Woodwind Doubler Census 2021 results, part 3: training/education

Thanks to all who participated in my 2021 woodwind doubling survey, and to those who helped spread the word. I’m releasing the results in installments, so be sure to use my social media links, RSS feeds, etc. to keep up.

I got 284 responses, an improvement over 2011’s 187. The numbers for each of these questions don’t necessarily add up to exactly that number, since not everybody responded to every question.

Which was your first instrument, among the major woodwinds?

2021 Data
flute3713%
oboe135%
clarinet10638%
bassoon62%
saxophone11942%
none of these apply1~0%
2011 Data
flute2212%
oboe105%
clarinet7741%
bassoon53%
saxophone7339%

Which of these have been part of your education on woodwind instruments?

2021 Data
school band/orchestra program (high school or younger)26293%
private lessons outside of school24888%
summer camps18867%
university band/orchestra program24185%
university/conservatory bachelors degree with formal concentration(s) in multiple woodwinds2710%
university/conservatory bachelors degree with single-instrument or other music concentration18265%
bachelors-level study on secondary instrument(s), but not as part of a formal multiple-woodwinds program11139%
university/conservatory masters degree with formal concentration(s) in multiple woodwinds3512%
university/conservatory masters degree with single-instrument or other music concentration7527%
masters-level study on secondary instrument(s), but not as part of a formal multiple-woodwinds program3111%
university/conservatory doctoral degree with formal concentration(s) in multiple woodwinds104%
university/conservatory doctoral degree with single-instrument or other music concentration249%
doctoral-level study on secondary instrument(s), but not as part of a formal multiple-woodwinds program62%
other university/conservatory music degree or certification145%
self-taught on one or more instruments16759%
2011 Data
school band/orchestra program (high school or younger)17594%
private lessons outside of school17091%
summer camps13170%
university band/orchestra program14376%
university/conservatory bachelors degree with formal concentration(s) in multiple woodwinds2714%
university/conservatory bachelors degree with single-instrument or other music concentration9752%
university/conservatory masters degree with formal concentration(s) in multiple woodwinds137%
university/conservatory masters degree with single-instrument or other music concentration3720%
university/conservatory doctoral degree with formal concentration(s) in multiple woodwinds42%
university/conservatory doctoral degree with single-instrument or other music concentration53%
other university/conservatory music degree or certification126%
self-taught on one or more instruments11863%

What factors influenced you first to get involved in woodwind doubling?

Besides the provided answers, several of you included personal anecdotes of influences including boredom, norms of the early music scene, orthodontia and injuries, career aspirations like instrument repair and studio work, and the Lawrence Welk Show.

2021 data
just interested in more than one instrument20272%
required/helpful for a jazz (or other improvisatory music) group you played in or wanted to play in13949%
had or wanted opportunities to play for musical theater19670%
influenced by a teacher or role model13648%
wanted to improve employability13849%
an ensemble you were in (or wanted to be in) needed someone to play a specific instrument, and you were willing to learn it11842%
an ensemble you were in (or wanted to be in) didn’t include the instrument you already played and you needed to learn another4616%
your training/experience as a teacher required you to branch out5620%
2011 Data
just interested in more than one instrument40
required/helpful for a jazz (or other improvisatory music) group you played in or wanted to play in37
had or wanted opportunities to play for musical theater35
influenced by a teacher or role model23
wanted to improve employability19
an ensemble you were in (or wanted to be in) needed someone to play a specific instrument, and you were willing to learn it19
your training/experience as a teacher required you to branch out9

What sources have you used to learn about or otherwise engage with woodwind doubling?

Besides the provided answers, nine of you wrote in something to the effect of “lessons” or “teachers,” which I didn’t include as an option because I covered formal training in other questions. A few of you also wrote in “YouTube,” which I have lumped in with “social media sites.”

Thanks again for your participation and stay tuned for more survey results.

Woodwind Doubler Census 2021 results, part 2: doubling abilities

Thanks to all who participated in my 2021 woodwind doubling survey, and to those who helped spread the word. I’m releasing the results in installments, so be sure to use my social media links, RSS feeds, etc. to keep up.

I got 284 responses, an improvement over 2011’s 187. The numbers for each of these questions don’t necessarily add up to exactly that number, since not everybody responded to every question.

Which woodwind instruments do you play, and at what levels?

Based on feedback from the 2011 survey, this year I added the option “Strong amateur.” I also provided an option for respondents to affirmatively state that they play an instrument “Not at all,” but the “Not at all” data shown here also includes those who didn’t provide an answer for that instrument.

2021 Data
FluteOboeClarinetBassoonSaxophoneAny folk, ethnic, or historical woodwind(s)Any woodwind-style electronic instrument(s)
Not at all26 (9%)126 (45%)14 (5%)151 (53%)7 (2%)149 (53%)219 (77%)
Casual dabbler43 (15%)47 (17%)24 (9%)39 (21%)8 (3%)59 (21%)27 (10%)
Strong amateur64 (23%)45 (16%)53 (19%)30 (12%)53 (19%)33 (12%)14 (5%)
Semi-pro or college music major79 (28%)31 (11%)90 (32%)29 (10%)90 (32%)29 (10%)14 (5%)
Professional70 (25%)32 (11%)100 (36%)34 (9%)123 (44%)13 (5%)9 (3%)
2011 Data
FluteOboeClarinetBassoonSaxophoneAny folk, ethnic, or historical woodwind(s)Any woodwind-style electronic instrument(s)
Casual dabbler42493928285816
Semi-pro or college music major6832682759115
Professional48186922921316

Which instruments do you own?

2021 Data
piccolo17462%
flute25290%
alto flute8530%
other member(s) of the modern flute family3211%
oboe12645%
English horn6122%
other member(s) of the oboe family83%
E-flat clarinet8430%
B-flat clarinet24788%
A clarinet8932%
bass clarinet14351%
other member(s) of the clarinet family4416%
bassoon8530%
contrabassoon72%
soprano saxophone16157%
alto saxophone24085%
tenor saxophone19770%
baritone saxophone12444%
other member(s) of the saxophone family2910%
recorder(s)16960%
pennywhistle(s)9534%
bamboo, wooden, or similar sideblown flute(s)6021%
other folk, ethnic, or historical woodwind(s)6021%
electronic wind instrument(s)3613%
2011 Data
piccolo97
flute161
alto flute35
other member(s) of the modern flute family17
oboe75
English horn24
other member(s) of the oboe family4
E-flat clarinet47
B-flat clarinet171
A clarinet61
bass clarinet84
other member(s) of the clarinet family26
bassoon51
contrabassoon3
soprano saxophone106
alto saxophone160
tenor saxophone138
baritone saxophone81
other member(s) of the saxophone family26
recorder(s)106
pennywhistle(s)75
bamboo, wooden, or similar sideblown flute(s)53
other folk, ethnic, or historical woodwind(s)32
electronic wind instrument(s)24
other34

Which instrument(s) do you consider your “primary” instrument, if any?

A number or respondents selected, for example, flute and piccolo as primary instruments, or all four major saxophones. I’m guessing that boosts the results here for some auxiliary instruments; there probably aren’t many doublers who would really consider piccolo their (single) primary instrument.

piccolo156%
flute4616%
alto flute83%
other member(s) of the modern flute family31%
oboe3613%
English horn124%
other member(s) of the oboe family10%
E-flat clarinet155%
B-flat clarinet9534%
A clarinet2810%
bass clarinet4014%
other member(s) of the clarinet family62%
bassoon3613%
contrabassoon62%
soprano saxophone4115%
alto saxophone10236%
tenor saxophone7326%
baritone saxophone4917%
other member(s) of the saxophone family41%
recorder(s)21%
pennywhistle(s)00%
bamboo21%
other folk10%
electronic wind instrument(s)31%

Which instruments do you not own, and have had to turn down gigs because of that?

piccolo22%
flute11%
alto flute22%
other member(s) of the modern flute family00%
oboe44%
English horn66%
other member(s) of the oboe family11%
E-flat clarinet00%
B-flat clarinet11%
A clarinet00%
bass clarinet66%
other member(s) of the clarinet family00%
bassoon33%
contrabassoon77%
soprano saxophone22%
alto saxophone11%
tenor saxophone33%
baritone saxophone77%
other member(s) of the saxophone family22%
recorder(s)00%
pennywhistle(s)00%
bamboo00%
other folk00%
electronic wind instrument(s)00%

How do you primarily identify yourself as a musician?

For this question, many of you typed your own answers. Some of you wanted to provide more detail, such as which instrument(s) you consider your primary, some wanted to include non-woodwind instruments, and some wanted to use (essentially) some other synonym for woodwind doubler. In these and a few other cases, I felt that those answers did ultimately fit into one of these two categories, so I’ve shoehorned them in. A few others wanted to identify by some other career/hobby choice entirely, or wanted to say something like “it depends,” and I’ve omitted those so as not to muddy the original intent of the question.

2021 Data
as a woodwind doubler19269%
as an instrumentalist on one specific instrument (or family of instruments, such as the saxophones)8531%
2011 Data
as a woodwind doubler12064%
as an instrumentalist on one specific instrument (or family of instruments, such as the saxophones)6736%

Do you have “primary” and “secondary” instruments?

2021 Data
One instrument is a “primary” instrument, and one or more are secondary instruments. For example, you play the flute well, and the clarinet at a noticeably lesser ability level.11340%
Two or more instruments are “primary” instruments, but others are secondary. For example, you play the flute and the clarinet about equally well.12845%
You consider all the instruments you play to be at/near the same level.4115%
2011 Data
One instrument is a “primary” instrument, and one or more are secondary instruments. For example, you play the flute well, and the clarinet at a noticeably lesser ability level.8546%
Two or more instruments are “primary” instruments, but others are secondary. For example, you play the flute and the clarinet about equally well.10154%

Which of these challenges have significantly affected your success as a woodwind doubler? Define “significantly affected” and “success” as you see fit. You may choose multiple answers.

A few of you provided additional specifics/details, but I’ve folded those answers into the larger categories. In 2011, this was a free-form answer, and I tried to sort them into categories.

2021 Data
Time (such as for practicing)18667%
Money (such as for equipment purchases)16258%
Career development (such as finding gigs, establishing a reputation…)11742%
Logistics (such as storage or transportation of instruments)3613%
Pushback (such as from teachers or others who think you should not double)4817%
Skill/talent/ability (such as particular difficulty with a specific instrument or technique)8631%
None228%
2011 Data
Time4930%
Flute1912%
Embouchure1811%
Fast switches1710%
Maintaining high level1610%
Cost159%
Reeds138%
Oboe85%
Clarinet74%
Instrument maintenance64%
Establishing reputation53%
Bassoon53%

Which of these benefits of woodwind doubling have made a significant difference for you? Define “significant difference” as you see fit. You may choose multiple answers.

In 2011, this was a free-form answer, and I tried to sort them into categories.

2021 Data
More gigs21477%
Greater variety in music-making22681%
Fun/satisfaction24287%
Having more voices/tone colors available18366%
Feeling challenged (in an enjoyable, productive, or otherwise positive way)22781%
Cross-training effect (playing one instrument improves your skills at another)18366%
None21%
2011 Data
More gigs8352%
Variety4629%
Fun/satisfaction3220%
Artistic expression159%
Cross-training127%
Challenge85%

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

These are presented with only very minor edits, in random order. (Inclusion here doesn’t necessarily indicate that I agree, though I mostly do.) See 2011 results here.

Sax tone is all about opening the throat and getting an appropriate level of pressure on the mouthpiece
Make connections between similarities/differences from instrument family to instrument family.
Start with the flute first in your practice sessions. If you don’t your lips will have no sensitivity after starting on the other instruments.
Practice any woodwind instrument as if it is your primary. Walk the same path every other Xist (flautist, clarinetist, etc) has.
Practice daily. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes, practicing my doubles daily has been the best process in my experience.
Do not limit yourself! Have one primary but also a couple secondary instruments. You will make yourself more marketable!
Find ways to connect your knowledge to other instruments, but still treat each instrument as its own separate voice (e.g. be a piccolo player, not a clarinetist who is playing piccolo)
Practice and listen
Train on each individual instrument on as regular a basis as possible.
Finding great teachers for each instrument you play
Consistent practice
It’s all about tone quality. And reeds.
Passion and love of the possibilities and not just versatility for gigging is a must. Acquiring equipment that is easy to get back into and consistent has been key for me to be able to for example: not play bass clarinet for 6 months and still be confident that I could say yes to a gig and get myself together in 1 week.
Learn what the differences in playing styles between different instruments are, and why they come about. Knowing the context helps a lot in code-switching between instruments.
Let clarinet be the foundation of your doubling
take lessons with someone who has doubling experience. Practicing and familiarize yourself with all genres of music styles. practice playing multiple instruments back to back.
Learn what skills are transferable across which woodwinds and apply them appropriately. For example, a lot of dexterity technique applies to many woodwinds, however, not all fingering patterns or standard fingerings are the same. Also, voicing and overtones apply to all woodwinds, but you don’t voice all woodwinds the same way.
Practice – practice – practice
Focus on fundamental on all horns
If a particular instrument is inspiring you right now, use that inspiration and really work to improve on that instrument.
Practice every instrument regularly
Focus on each instrument now and then
Practice sight reading, especially with swing/jazz rhythms. Keep on top of your reed situation. Try to design practice to “even out” your strength on each “family”.
Practice each instrument as though it is a primary study – learn the known repertoire, study the history and the players, know the etude etc
Have a goal to play all of the woodwind doubles at a very high level.
Don’t be afraid to take on a challenge, especially on an instrument that is not your best
Get a teacher for every instrument if possible- not one teacher for all of them.
Long tones and scales with a drone/tuner
Play flute every day, learn to make your double reeds
Never be reluctant to schlep doubles you might need.
Practice baby practice!!
Voicing exactly as you describe.
Learn on a quality instrument otherwise a lousy one will hold you back.
Visit each instrument as its own thing when practicing. Use the same musical expression tools on your secondary instruments. Have patients when progress isn’t noticable.
Find similarities between the instruments you already know how to play, and the instrument you are learning to double on. Ask your musician friends for tips or little known “secrets” that you may not know of a non-primary instrument.
Open your teeth and jaw as much as possible and practical.
Let others help you, the pit is a team and if one run is too hard and another person has it and it’s easy on their instrument. Let them do it. The audience may very well not know the difference. Or if you have a solo passage. Don’t overplay. You’re not the soloist the person on stage is. Overall. Let others help you
Sometimes you have to go back to basics if it isn’t an instrument you’ve playing in a while and run scales or some some practice books.
Finding similarities between each instrument to begin learning, then going to extremes to find the differences.
Compare and Contrast each instrument – determine what transfers and what are specific to each instrument
practice the same things on any instruments.
Learn clarinets first, then saxophones.
Common tip: Eb sax (like baritone sax) can read C bass clef (such as tuba, trombone, bassoon, and string bass music) as Eb treble clef without having to transpose.
Less common tip: Once you’re comfortable with that, you can do the same with Bb clarinets (like bass clarinet) by using saxophone fingerings on the clarinet (exception being above the break, but it’s easy to get once you play it a bit). So using this you can read the bass clef parts of bassoon music on bass clarinet without having to transpose, and if the bassoon music goes into tenor clef you can read it as regular Bb treble because it works the same as reading C bass clef on an Eb sax. Blamo, you’re reading bassoon parts on bass clarinet and didn’t have to transpose or learn any new clefs.
That they’re not all that different at the end of the day. The concept of blowing into a tube with holes in it is the same across all woodwind instruments.
Compile a quick (approx. 5 minutes) gig warmup for each instrument type (flute, clarinet, etc.) that you play. You will rarely have time for a thorough warm up on each instrument on doubling gigs so you need something that lets you hit a number of fundamentals in a short amount of time.
be inspired by great models on each instrument
Learn your doubles. Get more bread
Practice, then practice some more
Really focus and learn the fundamentals for each instrument. I didn’t know I was playing oboe wrong until I took a lesson because I just figured everything would be similar to bassoon when I first picked it up.
Don’t ever stop practicing. Keep a schedule.
At different times, each instrument you play becomes your main voice— do so with love and a deep investigation of the traditions of each.
Be adaptable/flexible and if it works don’t question it. Just because a certain way of doing something is not the standard approach does not mean it is wrong.
Listening is key!
Know who to tell what you play. To many people, I am an orchestral clarinetist. Some have no idea that I play jazz saxophone. To some, I am a flutist. Many know I do all three at a high level. But some may judge you.
Whatever you are playing at the moment is, at least for the moment, your primary instrument. Treat it as such, with your full attention and consideration.
Be an excellent sight reader. Know your scales. Work on sound production.
Do what is comfortable for you.
Aim for consistent mouthpiece styles. ie: a consistent ratio of sizing (small tip, long facing, etc)… don’t try to sound like David Sanborn and Harold Wright at the same time.
Choose instruments that you like to play so that you’ll want to practice and improve on them!
breath support
Play everything you enjoy playing
Treat each one as your main one while you practice.
Get good stands, get to know the instruments you’re playing quickly
seek teachers for each specific instrument
Start with clarinet and maintain your skill on it.
Take things slow! Now even slower. Be mindful.
Listen to many. Develop your own sound.
Practise changing from one instrument to another as well as just practising the individual horns
Practice all at the same time.
Good instrument stands are essential! Also a stand shelf has been really helpful for me to hold reeds and a water cup, other equipment and accessories.
Sax and oboe have a ton in common in terms of using the reed or mouthpiece alone to train ways to avoid tension, and clarinet feels like the opposite in many ways, but at least it’s different enough that differentiation is straightforward.
It`s okay to start each instrument as a beginner.
Always be flexible
Just play and have fun, and the instruments will learn themselves
Use synthetic reeds for gigs you need to double on. Little to no warm-up/Reed wetting required when one instrument sits for a while before use.
Treat each instrument as a new primary and get a proper teacher for each new primary. Play in ensembles on your doublers.
They’re not the same
Long tones and scales are key
Everything comes back to air
Sound is everything. Learn flexibility on every instrument. Every instrument deserves individual attention, even harmony instruments amongst families.
Identify the connections between each instrument (fingerings, technique, etc.) and use that to help you succeed.
Use a calendar, try your hardest to view other woodwind doublers in the area as friends instead of competition. Play duets with them and try to learn as much as you can from other doublers and single woodwind musicians as well. Classical musicians, listen to jazz saxophonists and really try to replicate their tone and inflection even if you claim it’s not for you. Jazz musicians, listen to classical woodwind players as most rep for doublers requires classical tone and technique. Have fun!
consider the side range you enjoy the most and stick more on that end (high or low reeds)
Take lessons with teachers who only play the one instrument, but also study with some doublers who have a good understanding of the similarities & differences between instruments. Record yourself often, and listen to recordings of top performers on your doubles to form a good sound concept. Time, intonation, interpretive choices, and ensemble balance are all-important no matter what instrument is in/on your face.
If you’re struggling with switching to another instrument, find someone who is extremely proficient on it and pick their brains as much as possible, or even take lessons if you can. It helps if they’re a doubler too.
1) Study to have a classical foundation for every double. It’s the best way to have solid tone and technique.
2) Be kind to those you work with and low-maintenance for those you work for.
3) Don’t seriously study secondary instruments until you are competent on your primary instrument. Once you hit a semi-professional or pro level on one instrument, you will have a bar to reach for with your secondaries.
Try to draw connections where possible.
I think one should only double if they are genuinely interested in it and enjoy challenges. I’ve met too many people who double primarily with the goal of making more money, and it almost never worked out as well for them in the long run as it did for the ones who actually loved playing all of the instruments.
Flute is nothing like single reeds – not even the fingerings.
Turn all instruments into your “primary”. Each instrument deserves its proper respect and diligence. If saxophone is so easy, why do so many clarinetists sound so bad? Attitude in approach to a secondary instrument goes a long way.
it’s fine to make mistakes
Play with people who are better than you as much as possible.
Visualize and really hear the sound you want as you double, in whatever way works for you. Sometimes you can get caught up in the differences between the doubles, but visualizing and not overthinking allowed me to get by on many doubling gigs, and work through the parts more efficiently
If not preparing for a specific gig or show, have an instrument of the week rotation. Focus on that one.
Flute loses playing proficiency at a significantly faster rate than other woodwinds thanks to the extremely delicate embouchure – when a professional flutist misses 2 or more consecutive days of practice, it takes minimum 4-5 days to correct their embouchure again. So those that wish to maintain their flute fitness must make sure to set aside time for it at least every few days
Practice, practice and practice!
Think of each additional instrument you learn as an extension of musical mechanics— you’ve already learned the fundamentals of reading music, now you’re just learning a different pathway to create those sounds you read. Treat a new instrument, even one of the same family, as a whole new instrument with its own requirements and set points for pitch, resonance, and response.
Always be ready to play clarinet
Stick with one instrument per gig, if possible. Be careful of having a reputation as a doubler, as it may have negative connotations (jack of all trades, master of none).
Take each instrument seriously
Be proficient on clarinet first, then branch out.
Play secondary instruments in ensembles (band, orchestra, chamber music, etc).
Slow practice on all the instruments, don’t rush it on a “secondary” instrument because you can play it on a “primary” instrument
Practice all your axes and always learn from everyone.
Find an order of operations for your practice. I start my day on the flute and then move to the clarinet. When I get to tenor I am moving plenty of air and feel warmed up.

Scale practice on flute will help saxophone playing
Treat every instrument as a unique instrument of it’s own kind with similarities but unique.
Lessons, performing, recording, great equipment
Study each instrument you play with a non-doubler: major symphony/studio player.
Practice so you concepts can benefit across all instruments.
Take it slow
Be very intentional when learning technique. I learned how to play saxophone with a clarinet embouchure, which is not correct. Work with a professional teacher to ensure you have the fundamentals of new instruments and check in with them regularly to ensure you are maintaining key distinctions between the instruments.
Be cognizant of your body and the techniques you employ as you play (don’t go on autopilot); try to find complimentary mouthpiece/reed setups (if everything has a similar resistance level, switching will be easier)
Choreograph the switches and after getting comfortable with a new double practice the switch to get faster at creating a good sound on the instrument as soon as possible.
The goal of woodwind doubling is to be good enough on each instrument for people to think whatever instrument you are playing right now is your primary instrument, and not a double.
Practice, listen, and be patient
Never look for the “doubler way” to approach an instrument. Approach it as a serious study, as if you intend to make it your primary.
Treat each instrument as if it is your primary instrument.
Practice and take lessons. Continue to get better.
Play the flute every day, studying with a specialist when possible
If you have good air and support, you can play through the woodwinds without having to worry about their differences. Also, get good reeds!!!
Put in the practice hours
Practice. And then practice some more.
Learn and practice the basics
Get a teacher. You can’t learn all of these on your own.
It’s ok to make a mistake, just keep going.
I’ve found that taking the time to develop a woodwind practice routine has been super helpful! I’ve also found that I practice better when I start with my least proficient instrument, and work to my most proficient one. This helps me feel a bit better mentally when I practice.
Practice lol. The sooner you learn “Work SLOWLY on what you’re bad at,” the easier your musical life will be. It’s rough, especially if you’re pretty accomplished on one instrument/family, but the slower you practice, the faster you’ll learn! Trust me, I know the feeling. I’ve got two masters degrees…but I’ve still gotta practice fairly easy flute stuff like I’m one of my 7th graders. I feel your pain! Oh and scales are your friends…all of them :)
No matter what instrument you’re playing, no matter how much time you’ve had to switch, your goal should always be your best professional sound.
Moderate setups for all instruments make transitioning between them less onerous
Plastic reeds for the pit to avoid breakages
To make sure that if this is something you choose to brand yourself as, go with it 100%
Pick up each instrument with a new mindset as if it is your primary instrument. When I play flute, I’m a flutist. When I play oboe, I’m an oboist. Etc.
Find a professional teacher as soon as possible instead of trying to teach yourself and (potentially) develop bad habits.
Approach each instrument as if it is your major instrument
Practice each a little every day and practice switching back and forth at home, not just at the gig.
Stay w/someone who’s major instrument is your double.
High quality tuition from specialists in each instrument, excellent sight-reading, good fundamentals, good air support across the board (!), familiarity with as many styles as possible
While there are some universal fundamentals, each instrument (even within an instrument family) has unique characteristics that at the very least need their own mindset. Once you figure out the key differences, the things that are the same take care of themselves.
Treat each instrument as if it is your major instrument.
– Take regular (weekly/bi-weekly) lessons with excellent teachers on each instrument that you wish to play at a high level
– Focus on improving one instrument at a time (ex. for three months taking flute lessons and primarily practicing flute, while lighter practicing + preparing for gigs on clarinet and saxophone)
– Own high quality equipment and keep it in good repair
Learn to be a performer on all of your instruments, not just a person who dabbles on the others!
Learn each instrument as if you know nothing about how to play and learn to play it correctly from the beginning
Play whatever instrument you enjoy the most. For example, don’t double on flute as a sax player just because you feel you have to. Play the recorder and contrabassoon, or celeste and guitar. Do what makes you happy.
Listen to professionals to develop your best sound and practice your secondaries similarly to your primaries. Don’t be afraid to ask others for advice to improve your playing. Scales are good for everyone.
Learn to play cross genre music on each doubling instrument. This will increase your career viability tenfold.
“Book yourself on gigs you’re not quite ready for” – Don’t take the piss and lie in such a way that you’ll be unable to give a good show. But do book gigs where you are almost good enough but not quite yet. This gives you the motivation to reach that next step in your practice, and forces you to get better. Nothing to make you practice like an upcoming show!
Don’t stop practicing.
I would say treating your double as your primary horn (using the same techniques you used on your primary to learn). If you did scales, arpeggios, tone exercises, do the same on your double.
Say “Yes!”
Don’t have your instrument just be a work colleague. Noodle around and get to know them sometimes without a particular goal.
I always say, “view playing each instrument like speaking a different language. They have similar qualities as Winds, but each one requires a different mindset and physical setup.”
Think of each instrument separately, don’t try to transfer technique from one to another.
Compartmentalize your brain. (eg. When I hold a saxophone, I can’t easily tell you much pedagogically about anything else)
Take lessons on your secondary instruments with established teachers. Practice all of the music before the first rehearsal (especially for your secondary instruments).
Try not to sound like a saxophonist playing a clarinet. Try to sound as much as a clarinetist as possible.
The principles of tone production on single reed instruments are all the same, and that is more important to stress than the particulars of what will happen to achieve that on each instrument. e.g. the saxophone and clarinet embouchure will look different but for either all you need to do is make a seal with no unnecessary pressure or biting that minimally dampens the vibration of the reed
Don’t get too bogged down in the beginning/intermediate stages with perfecting any technique or piece of music. It’s probably more important to read a variety of music so that you are reinforcing a bunch of different techniques in a bunch of different scenarios. It makes it more real world, forces you to discover and engage with more of the instruments strengths/weaknesses, and I think it makes you learn faster too because you see things in more different places
Get a good teacher
Off the top of my head: STYLE; maintain your instruments well; be good with your finances and set aside a little money each month for new instruments, upgrades, accessories, reeds, repairs, etc.
Legere reeds are great for doublers!
Study instruments with teachers on that primary instrument (flute with a flutist, etc)
Show up confidently prepared!
Treat every instrument as it’s own when you start. Just cause you play saxophone doesn’t mean it’s a golden ticket for you being good at anything else.
Practice!
Spend a reasonable amount of time on rudiments for your weakest, or non-native, instrument. Then spend an equal amount of time goofing around on the same instrument.
Synthetic reeds help with quick instrument changes, especially when the new instrument hasn’t been played for several minutes.
Which ever instrument is in your hand, practice/play it like it is your primary/only instrument
Master the basics of all your doubles.
You have to really want to do it. Nothing is wrong with not woodwind doubling ie. focussing on just one instrument. The opposite can also be true.
Study with a specialist on that instrument
Good instruments help a lot.
Study each instrument privately with someone who is highly accomplished.
Never neglect the basics when learning a new instrument. Long tones and scales are universally important for learning tone and technique, and those don’t usually cross over between instruments
Take lessons/listen/get the tone, intonation and musicality right and let the fingers work themselves out.
Don’t allow the mentality of being a doubler lessen your goals toward sounding you are a specialist on the horn in your hands.

Even if you never sound like Tim McAllister (or whoever), be proud of your versatility: doubling has opened doors for me that specializing on a single instrument would have never done.

You may never arrive at what your musical ear wants to hear from your own playing, but enjoy the never-ending growth, exploration and discovery that comes along with chasing that ideal.
Practice your instrument switches!
Treat each instrument as if it is your primary, learning all of its specifics. Take good lessons to sure up lesser instruments, no matter how old you are. Practice!
have fun
Master one instrument before adding more.

Thanks again for your participation and stay tuned for more survey results.

Woodwind Doubler Census 2021 results, part 1: demographics

Thanks to all who participated in my 2021 woodwind doubling survey, and to those who helped spread the word. I’m releasing the results in installments, so be sure to use my social media links, RSS feeds, etc. to keep up.

I got 284 responses, an improvement over 2011’s 187. The numbers for each of these questions don’t necessarily add up to exactly that number, since not everybody responded to every question.

Gender identity

I provided more options for gender identity than in 2011’s survey. Here’s the breakdown. (Percentages are of those who answered the question.)

2021 Data
Male22278%
Female4917%
Female, Transgender1~0%
Nonbinary/nonconforming104%
Transgender, Nonbinary/nonconforming1~0%
2011 Data
Male14678%
Female4122%

Age

As was the case 10 years ago, the numbers skew toward the younger end. I’m not sure if this is affected by the survey being distributed primarily online. No respondents claimed to be younger than teenaged or older than in their 70s.

2021 Data
Teenage228%
20s7225%
30s6724%
40s4014%
50s4114%
60s3512%
70s62%
2011 Data
Younger than 20191%
20s5410%
30s3129%
40s3617%
50s3319%
60s1218%
70s16%

Region

I provided options for this that broke down by continent. A few of you island dwellers responded with “other” and specified locations in Oceania and the Caribbean. I probably need to rethink this question for 2031, but for purposes of data reporting I have lumped everyone together into continents for now.

The continued absence of responses from Africa and South America may be related to language barriers and/or other factors. I did get a few responses from Asia this year, which I didn’t in 2011.

2021 Data
Asia31%
Australia114%
Europe207%
North America24988%
2011 Data
Australia116%
Europe126%
North America16287%

Which of these best describes where you live?

The “city, but not a ‘major’ one” option was added based on feedback from the 2011 survey. A few of you used the “other” option to explain more complicated living situations (such as multiple locations), and for reporting purposes I’ve taken the liberty of lumping those into the categories I thought were the closest match.

2021 Data
major city or metropolitan area12745%
city, but not a “major” one6924%
suburb or exurb6322%
rural or remote area248%
2011 Data
major city or metropolitan area9350%
suburban area6635%
rural or remote area2312%
other53%

Describe your current level of formal education (in any field).

“Less than high school diploma” is a new option this yea. The categories in the graph are abbreviated; the full text from the survey is in the data table.

2021 dATA
Less than high school diploma83%
High school diploma or equivalent62%
Some college3312%
Bachelors degree7025%
Some graduate school186%
Masters degree10337%
Doctorate3813%
Other degree type or comparable certification62%
2011 Data
High school diploma or equivalent84%
Some college2815%
Bachelors degree5932%
Some graduate school169%
Masters degree5328%
Doctorate169%
Other degree type or comparable certification63%

Thanks again for your participation and stay tuned for more survey results.

The Great Woodwind Doubler Census of 2021

mockup of white clipboard with blank paper
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Back in 2011 I did a “census” of woodwind players. It’s been 10 years, so I guess we’re due to be counted again. If you’re a doubler of any stripe/ability, you’re invited to take the survey. I’ll share the results as I did last time.

It’s a long survey, so set aside a little time if you’re willing, but all questions are optional and I’m happy to take whatever data you care to share. And of course feel free to share this survey far and wide with people who might be interested in participating.

At this point I’m thinking I’ll keep the survey active through the end of May, but if responses are still coming in strong I’ll be flexible.

Take the survey Update: the survey is now closed. Thanks!

Favorite blog posts, February 2021

See the woodwind blogs I’m following, and suggest others!

Review: Characteristic Etudes for the Woodwind Doubler by Gene Kaplan

I’ve previously reviewed a couple of Gene Kaplan‘s publications, sets of duets for woodwind doublers. Recently Gene was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest, Characteristic Etudes for the Woodwind Doubler.

Unlike his previous doubling-duet books, this is intended for a lone woodwind doubler to use in developing his or her doubling skills on flutes (including piccolo and alto flute), oboe and English horn, clarinets (E-flat, B-flat, and bass), saxophones (soprano through baritone), and bassoon and contrabassoon. (Gene suggests that substitutions can be made, so, for example, oboe can be used if you don’t have an English horn.)

The book includes short etudes in a variety of formats, including ones to strengthen instrument switches within familes (e.g. piccolo to flute to alto flute) and switches between families (e.g. flute to clarinet to…). It also has a section of “Difficult Woodwind Pairs” etudes, plus some slightly longer and more advanced etudes for each of the single instruments addressed in the book.

The etudes are in varied styles and not overly technically demanding, sticking mostly to moderate tempos and comfortable ranges. The focus here is on the switching, which happens frequently and in short but mostly manageable windows. (Unlike Gene’s duet books or Paul Saunders‘s books with backing tracks, there’s no built-in mechanism to enforce the quick switches, so you’ll need a metronome to keep yourself honest.)

Here’s a video demo with a couple of sample etudes:

This is the only doubling book I’m aware of that covers such a broad woodwind family. It’s unusual to see books that include the double reeds or even complete-ish flute and single reed families, much less both. If you are interested in improving your skills on a large number of instruments for Broadway-style doubling gigs, this makes excellent sightreading, or more in-depth work for instruments or switches that you find difficult.

Get your copy from Gene’s website.

Thanks, Gene!

Advice on multiple-woodwinds graduate degrees and teaching careers

"Woodwinds" by AnnieHoney is licensed under CC BY-NC

I often have university students bring up the idea of graduate school and a university teaching career, and I have previously given general advice about that.

Perhaps since my graduate degrees and a teaching career are in multiple woodwinds, my students sometimes wonder if that’s a path they should take. Here are a few thoughts:

I’ve mentioned previously that, even for talented and hardworking folks, a graduate education is far from a guarantee of employment. Does a multiple-woodwinds degree help? I think it helped me, but I also had some significant luck.

The year I was on the job market, I applied for a small handful of multiple-woodwinds jobs and got a small handful of interviews. I landed in the job that was the best match. I kept an eye on job listings in subsequent years, and years went by without a single multiple-woodwinds job being listed. If I had graduated a year later than I did, I may well have been unemployed.

During my job search I also applied for single-instrument teaching jobs, and got zero responses. Having been on the hiring side of things a few times now, I understand why. Faculty jobs get dozens of applicants that need to be narrowed down quickly, and the ones whose qualifications and experience are laser-focused for the job in question rise to the top. Though I felt I had things to offer, my multiple-woodwinds background wasn’t a precise enough fit, and somebody else’s background was.

So is a multiple-woodwinds education better, employability-wise, than focused study of a single instrument? It’s a calculated gamble. When you’re on the job market there might happen to be a windfall of single-instrument jobs, and if you’ve been focused on multiple woodwinds instead, you may be out of luck. However, there are fewer multiple-woodwinds graduates, so if a multiple-woodwinds-geared job opens, your background might prove very valuable.

Multiple-woodwinds teaching jobs tend to be common at smaller schools with smaller music departments, and that may or may not affect your decision. I have a mixed but mostly positive relationship with my small-university job. If your heart is set on teaching at a major university, then most of the jobs won’t be multiple-instrument jobs, and your competition will mostly be highly-specialized, highly-focused single-instrument players.

One other factor to consider is what kind of multiple-woodwinds education you want to get. Do you want to have a “primary” and “secondary” instruments, or study them in an equal way? Do you want to do a masters degree and a doctoral degree both in multiple woodwinds, or one in multiple woodwinds and one in a single instrument? How you focus your studies will affect which theoretical future jobs you will or won’t be a match for. (Each degree program is a little different, so check with the schools you’re interested in to see how their programs are structured.)

Graduate study in multiple woodwinds can be valuable preparation for a career in higher education, but the job opportunities are limited and hard to predict. I suggest pursuing that path if you have additional reasons or motivations for doing so, like a fascination with the woodwind instruments and woodwind doubling.

Recital videos, August 2020

I’m pleased to share videos from my recent Delta State University faculty recital. I performed for a very small in-person audience due to COVID-19 precautions.

All the repertoire is unaccompanied. The program begins with multiple-woodwinds repertoire by Samuel Adler, Kyle Tieman-Strauss, and Nicole Chamberlain (a world premiere of a commissioned piece), followed by some odds and ends on recorders, clarinet, and tinwhistles.

Updated: Music for woodwind doublers

As of February 2020, I’ve made some substantial updates to my catalog of music written for players of multiple woodwind instruments: Music for woodwind doublers

There are a few pieces I have listed as currently being researched, mostly cases where I am awaiting responses from composers. And I now have a special section for pieces that, unfortunately, I believe to be unavailable. If you have any leads on these pieces, or can offer any other additions or corrections, I’d be very interested in hearing from you.

When I take a step back and look at the list, it’s surprisingly robust. There are works by composers and musicians of the stature of Samuel Adler, Georges Barrère, Irwin Bazelon, Thomas Filas, Clare Fischer, Ralph Hermann, Bernard Hoffer, and Claude T. Smith. There are an encouraging number of pieces written in the 21st century. (I also have a new commission in the works, which I’ll hopefully be able to share details about sometime in the next few months.)

A fair number of the pieces have significant obstacles to performing, such as a need for an orchestra or concert band, or electronics, or less-common instruments. But there are a good number that are performable with just woodwind soloist or with woodwind soloist and piano, and some are flexible about instrumentation.

I must imagine for a lot of composers the prospect of writing a multiple-woodwinds piece is something of a hard sell. There’s a very limited number of musicians capable of performing multiple-woodwinds works, and not every doubler plays all the same instruments. If you are interested in playing these kinds of pieces, I hope you will find composers to work with, and let me know so I can add new pieces to my list.

Music for woodwind doublers

Woodwind doubling and saxophone problems

"sax" by paparutzi is licensed under CC BY

It’s very common for woodwind doublers to be saxophonists first, and approach the other woodwinds later, often because of the demands of flute/clarinet doubling in jazz big band music. So advice for woodwind doublers is often really advice for saxophonists playing secondary instruments. But when players of other woodwind instruments pick up the saxophone, there are some challenges that need to be addressed as well.

Tone production problems (pitch, tone, response). Assuming good breath support is in place (the same as with any other woodwind), these problems are probably caused by some combination of embouchure and voicing issues.

As with the other reed instruments, your embouchure should be airtight but not tight—just enough to close around the mouthpiece and reed, with your top teeth on the mouthpiece and your bottom lip in a neutral position (not rolled in or out). A tight embouchure constricts tone and reduces dynamic range.

The mouthpiece should angle up to your embouchure a little, but not at nearly as steep an angle as the clarinet or the oboe. Too steep an angle contributes to an uncharacteristic, slightly clarinet-like tone.

Use the paper trick to ensure you are taking in the right amount of mouthpiece. Taking in too much mouthpiece creates a wild, honky tone, and to little causes a stuffy, labored tone.

Voicing is tricky to get right on the saxophones. Flutists and double reed players are used to playing with a voicing essentially as low as it can go, and clarinetists use an embouchure essentially as high as it can go. Saxophonists need to hit a target somewhere in between. Daily mouthpiece pitch exercises are the best way to train this. Using a too-high voicing causes the thin, pinched sound and poor low-register response that expose you as a doubler coming from the clarinet. A too-low voicing causes a tubby tone, unstable pitch, and unresponsive high notes.

Fingering problems. The saxophone’s fingering system is in some ways the simplest and most intuitive of the modern woodwinds, but it has its share of problems. “Side” and “palm” keys are among them—they are awkward and imprecise to use, and take a great deal of practice to develop fluency. Similarly, movement between the pinky-finger keys using rollers, especially on the left hand, is problematic and requires diligent training. Scales and arpeggios, practiced though the instrument’s full standard range, are essential. Fluency in the saxophone’s middle register is comparatively easy, but the lowest notes (left-hand pinky) and highest notes (palm keys, especially left hand) are a real test of saxophone skill.

Style problems. For doublers approaching the flute, clarinet, or double reeds, a solid classical/orchestral approach to the instrument will cover most musical demands. Not so with the saxophone, which is often used in jazz or popular styles. To play these styles convincingly requires meticulous attention to tone, inflection, articulation, vibrato, and other subtleties. Doublers learning the saxophone would be wise to consider taking lessons both from “classical” and jazz teachers, and to do a great deal of listening and study of many styles of music.

Effective improvisation in various musical styles is a lifetime pursuit, and essential for serious saxophone gigging. Find a good teacher.

Jazz and classical setups. For saxophonists, playing in different styles sometimes requires different equipment. It’s common to have a classical mouthpiece and at least one jazz/pop mouthpiece, plus reeds to suit each. A classical mouthpiece often doesn’t have the volume, brightness, or punchy articulation needed for jazz or rock, and a jazz mouthpiece may not have the warm/dark tone, pitch stability, and subtle/soft dynamics for classical music.

Jaw vibrato. Jaw vibrato is a technique unique to the saxophone among the other woodwinds. (Clarinetists most often don’t use vibrato, and flutists and double reed players use a breath-pulse vibrato sometimes mislabeled as “diaphragm” vibrato.) Mastery of this skill takes good instruction and lots of practice. The saxophone vibrato needs to be fast, narrow, subtle, and fairly constant for most classical applications. Jazz players traditionally tend toward a slower, wider, terminal vibrato.

The saxophone is a valuable and rewarding double, and opens up many gigs that aren’t available to players of just the “orchestral” woodwinds. Give it serious study on its own terms and with an excellent teacher. Practice well!