Doubling for Woodwind Players

By Jacqueline Pace

As a high school student taking lessons on 3 woodwind instruments, I heard all sorts of theories about how reed instruments would ruin my flute embouchure. I was also told never to touch brass instruments, because this would be even worse for my flute playing.

I was advised to practise flute, then clarinet, then saxophone in that order. This has always seemed to work for me. I have played flute directly after clarinet or saxophone occasionally, usually when playing a reed part for a musical. The most noticeable change to my flute playing was when I played flute directly after playing saxophone. My tone was horrible. I checked the mirror – my embouchure was the same, but I had lost all feeling in my bottom lip due to the vibrating reed. After a break to let my lip rest, my flute playing returned to normal.

I later took up oboe for a group music subject at university. Again, it was tired lips due to vibrating reeds which affected my flute playing immediately after playing oboe. There were no long-term disadvantages.

In terms of career opportunities, spending years studying extra instruments has made me a much more versatile teacher. Many schools now want a general woodwind teacher, rather than a specialist on each instrument. This is not an ideal situation – I have had many conversations with panicking woodwind teachers when a school wants them to teach an instrument they have never played and have seen many students develop poor technique due to poor teaching (the most common one I see is incorrect chromatic fingerings on clarinet). I am confident in the way I teach other woodwinds due to my hard work when I was a teenager.

Comments on this topic are welcome.

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  1. Having been given the exact same advice by my first flute teacher, many years ago (she was prepared to make an exception for the Recorder- I wasn’t!) I must say that I totally agree with what you have said.
    I have now taken that a step further and have fulfilled a “bucket list” dream of playing in a Brass Band on Euphonium. I find that as long as I don’t try and pick up my flute after a 2 hour band rehearsal my lips are fine and my tone and playing are not at all affected. Knowing the fingering and intonation for brass has certainly been of great assistance, with my Trumpet playing son (doing VCE music) being taught by a clarinet player with no brass experience……. Our public schools don’t understand!!

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