- Steve Neff Music Blog (saxophone): An Inside Look into the Joe Allard Approach of Saxophone Playing: Memories of the First Three Lessons
- The Flute View (Paul Edmund-Davies): Why I Left the London Symphony Orchestra
- Joffe Woodwinds: Pedagogical “Doubling”
- The Flute Examiner (Jessica Dunnavant): Silver Linings and a Daily Routine
- Bill Plake Music (saxophone): An Important Thing To Notice The Instant You Prepare To Play
- Jennet Ingle | Oboist: Why Do We Practice?
- oboeinsight (Patty Mitchell): Teaching
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
A few years ago I reviewed Gene Kaplan’s Duos for Doublers, a set of duets for woodwind doublers playing flute, clarinet, and saxophone. I was pleased to hear from Gene again recently about his new Duets for the ‘Double-Reed Doubler.’ It contains seven duets in a variety of styles, with one doubler playing oboe, clarinet, and alto saxophone, and the other playing clarinet, bassoon, and tenor saxophone. (No flute in either part.)
The books (a set of two, one for each player) are neat and easy to read, with well-placed page turns and spiral binding. Like the Duos for Doublers, this set currently costs $30.
I’m pleased to see more materials making their way into the world that address the growing pressure on woodwind doublers to be skilled double reed players. The idea of “doubling” meaning just flute, clarinet, and saxophone is increasingly a thing of the past. Working on doubling in a chamber music setting, like these duets, is a useful way to improve your skills as a soloist-level player of multiple instruments.
Here’s a demo of one of the duets, called “Machinations:”
I wouldn’t call these duets easy, exactly, but they aren’t overwhelming for doublers with a little background in each instrument. All the instruments stay mostly in their lower and middle registers. The oboe rarely ventures outside the staff, and the bassoon stays squarely in bass-clef range. There are some fast switches (catch me trying to play bassoon with the tenor in my lap in the demo video), some tricky navigation of the clarinet’s throat-to-clarion break, some articulated low notes in the saxophones, and other real but not unusual challenges.
These duets are a fun an interesting challenge if you have a doubler friend to practice with. Head over to Gene’s website to get your copy.
Here are a few of the common problems woodwind doublers have with the clarinet:
Flabby/saggy/tubby/airy tone and flat pitch. This is a dead giveaway for a self-“taught” clarinet doubler. The clarinet’s voicing is quite high, higher than any of the other woodwinds, and beginning clarinetists sometimes struggle for years to make that proper voicing a consistent habit. Once it settles in, pitch problems mostly evaporate, tone becomes clear and ringing, and notes respond beautifully and easily in every register. If you’re thinking about buying a shorter barrel because your “clarinet” is so flat all the time, don’t. Work on your voicing instead. Voicing is the #1 crucial technique for successful clarinet doubling, and will solve most of your problems.
It may also be worth checking your mouthpiece angle—it should be quite steep compared to saxophone or double reed instruments. Keep your head up straight and eyes forward, and aim in the ballpark of keeping the clarinet around 30° from vertical. You can also use the paper trick to make sure you’re taking in the right amount of mouthpiece.
Reeds can be a contributing factor, too. Often (but not always) saxophonists lean toward a slightly more open mouthpiece and softer reed, while clarinetists lean toward a little more closed mouthpiece and stiffer reed. The strength you prefer on a typical saxophone mouthpiece may not be right strength for a typical clarinet mouthpiece.
Constricted tone. Bafflingly, there’s a common pedagogical idea that clarinetists should tighten their embouchures to fix various problems. This is nonsense. Keep your jaw open to make space for the reed to vibrate, and let your lips (not your jaw/teeth) close around the mouthpiece, not tight but just airtight. Notes will respond more readily, with a fuller, prettier tone, and you can throw away the tape or paper or dental appliance you have been using to cushion your lower lip from your teeth.
Squeaks. 95% of the time this is an issue of fingers failing to properly cover toneholes. (And 95% of the time, struggling clarinet doublers blame it on something having vaguely to do with embouchure, reeds, or the clarinet somehow just being a squeaky instrument.) Use the large, fleshy pads of your fingers (not the tippy-tips) to cover the holes. Sometimes a quick check in the mirror can reveal that your fingers aren’t where you think they are.
Fingering awkwardness. The clarinet’s fingering system and unique overtone series provide tremendous advantages: an expansive range, clean and precise technique, and lots of useful alternate fingerings. (It’s superior to the saxophone’s “easier” system with awkward palm keys and relatively few alternates. Fight me.)
But if you’re coming from another instrument, you might find the 12th between the lower and clarion registers confounding. That’s because you’re still thinking about the fingerings. Practice your scales, arpeggios, and études until your fingers move on autopilot, like they already do on your primary instrument. It can be done.
The clarinet’s dreaded “break” as a technique concern is mostly a myth. Keep your support, voicing, and embouchure well-formed and stable, and just move your fingers. Your left index finger should rock or tilt between its tonehole and the A key, not hop (losing contact with the instrument) or slide (dragging along the key). Work toward a tiny, efficient, relaxed movement.
The clarinet’s clever system of redundant pinky keys enables lightning-fast technique in virtually any key, but it takes real effort to learn to use them well. Remember that for those pinky-finger notes there aren’t really “standard” vs. “alternate” fingerings—you need to know them all well enough to use interchangeably. And if you have beginner habits like using both pinkies for third-line B, you will need to learn to use a single pinky in many cases for the most efficient and flexible approach.
Ledger line catastrophes. Because of the clarinet’s broad tessitura, clarinetists have to be fluent in ledger lines above the staff (maybe more than you’re used to if you’re an oboist) and below the staff (more than you’re used to on any treble-clef woodwind). Hit the Baermann or Kroepsh books for thorough workouts spanning the clarinet’s range.
Remember the best money you can spend on your clarinet playing isn’t another mouthpiece or barrel or book—it’s some lessons with an excellent teacher. Learn the instrument on its own terms, and, whatever you do, try not to sound like a doubler.
“Which multiple woodwinds degree programs should I apply to?” I get this question a lot, since I write about multiple woodwind degree programs here on the blog, have a couple of those degrees myself, and maintain a list of such programs.
(The list is meant to be comprehensive but probably isn’t. If you know of a program that isn’t listed, please let me know! These days I mostly depend on emails from interested parties to help keep the list up-to-date. I don’t have some secret source where I can find all the current available programs.)
The answer, of course, is that I don’t know which program you should choose. I graduated from two excellent programs, both of which I understand have evolved in the 10+ years since I finished school. Programs frequently change, and so do the faculty and administration that run them.
So, you should narrow down your list of possibilities the best you can, and reach out to schools to find out more. You might try to figure out from the school’s music faculty directory who is the head of the woodwind department, or contact the professor of your “main” instrument (if you have one).
If I were looking for a program today, here are some questions I might like to research on the school’s website, or ask a professor:
- How many students are currently enrolled in the degree program? Are there any enrolled in multiple-woodwinds programs at other degree levels? Is this enrollment typical, or is it currently at a high or low?
- How do the woodwind faculty feel about the program? Do they see woodwind doubling as a valuable, marketable skill? Are any of them doublers themselves? Do they try to push students into single-instrument degrees instead?
- Do multiple-woodwinds students get the same kind of access/time/attention/instructional time from the faculty that single-instrument students get? Is there room for multiple woodwinds majors in, say, the oboe reedmaking class? The clarinet choir?
- How big and how competitive is the music department in general? Is there any hope of auditioning into serious ensembles on secondary instruments?
- Are there appropriate/relevant graduate assistantships available, like teaching or assisting with a woodwind methods class, or playing auxiliary woodwinds in the bands or orchestras?
- How is the degree structured? What courses would I take? Would I have a minor, cognate field, etc?
- How is individual instrumental study structured? Would I have a “main” instrument and “secondary” instruments? How would that affect the instruction and experience I get on each? Would I be studying multiple instruments each semester? How much total instruction would I get on each instrument? Would I perform on all my instruments in solo recitals and juries?
- How strong do I need to be on each instrument for entry into the program? What is the audition process like? Do you have lists or guidelines for required audition repertoire?
- Are there instruments available for my use? Do I need to own all the instruments I intend to study before I start the program?
- What non-school-related opportunities are available in the area? Are students earning money playing gigs? Is there an active musical theater scene or some other kind of music-making that would value the services of an aspiring woodwind doubler?
- What have former students in the program accomplished? Have they graduated? How long did it take them? Are they employed? Doing what?
I did one of my multiple woodwinds degrees at a well-known, name-brand music school, and later in academic job interviews hiring committees did notice and comment on it; it’s possible the name opened some doors. My other multiple woodwinds degree is from a smaller (but not small), high-quality but lower-name-recognition school, where I got much better access to the faculty, better opportunities to perform, better financial aid, and lower costs. Both were valuable experiences in different ways.
If you are in the US, there’s a decent chance that there’s a quality program or two within a few hours’ drive. Check with the faculty to find out about the details that are important to you. Give strong consideration to assistantship opportunities, especially if they involve teaching, as this experience has high educational value for you and can set your CV apart in an academic job search. If you’re having a hard time deciding between two similar programs, you probably won’t go wrong with either, so maybe choose the one that costs less and/or is closer to home.
Good luck and happy practicing!
Here are videos from my recent faculty recital at Delta State University. I performed the Saint-Saëns oboe, bassoon, and clarinet sonatas, plus the flute Romance and “The Swan” from The Carnival of the Animals as a baritone saxophone transcription.
“The Swan” is originally for cello, so I assumed it might work well as a baritone saxophone transcription. It turns out it really fits quite comfortably in the alto saxophone’s range, but I decided to take it on as a baritone piece anyway as a personal challenge.