While every musician has a primary instrument, many go on to pick up several more for varying reasons. I’m sharing my doubling history just for fun. Also, for those interested in beginning to double, please, for the love of Pete, get a teacher. Really. It will save you great amounts of frustration and headaches as you realize you learned something all wrong. 🙂
Primary–Clarinet (Eb, bass, etc)
Funny story, my first choice was flute, but I didn’t make the cut. I had circled Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, because that was the order on the paper, and apparently clarinet was my calling. My parents bought a Normandy 4 for me and away I went. I practiced a lot, made the All-State band, majored in music, played every type of clarinet possible, and am still going!
Secondary–Saxophone (alto, soprano, tenor)
During high school, I played in a smaller band program, 2A with approx. 60 students 8th-12th. My best friend played the saxophone and taught me how to play–I picked it up in about two months, bought my own little Yamaha YAS23 beginner type horn, and practiced until I made the jazz band. I continued on with the saxophone through college, playing in jazz bands, sax choirs, and combos. I played a Cannonball Mad Meg through college and several years after teaching, but I now have a Selmer Superaction 80.
Mad Meg unlaquered with tiger eye stones. Hey, it was gorgeous.
During my senior year of high school I was a band aide several periods a day, including beginner flute class. I borrowed a school flute and sat in with the students, learning along with them. I never really got good at it, but could play at a 7th grade level by the end of the year.
Fast forward to college, where I played in a pit orchestra. I realized my flute skills were lacking and began taking lessons, using my cousin’s old Yamaha 285 that she gave me. I still have it to this day. Anyway, at this point I was too poor to afford the internet or cable, so I practiced from the time I was done with classes until it was time for bed. The flute embouchure is not really taxing, so I could go for a while on clarinet, switch to flute when I got tired, then switch to saxophone, then back to flute, and so on and so forth. My neighbors must have loved me… Anyway, by the end of the semester I was playing in flute choir and surprisingly not the worst one there. So there’s that. Teaching beginner classes and learning junior high and high school region music help keep my chops up. I also would play my little pawn-shop Armstrong piccolo with the high school marching band during stand tunes–band directors can have fun too!
4th (is quartiary a word?)–Oboe
When I took a woodwind methods course and played the oboe for the first time, I was in love. If my grade school would have had double reeds, I totally would have been an oboist. Anyway, I dropped jazz and started taking oboe lessons with a graduate student. My high school friend Daniel was a saint and gave me his mother’s oboe that she played in high school, so I had my own nice, wooden, full-conservatory oboe to practice. I have found that most of my gigs are on oboe, so that one is the one that I give the most attention to besides clarinet. Reed making is not my forte, so luckily Bocal Majority exists.
I took bassoon lessons in college, bought an antique-but-still-playable bassoon from my professor, and off I went. Bassoon is fun to play, but is probably the one I struggle with the most as my hands are tiny, smaller than the size of most sixth graders. (Really–when my kids complain that they can’t reach the pinky keys, I make them press their palm to mine and measure fingers, and theirs are almost always longer. So I tell them “if I can do it, you can do it.” Never hear another word). Also, the fingering system is not as similar as the Boehm system common among the other woodwinds, so funky finger combinations are part of the growing pains. One thing that made my life easier was the Legere bassoon reed, but sadly they changed the style and the reeds are no longer awesome. Hopefully they will revamp soon. (…or just go back to the good gold-bottomed ones!)
My last year of teaching beginner bassoons was wonderful; I was playing every day and accompanying flute and clarinet classes on their Christmas/contest music so they could hear the bass parts. I’m about at the 8th grade level; scales are solid, I can play all region music, but high school stuff is a bit above my reach technically. One day when I am not practicing the clarinet during every free second of my life (minus writing this), I will devote more time to it. Like I said, double reeds seem to be needed the most for gigs where I live, so it behooves me to keep my chops up!
Why do I bother with it?
Originally, young 18-year-old me wanted to be someone who played on Broadway or in musicals for a living. However, that’s not quite practical if you’d rather live in Texas instead of New York. However, I keep it up because it makes me a WAY better lesson teacher/band director/musician. In band I know how the flutes are going to tune on those high F#’s. I know the oboes are busting butt to get those low-note technical passages out, so I’m not going to say anything if it’s not perfect the first few times. I know the bassoons can easily fix their pitch on that note, so do it already. 😉 I feel for the alto saxophonist playing a sustained low D at pppp. You become more empathetic because you know your way around the instruments. I may never play on Broadway, but I fancy my woodwind kids sure do benefit from my practice!
Till next time,