Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday! Today we have another wonderful guest blog on Doubling by one of my favorite flute colleagues, and fellow DePauw alum, Kim Tiede (Thanks Kim!).
Enjoy! And as always, Happy Fluting!
Double Trouble – Thoughts on Doubling
The traditional dream of becoming an orchestral flutist is dying, if not dead. You may not agree, but I beg of you to look at what is happening across the country. Orchestras are cutting salaries, declaring bankruptcy, musicians are going on strike. This is incredibly upsetting and while I absolutely believe we should continue to support the traditional arts, if we flutists want to actually make a living doing this then we need a new plan. We need to get creative and versatile. For me that has meant honing my saxophone and clarinet skills to make myself more marketable. I am able to make a living completely off of music, however if I counted on only my flute business, I would generate only 25% of my current income. Doubling isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ever thought about it, here are some ideas to get you started.
I always think it’s odd how many saxophonists play flute but how few flutists play saxophone. It would indicate that saxophone is the more challenging of the two, but that is anything but true. I think as flutists we tend to have a one-track mind. Our entire identity has always been as a flutist- even having the confidence to try something new is scary. While the saxophone embouchure is something to master and the reeds are definitely an adjustment, the saxophone is not even 3 octaves with 90% of the fingerings being flute fingerings. So, pick up a saxophone sometime – the tone may not be great, but you’ll automatically be able to play all of your scales. How many times can you pick up a brand-new instrument and do that? Clarinet is a bit more challenging, but once you’ve got your saxophone chops, then add the clarinet to your mix.
When I was starting out, I joined several community bands to build my endurance and chops on saxophone and clarinet. They are such a great resource in most communities. You get to meet other musicians and force yourself to practice. If you’re anything like me, you may have trouble finding motivation to practice something new on your own. Jumping into a community group gives you the push that you need to just try. And no one is going to judge where you are in your ability level- that’s the great thing about community groups. They are for just regular every-day members of the community. In one of my groups, I met a woman who had always wanted to play the saxophone and started at 65, when her husband got her one for her birthday. She had been playing with the group for 10 years and loved it! And you never know, maybe through it someone will get word of your mad flute skills and ask you to concerto with the band (as has happened to me twice). I can guarantee you I wouldn’t have found those opportunities otherwise.
Another thing to do is find musicians who play these instruments and take a few lessons. You won’t need a lot, but learn about reeds and how to care for them in your climate. Learn about embouchure and oral cavity shape. A couple lessons will go a long, long way. If you attend any music educator conferences, make sure to take in all of the saxophone and clarinet classes you can. There are also both clarinet and saxophone Etude of the Week Facebook groups that you can join online. Find other people like you who are learning something new. Don’t be afraid to be the student. We spend so much of our time teaching our skills that we forget how to learn. You may find that hearing other teaching perspectives helps you become a stronger flute teacher, too.
Remember that you don’t have to have the instrument mastered to teach it. Flutists tend to be perfectionists (I know I am!), so we don’t like to do anything halfway. And that is a good thing. But just because you aren’t the best clarinetist doesn’t mean you can’t be the best teacher. You still have all of your teaching skills. Most of what we teach (especially to beginners) is note reading, musicality, and just the self-discipline and responsibility that comes with learning a new instrument. The instrument itself is sort of arbitrary. When I first started teaching clarinet, I was very intimidated. I tried to stay a few pages ahead of my first students. There were a couple of times I didn’t know a fingering a student asked me, and I said, “This is a great time to look at your fingering chart and make sure you can understand it.” You do what you have to do! But those students never questioned my knowledge. And they learned how to play. If you’re not comfortable playing clarinet or sax in a lesson, you can always demonstrate rhythms on flute. And you get to practice your transposition skills! Fake it until you make it. You always know more than the student, even if you feel like you don’t know enough. And if a student gets “too good” for you- don’t be afraid to tell them so and pass them on. Parents appreciate the honesty and want their child to excel. If you’ve given them all you can, then you’ve done your job. Most of us had several private teachers that shaped us, not just one. It’s ok for students to outgrow you, but it’s not a reason not to teach them in the first place.
Finally, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there as a doubler as you get more confident. Groups want to hire 1 musician instead of 3. Local musicals are a great place to start where instead of reading a specific instrument, you read the “Reed 1” book, where you may play flute, alto sax, and bass clarinet. Once you become known as a doubler, you create a unique niche for yourself which makes you more marketable. Connect yourself to other members of your community- both face to face and online so that they think of you when they need a woodwind player, not just a flute player.
Certainly not every flutist needs to double instruments. But we do live in a world where we are all having to get much more creative about how to thrive in classical music. I know that I personally wouldn’t be able to make a living in music if this wasn’t my life. Clarinet (which is my weakest instrument), somehow makes up 50% of my students! So, I’m thankful that I just jumped in and figured it out. Maybe saxophone and clarinet aren’t for you, but you could teach piano or voice. Or even double reeds! Don’t ever be afraid to maximize your skills and talents. Just because you are first and foremost a flutist doesn’t mean you can’t be these other things too. Most importantly, always try to view life with fresh eyes and think outside of the box. What unique skill sets do you have? What can you do to branch out and enhance your marketability?
Kim Tiede holds a Bachelor’s degree in Flute Performance from DePauw University. She currently lives in Lakewood, Colorado, where she plays bari sax with the Tivoli Club Brass Band and teaches flute, clarinet, and saxophone at Do Re Mi and Achord Studios, and works with several local middle schools as their woodwind technician.