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.