All Things Saxophone

Last modified 09/12/08


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I have had many saxophonists ask me about doubling.  Should I double?  Do I need to double? Why or why not?  The answers to these questions are part of a standing argument in the saxophone community.  This article will address these questions.

· What is doubling?

  "Doubling" in the world of all things saxophone refers to playing other instruments (in addition to the sax) at the same gig, recording session, etc. -- and typically the "doubles" are the woodwind instruments flute and clarinet (or bass clarinet for a bari sax book).  In pit bands for national tour musicals the doubles can be even more involved with double-reed woodwinds like oboe, bassoon and english horn.  A saxophonist who is doubling on a gig will switch instruments for different songs, or even one or more times during a song.  The player will receive premium compensation on the gig for playing the doubles.  How much is that?  It varies depending on where you live and what the local union scale is.  If you aren't being compensated extra for doubling then DON'T PLAY THE GIG -- you're not doing yourself or anybody else a favor.

· Play doubles - yes/no?

It's more work to be proficient at doubles and I have had saxophonists tell me they don't have time or just plain don't want to put in the effort.  My response is, you don't have to -- if you don't want to gig much.  Almost all gigs these days require a saxophonist to double on flute, clarinet or bass clarinet.  If you don't double then your phone won't ring and your inbox will be devoid of requests for you to play.  The only gigs you will get are the ones you put together yourself, or lame gigs in a dance band that has generic charts.  So, how important is it to you?  I tell my students if you want to gig, YOU HAVE TO DOUBLE.  It's as plain as that.

· OK, I know I have to double, now what?

I have my students start doubling by the time they are in their last two years of high school, assuming that they didn't start on the clarinet or flute before they started saxophone.  If they did then they are ahead of the game — kudos to them.  Those for whom saxophone is a first instrument should begin doubling when they are in 11th grade, assuming they started studying in seventh grade or earlier.  If you started studying saxophone as a first instrument later than that, wait until you've got three to four years under your belt.

Assuming you have that much experience and you've never played clarinet or flute, GET STARTED -- GET GOING.  Get the instrument(s) from a pawn shop or from your school if you're a student.  Get a fingering chart.  Start working with an instructor or a colleague that is an accomplished flutist and/or clarinetist, and when the sheet music calls for flute or clarinet double, don't give it to someone else, JUST PLAY IT.  You’ve got to jump into the fire if you expect to get anywhere on doubling.  Now, having said that, I am reminded of a comment made by                        which calls attention to excellence -- truly being a doubler means you are at least a DECENT clarinet/flute player.  Decent means you can play all but the most difficult passages and can improvise an acceptable solo over changes.  Practice to get it down, but if it's not ready to perform, DON'T DO IT.  Your listeners and your peers deserve that.


Now get on it -- the clock is ticking.

Eddie Daniels