Woodwind Instrument Practice

Research response to 1997 survey published in “Selected Pedagogical Practices of College Instructors of Flute, Clarinet and Saxophone”:

The study sample confirmed that an aspiring doubler is best trained on secondary instruments by specialists on each instrument. In addition, the data suggest that aspiring doublers should also train, to some extent, with another advanced doubler, since they have insights to the many idiosyncrasies doublers must face. Instructors agreed that it is advantageous for woodwind doublers to learn the primary instrument of each family before learning secondary instruments. In addition, the study observed that the best age to begin pursuing additional instruments (i.e., woodwind doubling) is 15 or 16. The consensus that woodwind doubling should be approached from a classical perspective and later from a jazz or popular music perspective may be important for the aspiring multi-instrumentalist to consider. Furthermore, the study sample concurred that listening to recordings of acclaimed woodwind players is important to the development of woodwind doublers.

Data collected in response to question 1n suggest that the best approach to overall woodwind doubling proficiency is to spend equal time practicing each instrument. In addition, most of the sample agreed that playing one woodwind instrument adversely affects another to some degree. If a doubler is preparing for a performance involving only one instrument, responses to question le suggest that other doubles should not be practiced at all or as much in order to increase acuity on the desired instrument. Finally, several doublers commented there are not enough hours in a day/week to practice each instrument proportionately. Therefore, practice habits will be governed by upcoming performances which involve particular instruments.

Given the response to question 4, the data suggest that the most productive order for an aspiring doubler to learn the three instruments is either saxophone, flute, clarinet or clarinet, flute, saxophone. In relation to question 4, question 6 investigated the most productive order of practicing the instruments as well as preference for practicing at certain times during the day. The most common order reported concerning effective practice of the following instruments was: flute, clarinet, saxophone. In addition, most of the study group preferred reserving practice time in the morning for flute, afternoon practice time for clarinet, and either afternoon or evening practice time for saxophone.

Responses to question 9 revealed valuable information concerning various areas of practice for woodwind doublers. This study noted that areas of practice specific to each instrument are of comparatively different value for each instrument. For flute, the six most important areas of practice reported in successive order were long tones, scales, breathing exercises, finger exercises, harmonics/lip slurs, and articulation studies. For clarinet, the six most important areas of practice reported in successive order were scales, long tones, finger exercises, articulation studies, etudes, and breathing exercises. Finally, for the saxophone, the six most important areas of practice in successive order were scales, long tones, finger exercises, articulation studies, breathing exercises, and vibrato studies. These findings are important as they may aid the woodwind doubler in organizing his or her practice.

Concerning the extent to which playing one instrument adversely affects another instrument's embouchure, the data provide support that practicing the clarinet before the saxophone does not affect the saxophone embouchure as much as practicing the saxophone before clarinet. This practice consideration supports the observation made earlier on the most effective order of instrument practice, which asserted practicing the clarinet before saxophone is more desired than vice versa. The data also support the conclusion that practicing either the clarinet or saxophone before flute is detrimental to the embouchure for flute. Although performing single reed instruments negatively effects tone and control on the flute, most of the surveyed doublers were in agreement that increased embouchure control and flexibility can be developed on the flute by ending a practice session involving flute and at least one other instrument, with harmonics and long tone exercises on the flute.


Additional research, experiential observations and suggestions:

-In my experience, it is best to learn the primary instrument of each woodwind family before moving on to secondary instruments with an instrument’s family (e.g. alto saxophone to tenor; flute to piccolo; Bb soprano clarinet to bass clarinet; etc.).

-Practice flute before the other woodwind doubles since the embouchures for the other instruments involve more muscular support and the flute’s embouchure is more sensitive.

-stamina is important: your practice routine should include extra time on weak performance areas; consistent practice, even when you are not particularly busy with gigs, is important to maintain future playing ability for long stretches of time

-when time permits, I find it beneficial to my overall flute playing to practice five to ten minutes of long tones and harmonics on flute after I have practiced clarinet and/or saxophone

-divide and devote practice time to develop each instrument as well as weak areas of performance on a particular instrument (i.e. articulation in the Clarinet’s clarion register or the altissimo register of the Saxophone)

-regularly devote practice time to sight-reading different styles of music

-in a perfect world, a doubler would practice all their instruments each day, however it is often necessary to focus one’s attention on upcoming performances and the instrument(s) involved

-in recent years I have utilized Smart Music and have found it to be a wonderful practice tool

-occasionally line up all your instruments and practice an etude or short solo back-to-back on each instrument