Woodwind doubling gigs: seven basic tips

Here are seven simple things you can do to make a woodwind doubling gig go more smoothly.

  1. Mistrust the pre-gig info. I had a smart doubler tell me once that I should always bring my flute and my clarinet on a big band saxophone gig. Mostly, I have taken that advice. Twice I have ignored it, and guess what? Regretted it both times. In both cases the contractor told me I would need saxophone only. Both times the contractor was mistaken. Never again. If you’re playing oboe, bring your English horn no matter what. Flute gig? Don’t leave home without your piccolo.
  2. Bring your tuner. If it’s the kind of gig where a tuning note will be given, don’t expect to have time to tune a half-dozen instruments. Arrive early enough to check each instrument ahead of time, according to the pitch level you anticipate (probably A=440 in the US). Then tune with the group on the first instrument you will be playing. If the group tunes a little flatter or sharper than you expected, at least you will know what to expect as you pick up each horn.
  3. Warm up thoroughly on each instrument. I find that once I’m well warmed up on an instrument, I’m pretty comfortable with that instrument for the rest of the day (or at least until the end of the gig), even if I play other instruments in between. For me, this is especially important on flute and piccolo—those embouchures take some good warming up even if you’re not playing any reeds.
  4. Have the right stands. Especially if you are making quick switches, having a reliable stand for each instrument makes everything go more smoothly. Setting an instrument on the ground, on its case, or across your lap takes longer, is riskier to the instrument’s well-being, and is more likely to cause an embarassing distraction. A music stand shelf is a must if you will be dealing with double reeds that need soaking, etc.
  5. Know what accessories to keep nearby. If you’re playing a lot of instruments, you will probably have to stash your cases somewhere backstage. I always grab a case full of reeds for each instrument, a mouthpiece cap for each mouthpiece, and cigarette papers if I’m playing oboe or clarinet (for removing water from toneholes). I also make sure my trusty Swiss Army penknife is in my pocket, in case I need to deal with adjustment screws or other minor mechanical issues. All this gets piled discreetly under my chair, and hopefully goes back into the cases untouched after the gig.
  6. Keep reeds and instruments wet and warm. Keep mouthpiece caps on mouthpieces where practical, and put them in a consistent place when you take them off, so you can find them again quickly. Some doublers use sponges inside mouthpiece caps for extra moisture, or use plastic sandwich bags instead. I usually just use plain mouthpiece caps, but do something to keep those reeds from drying out or getting chipped during a frantic trumpet mute change. Keep instruments warm, too, if you can, so they won’t play flat when your big solo comes up. Even a few seconds with both hands wrapped around the clarinet barrel can make the difference  getting the first note of the big solo up to pitch.
  7. Rehearse your choreography. Especially with musical theater gigs, where I’m playing a bunch of instruments with lots of quick switches and few pauses, I try to have a clear plan for getting the right instrument to my face at the right time. Arrange your instruments on stands around you, and keep that configuration from show to show. Don’t be afraid to mark your part liberally in rehearsal, especially with marks like “clip tenor on neckstrap, hold flute, and be ready to grab clarinet quickly,” which can help you under pressure to get the instruments where they need to be and prepare you mentally for what’s coming up. I might also mark something like “soak oboe reed” during a rest so it will be ready to play halfway through the next tune when I need it.

Also, try to play good.


One response to “Woodwind doubling gigs: seven basic tips”

  1. Geesh, I should have read this last week. At least it was a practice only. Apparently the regular 4th tenor player doesn’t double. Oh well, fool me once.

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