Woodwind doubling — Practical Advice
Here are 6 extremely practical habits that can help to improve your doubles dramatically. These are habits that I’ve acquired from years of experience doubling on multiple woodwinds. While these tips won’t help you improve your technical abilities on your instruments, I believe they are invaluable when it comes to the mechanics of actually switching between instruments in live performance. Many of these tips will seem really obvious but it’s often the simplest things that can make a huge difference.
- Deliberate motions – slower is almost always faster in the long run. It’s important to resist the urge to throw your horn down and grab another during a quick change. Allow yourself to take the whole amount of time in the change. When you move slower, you’re much more likely to be accurate. Missing a stand or getting tangled in a microphone wire are almost always the causes of missed entrances over quick changes, not having insufficient time. When you are coming to the end of a passage and getting ready to make a switch, ‘choreograph’ the move in your mind before it happens. What is the order of operations? Which had will do what and in what order?
- Glow tape – Use glow tape or some other highly visible item to make your stands easy to find in the dark. Often times you’ll be required to make quick changes in the dark. If you can’t find your stands you’ll be much slower. A small bit of glow tape on top of a flute stand can make it much easier to find. I’m not really sure why they don’t just make those things glow in the dark in the first place.
- Mouthpiece Caps – I’m a firm believer in keeping mouthpiece caps on the horns when not in use. I know that many people don’t like to do this because it’s just one more thing to keep moving around when switching horns. I think it’s beneficial to use them because they keep reeds moist and working properly so they are ready when you go to make a quick change.
- Single instrument stands—resist the urge to buy multi-racks that limit how you can place your instruments around you. Set them up in a way that makes since with the music you are playing. I typically like to have my flute and clarinet in front of me, just under the music stand and my saxophones off to my right side. By keeping them in this order, it’s unlikely that I’ll knock anything over and everything is laid out in an orderly fashion. What instruments do you play the most and what are the most common switches? With single stands, you can arrange your instruments in any number of ways. With a rack stand, you can only put them in one way. Single stands are also better because they are more stable and less bulky to store.
- Never ‘hang’ your instruments. I see ‘hang tenor’ written on charts all the time, meaning put your tenor on and let it hang from your neck while you play a flute part so that you can make a quick switch later. I believe this is always unnecessary and hinders your playing. Not only is having a saxophone hanging around your neck uncomfortable and possibly even bad for you, it makes you sit in a weird way that will affect your doubling. What does having a tenor hanging around your neck do to your posture and ability on the flute? For most woodwind players who claim saxophone as their primary instrument, flute will be the weakest double. Why would you then make yourself sit in an awkward manner while trying to play it? I believe that ‘hanging’ an instrument sets you up for failure. Instead, just plan ahead and make a quick change when the time is right.
- Monitors – This one is so obvious it sounds dumb but it’s really surprising how often I have to ask for this. Make sure that you can hear your doubles in the monitor mix if you are using different microphones. Shockingly often sound techs will turn up your primary mic in the monitor but leave your double mic muted. How are you supposed to play in tune on your weakest instrument if you can’t hear yourself?
Adopting these habits will greatly improve your ability to quickly and efficiently move between instruments. By following this advice you’ll set yourself up for success and avoid some of the pitfalls that can make playing multiple woodwinds difficult.