opportunities, add alto saxophone first, then clarinet. Convincing swing style is also helpful. For create-your-own opportunities, any combination can work!
    • To do multiple-instrument teaching really well, you need to play all of your teaching instruments well! To do this at a lower level, you will at least need to be familiar with current/respected pedagogical literature, a variety of repertoire (including method books, etudes, and solos), a variety of excellent recordings, and a variety of equipment options.
  • Flute with other flute-like instruments
    • Doubling opportunities in situations that increasingly call for “other” flutes: recent musical theater, studio recording, even recent orchestral music. Check out my dissertation on this topic.
    • “World” transverse flutes: bansuri, dizi, “Irish” flute. Also non-tradition-linked bamboo, wooden, or plastic flutes
    • Historical transverse flutes (baroque, etc.)
    • Fipple flutes: recorders, pennywhistle (tinwhistle)
    • Endblown flutes: quena, shakuhachi, panflutes (Romanian, South American)
  • Getting started
    • Be a beginner (but an informed beginner). Get a good teacher. Buy quality instruments within your price range. Do thorough work from good method books. Give yourself all the advantages you wish you had had when you started the flute.
    • Work out a practice schedule that reflects your priorities. If you are juggling a lot of instruments, it may not make sense to practice each one each day, but do practice each one at least a few days in a row to get some momentum.
    • What to practice? If your goal is maximum gig employability, prioritize intonation, rhythm, tone, and sight reading. Practice scales, arpeggios, and other technical drills in all keys, through the full range of the instrument. (Musicals are notorious for “singer” keys and unforgiving tessituras!) Begin working methodically through time-tested etude and technique books. Start learning the easier standard repertoire if that suits your goals.
  • Will doubling hurt my flute playing?
    • Some flutists believe that doubling can damage your embouchure. Realistically, if reed playing is leaving your embouchure swollen, numb, or sore, you need to reexamine your reed-playing approach. Embouchure muscles are agile, flexible, and accustomed to doing varied tasks: playing the flute, eating, speaking, facial expressions. If your tone production on all instruments is based on solid principles, embouchure is not an issue.
    • The real issue: doubling diverts time, money, and mental energy away from flute playing. Committing to “serious” doubling means committing to less time with the flute.

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