Submitted by Jeff Purtle on Wed, 05/11/2016 - 22:05

Woodwind Doubling

Good Reasons to play multiple woodwind instruments

• enjoyment of the different instruments
• to make yourself more marketable
     - jazz
     - musicals/broadway shows
     - orchestras (mainly primary/secondary instrument doubling)
     - weddings
     - parties
     - teaching

Bad reasons to play multiple instruments

• to march for one season in band
• to be cool 
• to obtain higher chair in band
• you think that another instrument will be easier or you won’t have to practice as much.

Two Types of Doubling

1. Primary to Secondary instrument doubling (i.e: flute - piccolo, oboe - English horn, clarinet - alto or bass clarinet, bassoon - contrabassoon, alto saxophone - baritone saxophone etc.)
• Almost every woodwind player will be called upon to double in this way at some point. Be prepared to play the secondary instrument well.
• Do not start the secondary instrument too early. Master the primary instrument first. Starting the piccolo too early does tend to cause the student to play flute with a tight, small sound.
• Always keep the focus of your practice on the Primary instrument.
• As a player becomes more advanced she/he may decide to focus on just the secondary instrument. This can be a very wise decision that should only be made after much research and discussion with the private teacher. Remember; piccolo players, English horn players etc. rarely become principal (first chair) players.
2. Primary to Primary instrument doubling (multiple instruments) i.e: clarinet - alto saxophone, flute and oboe. The combinations are endless.

Woodwind Doubling II
(multiple instruments)


1. Playing another instrument will mess-up my embouchure on my first instrument.
• The lack of practice on an instrument after another is started will cause a decline in your level of playing.
2. Playing more than one instrument makes me a better musician.
• Consistent, good practice on any instrument will make you a better musician.

Practical ideas to help you become a successful woodwind doubler

1. Pick one primary instrument that always gets first priority in practice and performance.
2. Add only one instrument at a time
3. Get private lessons on each instrument. The little that you know about one does not qualify you to teach yourself another. Remember that playing music on an instrument is a language, art form and physical skill, you need guidance in order to learn correctly.
4. Practice on each instrument that you play.
• There are basic musicianship skills that are common to all instruments.
• There are some skills that are unique for each instrument. (This will be discussed later on the page)
• Practice the majority of the basic skills on one instrument (usually your chosen primary instrument) Then practice the skills needed on each of the other instruments.
5. Learn about the reeds. Do not just buy from the store and play on anything and everything that you get.
• Consider learning how to make oboe and bassoon reeds. If oboe or bassoon is your primary instrument it is an absolute necessity to learn to make those reeds!
• Learn how to adjust saxophone and clarinet reeds. If you have chosen not to make oboe and bassoon reeds buy handmade reeds and learn to adjust them because they will change with age, temperature and humidity. 
• Not all professional clarinetists and saxophonists make reeds but, it is a definite consideration.

Comparison of the Different Instruments

(This is a very general outline.)


Flute: tip of the tongue touches behind top teeth, double-tonguing is a must for advanced playing (tuh kuh - low, tee kee - high)
Oboe: tip of the tongue touches the top of the tip of the reed, double-tonguing usually not necessary but possible
Clarinet: tip of the tongue touches the top of the tip of the reed, double-tonguing usually not necessary but possible
Saxophone: very tip of the reed is contacted by the tongue ( slightly backfrom tip of tongue)
Bassoon: tip of the tongue touches the top of the tip of the reed


Flute: absolutely different from every other woodwind, direction of air across lip plate determines high or low pitches
Oboe: double lip embouchure, corner of lips are directed in (think of an anteater) and teeth are kept apart
Clarinet: single lip embouchure, top teeth are on mouthpiece, mouth- piece enters mouth at a forty five degree angle, bottom lip acts as a cushion for the reed, chin is kept flat and pulled down, bottom teeth should not bite into lip
Saxophone: single lip embouchure, top teeth press on mouthpiece, mouthpiece enters mouth at a ninety degree angle, bottom lip acts as a cushion for the reed, chin is kept flat and pulled down, bottom teeth should not bite into lip
Bassoon: double lip embouchure, jaw is dropped, very loose


Flute: produced “diaphragmatically,” air comes out in a vibrant pulsating stream
Oboe: produced “diaphragmatically,” air comes out in a vibrant pulsating stream, avoid jaw vibrato!!!, be careful not to shake your body with the vibrations
Clarinet: not commonly used in classical music (you will hear some though) used more commonly in jazz and pop music, produced with jaw or ‘diaphragmatically”
Saxophone: most commonly produced with jaw, “diaphragmatic’ vibrato will make you sound like a 1920’s dance band musician
Bassoon: “diaphragmatic vibrato, sometimes jaw vibrato (beware of funky tone)

Breath Control

Flute: takes the most air, keep air in fast and focused stream, practice breath control exercise especially for the flute
Oboe: takes a very little amount of air, taking in too much air will cause a build up of carbon dioxide in the lungs which can be very painful, sometimes the expulsion of air is necessary to avoid this
Clarinet: less air than flute, high tongue for high notes, lower tongue for low notes
Saxophone: less air than flute, high tongue for high notes, lower tongue for low notes) 
Bassoon: less air than flute, always allow the reed to vibrate freely


Flute: similar to saxophone and oboe in lower and middle registers no octave key, direction of air changes octaves, this is helped by altering fingerings in upper registers
Oboe: similar to flute, more awkward fingerings, alternate fingerings two octave keys
Clarinet: similar to flute in clarion (middle) register, register key causes a note to move up a twelfth instead of an octave, alternate fingerings for chromatics and pinkies, possible “A” parts
Saxophone: similar to flute and oboe, one octave key, not as awkward as oboe and clarinet, altissimo fingerings
Bassoon: extreme use of thumbs, tends to be very awkward especially in higher octaves, whisper key instead of octave key is pressed for low notes not high notes, bass and tenor clef reading

Good Technique-Building Methods

This list is not comprehensive. They are books that I believe help build up advanced technique in an organized manner. Etude and solo books are not listed.


Indispensable Scales, Exercises and Etudes for the Developing Flutist
     Dona Gilliam & Mizzy McCaskill (Mel Bay Publications)
Complete Daily Exercises for the Flute
     Trevor Wye (Novello Publishing Limited)


Studi Per Oboe Volume II
     Clementi Salviani (Ricordi & Co.)
Foundation Studies for Oboe (same as saxophone version)
     David Hite (Southern Music Company)


Velocity Studies for Clarinet (Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced)
     Kalmen Opperman (Carl Fischer)
Foundation Studies for Clarinet
     David Hite (Southern Music Company)


Foundation Studies for Saxophone (same as oboe version)
     David Hite (Southern Music Company)
Les Gammes Conjointes Et En Intervalles
     Jean-Marie Londeix (Editions Henry Lemoine)


Introducing the Tenor Clef for Trombone (bassoon)
     Reginald H. Fink (Accura Music)
Practical Method for the Bassoon
     J. Weissenborn (Carl Fischer)
Melodious and Progressive Studies for Bassoon
     Alan Hawkins (Southern Music Company)

©2003 Mary AllyeB Purtle