Doubling for Woodwind Players

By Jacqueline Pace

As a high school student taking lessons on 3 woodwind instruments, I heard all sorts of theories about how reed instruments would ruin my flute embouchure. I was also told never to touch brass instruments, because this would be even worse for my flute playing.

I was advised to practise flute, then clarinet, then saxophone in that order. This has always seemed to work for me. I have played flute directly after clarinet or saxophone occasionally, usually when playing a reed part for a musical. The most noticeable change to my flute playing was when I played flute directly after playing saxophone. My tone was horrible. I checked the mirror – my embouchure was the same, but I had lost all feeling in my bottom lip due to the vibrating reed. After a break to let my lip rest, my flute playing returned to normal.

I later took up oboe for a group music subject at university. Again, it was tired lips due to vibrating reeds which affected my flute playing immediately after playing oboe. There were no long-term disadvantages.

In terms of career opportunities, spending years studying extra instruments has made me a much more versatile teacher. Many schools now want a general woodwind teacher, rather than a specialist on each instrument. This is not an ideal situation – I have had many conversations with panicking woodwind teachers when a school wants them to teach an instrument they have never played and have seen many students develop poor technique due to poor teaching (the most common one I see is incorrect chromatic fingerings on clarinet). I am confident in the way I teach other woodwinds due to my hard work when I was a teenager.

Comments on this topic are welcome.

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Flute Lessons via Skype

Having recently received some questions and comments regarding teaching private instrumental lessons via Skype, we decided that further discussion may help teachers and students to achieve a successful lesson while using this program.

What equipment do you need for a Skype Lesson?

This is a checklist for both the student and teacher, in addition to your usual face-to-face teaching tools.

1. Computer

2. Reliable Internet connection

3. Webcam

4. Microphone

5. Speakers

6. A Printer/Scanner for sending notes, sight-reading or any exercises you may have written

7. Skype program or similar (eg. video call through Google Chat)

8. An agreed form of payment (Note: Bank transfers and cheques are not a good option for overseas students due to international account fees. A better option may be setting up a Paypal account, so the student can pay by credit card).

A lesson in this format can only be successful when both parties are organised. Anything that the teacher would usually show their student needs to be planned in advance. If this requires scanning or printing, the student needs to have their copy before the lesson begins.

Most computers now come with a built-in microphone, webcam and speakers. External, purpose-built devices can be used to achieve better quality. I have recently been using a Blue Snowball Microphone and have found the sound quality to be much better than my built-in microphone. The Snowball is a USB condenser microphone which plugs straight into your computer without the need for an additional power source.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Skype Lessons:


– You can teach or have a lesson with a teacher who is not based in your local area.

– Skype can work as a back-up when a face-to-face lesson is not possible (transport not running, snowed in etc.)


– Some teachers and students have reported that they feel disconnected from each other. There will always be a human element missing from a Skype lesson, as opposed to teaching face-to-face, but as long as the student and teacher are comfortable communicating with each other, successful lessons can still be achieved.

– Technical problems may interfere with teaching – power black-outs, internet connection problems, the teacher or student’s hardware and software not working.

– Even with a great computer and webcam, it is harder to see what the student is doing in this situation than in person. Teachers may need to ask the student to move or adjust the webcam from time to time.

– Some teachers have reported to us that they have experienced difficulties while teaching aural skills via Skype. This may have been due to the delay experienced while communicating over the internet, or due to the quality of the microphones and speakers. Jacinta Mikus came up with the following solution:

I have a few students in regional areas. We Skype once a week and try to meet up at least once (if not two or three times) a term in person. Have had great success with students doing well with exams and one way I got around the aural aspect was to record my own exercises…emailing them to the student and them recording themselves via voice memo on their phones and sending it to me.”

My personal opinion is that if this technology allows us to do something which would not otherwise be possible, we should use it! Skype teaching does require hardware, software and planning, but offers many more opportunities to teachers and students.

Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic.


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