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Situation: I am currently a bassoon player, and I am in marching band. I have marched only once with the bassoon before, and I know that the bassoon is both unsafe and impractical for marching. After mentioning this to my director, he said that I can choose a different instrument to play during marching season, and play bassoon the rest of the year.

Question: I have been considering clarinet, tenor saxophone, or percussion. I played clarinet for half a year before switching to bassoon. I am looking for suggestions on which one I should play (considering that clarinet/tenor saxophone would mess up my embouchure). What are the pros/cons of each?

Thanks.

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If I remember the fingerings correctly, clarinet is similar to bassoon in terms of construction, whereas playing tenor might actually mess you up (because it would almost be like you reversed hands.) A common misconception is that similarities between instruments make them hard to learn, but in truth, it actually makes them easier as you are able to create more neurological connections between concepts. Honestly, I would not recommend brass as it would be too different and the learning curve too steep for the time you have. That said, I would highly recommend you ask your music teacher to... –  jjmusicnotes Oct 12 '13 at 7:23
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yes, I know, I was typing a second comment when my computer restarted suddenly, and I just never got around to typing the other comment. Basically, I was just going to add that you should try each of the instruments your teacher recommended and see which one you respond best to. In the end, what we say here will only apply so far - what really matters is how you respond to the instrument. Embouchure is fluid, so don't worry about messing it up. –  jjmusicnotes Oct 12 '13 at 20:28
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I'm with jjmusicnotes here: play the clarinet or sax because they're closer to your main instrument. There are advantages to learning sax (octave fingerings) vs. clarinet (octave+fifth fingerings) in the sense that it'll help you in transposing music later on. Hey it could be worse- remember Woody Allen marching w/ a cello? –  Carl Witthoft Oct 14 '13 at 11:25

2 Answers 2

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Have you considered a brass instrument like trombone or euphonium? For me, the embouchures share some important characteristics, while still being distinct enough that one shouldn't mess up the other.

If you are an advanced player and plan on pursuing music as a career, I would highly recommend continuing to practice bassoon throughout marching season, while doubling on one of those brass instruments for marching -- see it as a challenge with great payoff for your musicianship.

If you are not such an advanced player, then I think percussion would be the best choice -- you should still practice bassoon throughout the year, but for marching, you won't get messed up by the similarity of a different woodwind instrument, and it'll be GREAT for your sense of rhythm.

If the choice is already narrowed down between clarinet and tenor sax for whatever reason, I think clarinet would probably have the more distinct embouchure due to the angle of the mouthpiece. But to reiterate for the 3rd time, KEEP PLAYING BASSOON throughout marching season! Equal practice time to both instruments would be ideal.

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Choose whichever instrument you believe you will find most joyous to play! This is to ensure that you will enjoy spending time practicing. Spending time practicing something you don't enjoy I believe will be bad for your overall joy of practicing music. I think all other aspects are of minor importance to this.

In my opinion the only thing that would mess up your bassoon playing from playing another instrument (including the embouchure aspect) would be if you cut down on your bassoon practicing time. You need to reallize that to reach a certain technical level you need to spend just as much practice time each on each instrument as you would for the one instrument (except for instruments that are very closely related such as perhaps alto- and tenorsaxophone). Regarding other aspects such as ear training, music theory and understanding, and to some extent sight reading, there will however be synergy effects.

As an inspiration on the possibility of mastering several instruments here's a video with Australian multiinstrumentalist James Morrison playing a "few" of the instruments that he's proficient on:

As for mastering two instruments on a world class level in the classical genre check out for instance violinist and pianist Julia Fischer.

(Granted these examples aren't of persons combining bassoon with another single reed instrument, but my point is that the instrument doesn't matter - only the time and/or effort spent on each instrument matters.)

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