Do you play a woodwind instrument and struggle to get gigs? You may want to consider being a woodwind doubler.
Adding a second or third instrument to your skillset can help you get more gigs and private students. Read on to learn more about how doubling works.
What Is a Woodwind Doubler?
A woodwind doubler is someone who plays more than one woodwind instrument. Typically, it refers to a musician who plays two or more types of woodwinds, such as flutes and saxophones, rather than two types of flutes.
But you can also include a flute player who plays multiple flutes in the definition in some cases. The most important thing is that the musician can play multiple woodwinds.
Why Become a Woodwind Doubler
If you play one woodwind already, you should consider learning a second. Here are some reasons why you may want to be a woodwind doubler.
Access More Opportunities
Whether you want to get more performing gigs, private students, or other opportunities, learning a second instrument can be great. You can get gigs that call for both instruments.
But if you’re good enough at the other woodwind, you may even get opportunities that only use that instrument. That can be a great way to increase your earning potential.
Even if most of these opportunities are unpaid, they could lead to paid gigs in the future. So if you’re looking to play or teach more, don’t be afraid to add more instruments to your arsenal.
Changing Landscape of Gigs
Times are changing, and some gigs basically require you to play multiple instruments. This is particularly true of pit orchestra gigs, but even some recording work is geared toward doublers.
When I was in college, I played in an opera pit. I had to play both the flute and piccolo on that production. Had I not had a high level of piccolo playing, I might not have been chosen for that gig.
Woodwind doublers can cover more parts with fewer people. As much as you may hate to admit it, it’s better for business to hire fewer people. So if a production can find people to cover more of the work, they’ll save money.
Higher Earning Potential
Depending on the doubling gigs you get, you may be able to earn more money. Some gigs come with a higher rate for each extra double. The increase in pay can be even bigger for low woodwinds since they’re larger.
What’s more, you don’t even have to be the best at any one instrument. You just have to be the best at whatever combination is required. Then, you’ll get the gig (and the money).
Private teaching can also come with a higher paycheck. You could teach other students who want to learn multiple instruments. That would make it easier to market longer lessons that you can charge more for.
Learn New Things
Many benefits of doubling come with the chance of a better income. But you can also enjoy the process of learning something new. You can be a beginner again on your new woodwind.
That can remind you of what it was like to first learn your main instrument. So if you teach beginners, that could even help you become a better teacher.
Even if your career doesn’t require doubling, it could be a good thing. If you ever feel like you’re stagnating as a musician, adding a new instrument might be just what you need.
Why Not Become a Woodwind Doubler
Before you learn a new instrument, consider some of the downsides. As great as doubling can be, it’s not for everyone.
Every additional instrument you add comes with more costs. For one, you have to pay for the instrument in the first place. And we all know that those super cheap knock-offs won’t do it.
That means you’ll need to pay at least $1,000 or more per instrument. For some instruments, the cost can surpass $10,000.
Then, there’s the cost of ongoing maintenance, like annual COAs. And unless you stick to the flute family and ethnic flutes, you’ll also need to pay for reeds. All of this adds up, so while you can earn more, it may not pay off right away.
Tough to Balance
Of course, learning to play multiple instruments requires good time management. You need to dedicate enough time to practicing and improving at each of your instruments.
Sure, this may be possible when you’re in school. But once your career gets going, you’ll have a lot less time to practice. That can make it impossible to retain your playing on your main instrument while you work on your doubles.
I sometimes find it hard to keep up with the flute, piccolo, and alto flute. So if you want to play all five major woodwinds, prepare to put in more time than you already do practicing.
A Heavier Load
Carrying your various instruments to rehearsals and lessons can also weigh you down…literally. Unless you teach from a home studio, you’ll have to cart your instruments around to your different studios and to gigs.
Sure, there are combination cases you can get. But that still doesn’t get rid of the added weight of the instruments.
Over time, it could cause back problems or shoulder issues. You can use a gig bag with wheels, but it still means you have stuff to carry. Not everyone wants to deal with that.
Best Woodwind Doubler Combinations
If you want to become a woodwind doubler, you can technically choose any combination of instruments that you want. But some combos are more in-demand and can be better for getting gigs, at least to start.
My personal instrument combination as a woodwind doubler is multiple flutes. I play the C flute, piccolo, and alto flute. Outside of the concert flute family, I dabble in recorders, tin whistles, ocarinas, and a few other ethnic flutes.
This combination is great for teaching flute lessons. It’s also a nice option for some musical theatre work. A few musicals have a Reed 1 book that calls for various flutes, both concert and non-concert flutes.
Another popular combination is to play single reeds, including the clarinet and saxophone. A great place to start is with the Bb clarinet and the alto and/or tenor saxophones.
But you can also add smaller and larger single reeds. For example, you might specialize in low single reeds, like the bass clarinet and baritone saxophone.
Flute and Single Reeds
You can combine the prior to groups to make yourself even more marketable as a doubler. A good starting point is to learn the C flute, Bb clarinet, and alto saxophone.
Popular instruments to add after that include the piccolo, Eb clarinet, soprano sax, and tenor sax. Of course, you can also specialize in low reeds or upper reeds.
Speaking of low reeds, they’re another great instrument combination. If you like the sound of lower instruments, consider this specialty. You can play instruments like the bass clarinet, tenor and/or bari sax, and bassoon.
This combination can make you a lot of money. I’ve heard it’s pretty common for low reeds players to get an extra fee due to the size of the instruments they have to transport.
Double reeds are already a more competitive section. If you can play both the oboe and bassoon, you can use that to set yourself apart even further. This combination is popular for college teaching, especially in smaller schools.
My undergraduate institution had one double reed professor. But you can also play both double reeds as a performer.
How to Become a Woodwind Doubler
If you want to become a woodwind doubler, consider the following steps.
Choose a Focus
First, you’ll want to choose a combination of instruments to play. As I mentioned, I chose to play a variety of flutes. That’s helped me get certain performing gigs as well as a few private students.
But maybe you have other goals. Consider the right combination of instruments for you so that you can acquire the right gear.
Master Multiple Instruments
The important part of becoming a doubler is playing multiple woodwinds at a high level. So once you have a plan for the instruments to learn, you need to work on each one.
While you need to play your various instruments well, you shouldn’t learn everything at once. Instead, focus on learning one new instrument at a time until you can play it at an advanced level.
Once you do that with one instrument, move to the next one. Repeat until you’ve learned all of the instruments you want to learn.
Rotate Through the Instruments
As you learn your second or third instrument, you can’t forget to practice the instruments you can already play. Make time each week to rotate through all of the instruments you play.
You don’t have to play every instrument every day or play them a ton in a given day. Just make sure you don’t go too long between practice sessions so that your playing level doesn’t go down.
Now, you finally get to put your skills to use. You should start promoting yourself as a woodwind doubler on your website, social media, and in any emails you send.
If you attend in-person networking events, you can also mention the different instruments you play. Start pitching yourself for gigs and taking auditions, both on your primary instrument and any of your doubles.
What Is the Hardest Woodwind to Play?
The hardest woodwind to play depends on the player. Some people find the flute quite difficult because it doesn’t have as much resistance as reed instruments.
I’d probably say the bassoon is the hardest. Its fingering system is the least like any of the other woodwinds. And the double reed can be hard to get used to at first.
What Is the Least Popular Woodwind?
The least popular woodwind is either the bassoon or the oboe. It depends on where you live and what your local musicians play.
A woodwind doubler is a musician who can play more than one instrument from the woodwind family. Doubling can be a great way to make yourself more marketable.
Be sure to consider popular combinations and the pros and cons of doubling. And if you want to work on your flute, piccolo, or alto flute chops, schedule a private lesson with me!