Practicing your 2-4 woodwind doubles when you have no time

As a band director, practicing all five woodwind instruments every day was no sweat. Morning warm up and heavy-duty clarinet practice before beginners. Flute, oboe, bassoon, saxophone, clarinet fundamentals five days a week with my classes. Then after-school private lessons with JH and HS all-region kiddos on various instruments; I’d play/learn right along with them and kept in shape.

Now, as a master’s student in clarinet performance, I have found myself in the first year overwhelmed with too much to do in too little time. I don’t have TIME to work out. I don’t have TIME to practice my clarinet as much as I want to. Sometimes when I do have time, my mental focus is gone. How am I going to do this? How do I keep up my doubles when I can barely do enough on the clarinet?

So. As I slog through woodwind pedagogy, a five-week summer class consisting of writing annotations of over 240 books, (hello library jail) I’ve had time to reflect and realize I have my own solutions.

  1. If I have time to be on social media (or writing a blog) I have time to practice. It may only be a quick warm-up on the flute, but I have time.
  2. Eating at home/packing a lunch shaves off driving time. Use it to play your major scales every day on 2-3 instruments (assuming you have access to them).
  3. Speaking of eating–eating better and exercising every other day increases my focus. My mantra is now “if I feel tired, I need to get up and move.” So if you feel tired, that’s all the more reason to work out/do jumping jacks in place/walk around the office. I just did 20 jumping jacks because I’ve been sitting here too long!
  4. Keep a practice journal on your phone or on paper. Even if it is just tally marks for instruments played each day, you’ll quickly realize which instrument(s) you favor and which ones need more love (bassoon, sigh). It also keeps you honest about how often you actually practice.
  5. Have instrument stands and invest in instrument cozies. I’ve got some from Altieri and I love them! Now, I know you’re never supposed to leave an instrument out, but let’s be real here. If it’s out, I’m more likely to practice. If it’s in its case (*cough* bassoon) I’m less likely to be enthused about putting it together. Now, I do put my saxophone and flute up each day, but clarinets usually stay ready-to-go (I’m a clarinet major and literally play them all the time) and bassoon is on a stand with cozies on it and a Legere reed at the ready. If you have kids, rig a system to where you can easily access everything while the little ones can’t.
  6. Start small. I tend to get overwhelmed easily, so I always tell myself, “I’m just going to do major scales today.” And I do. Then I’m in the zone and find more to work on.
  7. If you have only a block of time once per day to practice, and you fatigue on the first instrument or two, add flute. I always found the flute to be the perfect “in-between” instrument, especially after oboe. Bassoon is also pretty relaxed unless you’re up in the stratosphere. So break up your sessions with small rests and whatever instrument you double on with the least taxing embouchure.
  8. Don’t sit down right after you come home from work. Chances are, you won’t get up again with any will to do anything productive.
  9. Try to find a local band, orchestra, or small ensemble (or create a group) to play in once a week to keep a double or two in shape. My octet is the highlight of my week. If a group just isn’t in the cards, find a retired orchestra teacher or professional musician to take lessons from once a week. You’ll be amazed how much time you miraculously find when you are motivated by not wanting to play badly in front of someone you respect!
  10. Take things one day at a time, one instrument at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day; it was worked on daily with steady progress. You can do this!


My bassoon is looking at me spitefully, so I believe I am going to play some scales. Happy doubling!

One thought on “Practicing your 2-4 woodwind doubles when you have no time

  1. Pingback: Favorite blog posts, June 2017 | Bret Pimentel, woodwinds

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