Secondary instruments: Impact on playing the flute?

Let’s talk about doubling!

As an undergraduate student there was a time that I was playing bassoon and brass (trumpet and trombone) all in one semester… how do you maintain a solid flute embouchure going back and forth?


General Observations and Thoughts

You may have heard this before, but the flute is very similar to singing. When you break it down – the mouth shape (or vowel), tongue position, resonator or power source (diaphragm; chest; throat; head), etc.

Having knowledge of what you are doing to achieve an ideal sound on not just the flute, but all your other instruments will enable you to switch between them with more ease.

I always found that I learned so much more about my flute playing by playing other instruments. The idea of doing the extreme opposite really reinforced specific flute concepts for me – for example, the low, tall embouchure required to play bassoon compared to the higher jaw and tongue position needed for flute.


Strings, Percussion and Keyboard

Given the non-windness™️ of these instruments there is not really any challenge transition between these two instrument families to the flute.

The benefit of these instruments – in my own experience – has been the visual conception of range and intervals. If we are being honest FLUTE FINGERINGS MAKE VERY LITTLE SENSE… when playing a stringed or fretted instrument or a keyboard the distance between larger intervals is a tangible thing.

Brass

Doubling on another wind instrument can be extremely fatiguing – this is true for woodwinds as well. The brass instruments produce sound in a more direct way than the flute, however, the mouthpieces do provide some resistance that you would not otherwise have when playing flute (especially HORN). The larger brass instruments (trombone, euphonium and tuba) – in my experience – would allow me to be much more flexible with my air.

Another note on fatigue is your lips after buzzing – especially if you don’t have the endurance to sustain it for long periods – will impact the balance between your top and bottom lip when playing flute. It can create tightness or the upwards lift of the corners of your embouchure when playing flute which you will need to actively keep an eye on.

One major pro that I experienced when doubling on brass was the resonance. My air flow was so much more open and connected between low-middle and high as a result of the buzzing. However, you can create the same effect by doing lip trills from singing.

Woodwinds: Single Reed

Out of all of the doubling pairs I found clarinet and saxophone to be the most difficult when trying to go back to flute. I believe this is for several reasons (1) the resistance on the single reed instruments is SIGNIFICANTLY more than the flute and (2) thus requires a different embouchure, tongue position, etc.

I can’t speak for the lower instruments – bass clarinet or bari saxophone – but definitely the Bb Clarinet and Alto/Tenor Saxophones are not so similar to flute… but also not contrasting.

Woodwinds: Double Reed

What is contrasting is bassoon, and even oboe to an extent.

The double reeds are more similar to flute than the single reeds; I find this mainly because both the top and bottom part of the lip are touching the reed are the air is being sent directly into the instrument. Yes, there is more resistance than playing the flute, but less resistance than the single reeds.

For bassoon – as mentioned – the embouchure is almost the exact opposite to the flute which (for some people) can make it easy to transition between the two because it’s such a stark contrast. The register difference also helps with your mind compartmentalizing the instruments.

For oboe, I’ve found pretty much the same in regards to set up. However, I find the roadblock with oboe is more so the technical end. Both the flute and the oboe are high maintenance instruments – the the oboe is EXTRA maintenance, which for me has always been a duality of either flute OR oboe, but trying to care and maintain both requires someone with a lot of money and patience.


Do you have experience doubling? How do you manage transitioning between instruments – let me know in the comments below!

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