Historical Considerations

-doubling on more than one instrument can be traced back to Renaissance period alta bands

-woodwind doubling was common during the seventeenth century; doubling occurred in smaller ensembles as well as in orchestral settings  (it was common for clarinetists and oboists to pick up the flute and recorder as called for by composers to create more variety)

-during the mid-eighteenth century, it was common for courts musicians to perform three or four instruments

-since the instrumentation of the orchestra of the mid 1700s did not always call for clarinet or flute, when compositions did include these instruments the oboist of the orchestra usually doubled

-the invention of the Saxophone during the nineteenth century increased the popularity of woodwind doubling, and many flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoonists took up the instrument during the second half of the century

-during the 20th century, dance bands of the 20’s – 30’s and television shows of the 50s – 70s gave further rise to woodwind doubling – it was very common during these years for a clarinetists and saxophonists to double on multiple woodwind instruments

-The American musical theatre movement, which began in the 20th century, elevated woodwind doubling.  Reed books employ various combinations of woodwind instruments:

Reed Book I - alto saxophone, flute, clarinet and piccolo

Reed Book II - alto saxophone, clarinet, oboe, English horn and flute

Reed Book III - tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and oboe/English Horn

Reed Book IV - tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet and bassoon

Reed Book V - primarily baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone, and possible bass clarinet, bassoon, flute and clarinet


-woodwind doubling degrees were added to the curricula of several music programs in the United States during the mid-1970s

-at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries, woodwind doublers have been called for less in the Hollywood (studio) film score business; however, the television scene (e.g. Dancing with the Stars) as well as shows on Broadway continue to call for musicians who perform multiple instruments

-in recent years, advancements in electronic instruments (synthesizer, drum machines) have reduced the work for live acoustic musicians in commercial music