Doubling Questions

Inspired by this post from my fellow doubler Bret Pimentel

What instruments do you play in your profession, and in what capacity do you play them?

I play piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano, alto, tenor and bari saxophone professionally in jazz combos, big bands, rock bands, chamber ensembles, orchestras, as a soloist, and in recording sessions.

I also play oboe, bassoon and electric bass for fun, working on getting them to a higher level.

I play just enough piano to be dangerous. I mostly use it for transcription, composing and arranging.

Woodwind Specialist, Doubler, Multiple Woodwinds Performer… there are so many titles for what you do. Do you have a preference for what you are called?

I like the word Doubler, but I know that few people outside of the musician community really knows what that term means. Multi-Instrumentalist seems to be the most user friendly and clear.

Just call us talented. 😀

Did you get into doubling for the money? (haha)… What are you in it for?

I’ve always said that you should “never do the math”, so I don’t know this for sure, but I highly doubt that the cost benefit ratio for being a doubler ends up in the black. I’m not sure if when you factor in the cost of instruments, reeds, repairs, cases, mouthpieces, and sheet music that you can make an argument for being in it for the money. And that doesn’t even include the time you spend learning to play those instruments. The other side of that coin (haha, pun intended) is that many gigs are only available to doublers – such as musical theatre. Nowadays, all the most interesting big band music has doubles. I have worked a lot of gigs because I am a doubler and I also get to do a wide variety of gigs, because I can play a variety of instruments. If you’re just a jazz tenor player, that’s all you’ll ever get called to do.

For example, in a 2 week period I found myself playing: bari sax and bass clarinet in 2 very different big bands, alto and clarinet in a musical pit orchestra, bari in a funk / R&B band, flute with a percussionist and rabab player accompanying dancers from India, bari in a Tower of Power Tribute band, and tenor, soprano, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, and piccolo in my own group – the Doublers Collective. So cool! (Plus, I get to teach all these instruments as well, which is also rewarding.)

Funny thing is that the more I thought about this question the more I realized that I have really been a doubler since the beginning. I started on clarinet, but moved to saxophone rather quickly. In high school I played saxophones in band and jazz band, played clarinet in band, played oboe in Youth Orchestra, and took oboe, flute, and saxophones to music camp. I played everything in college.

Ultimately, I’m a doubler because I love it. I love exploring the different instruments, the available colors, even just to have a wide range to choose from. I feel like I can say anything I want to with my different voices. I love to explore and with doubling, I constantly have something to explore. It’s an endless challenge and I love it.

How and when did you begin adding instruments? Do you have any opinions on the order that students should add additional instruments?

I added instruments gradually. I usually picked up something new as it was needed or someone gave me an instrument to use. But there were large gaps in my learning, amounts of time that I didn’t play one instrument or another. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I really focused on doubling and tried to work each instrument as it’s own. Nowadays, my practice routine is really focused so I make sure to cover everything on a regular basis.

I’ve taught quite a few students to double and none of them the same way. Every student is different and I think their individual interest carries far more weight than any “method”. I’ll help guide my students through the experimental stage as they find the instruments that they connect to the most. Hopefully in the process they get enough skills to come back to one later if they want to.

Did anything or anyone ever discourage you from doubling?

I have always loved doubling and I have been incredible fortunate to have acquired mostly pro horns, because cost can be really discouraging. I don’t know if I’ll ever own a $20,000 flute or a contrabassoon, but that’s ok. I do what I can and try to save up little by little to upgrade.

I have had more than a few people tell me that I “should choose one and focus on it”. I get the thinking behind that, but even if I could make a living playing only one ax, I’d never be able to choose. Picking one just isn’t an option for me and sometimes people don’t get that. It’s ok, we each have our own path, ya know?

How does doubling affect your flute playing?

I picked up flute in college, so the thing that I had to work on the most was not projecting my saxophone habits (such as voicing) on my flute playing. It took me a couple of years to master that. Now, I feel like my primary concern is tone. Sometimes playing sax or clarinet for a long time and then picking up the flute, I feel the tension and lip pressure, but I’ve worked hard at going back and forth so it doesn’t take too long to get into “flute mode”.

How do you manage your practice time on so many instruments?

I keep a practice journal of everything that I’m currently practicing and things that I want to practice. Learning that I can’t practice it ALL was a tough lesson for me to accept, but you have to stay focused if you want to get something accomplished. Otherwise, you’re just flapping your arms, so to speak.

If I’m strapped for time, I make sure to do longtones and some free improv on every instrument no matter what. My longtone routine is intense, so it takes me a good 20-30 minutes on each horn. I play a saxophone and the flute everyday, and the clarinet 4-5 days a week.

I also find as much common ground as possible and try to use that to my advantage. For example, I’m currently in a technique routine where I practice all the scales, arpeggios, and patterns starting on a single note. I find that after I’ve worked it all out on sax, the flute goes much quicker. That gives me time to focus on the things that are unique to each instrument and spend more time on that stuff.

What are the most challenging aspects of being a doubler?

Keeping the reeds wet.

In all seriousness, it’s picking up an instrument cold and having it sound as good as it would if you had been playing it the whole time.

There is also learning all the little idiosyncrasies of each instrument – the pinky keys on the clarinet, the 3rd octave of the flute, the palm keys and altissimo of the sax as just a couple of examples. I’m willing to settle for just knowing part of an instrument, I want to know how it all works. That takes time and discipline, and it can be challenging.

It seems there is a very small percentage of women doublers. Why do you think this is?

I have any insight on this one. I’m usually the only or one of the only women in all the groups I’m in. I don’t know why that is. I’m not really all that concerned by it either. We are all musicians and we are in it together. That’s what is important.

What advice would you give to flutists wishing to “branch out” into woodwind doubling?

Jump! Just pick an instrument that interests you and go for it. Get the highest quality instrument you can get your hands on. Get a good teacher who will teach you how to play it correctly from the start, which is way easier than getting a year or two in and having to relearn everything.

Was it always your childhood dream to be a doubler? When did it become your goal?

As I said before, I just kinda fell into it. Music was my childhood dream, and being a doubler just kinda happened along the way. It really became my goal when I was at Arizona State University and was in the classical flute studio and playing saxophone in the jazz department. I had so much fun! After college I started do pit work pretty much right away, which was awesome. Now, I have my own jazz ensemble made up of professional Doublers – www.doublerscollective.com

I’m proud to be a doubler. I enjoy it and am very thankful that I can do such a wide variety of things. It’s a lot of fun for me!

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