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I'm writing for a classical style orchestra: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, timpani, strings — two parts each, except timpani and strings.

There is one spot where I think a bass clarinet would fill out the orchestration really nicely, but I don't think I can justify having a bass clarinetist there to play all of four bars, so I was thinking that perhaps the second clarinet could switch to a bass clarinet there. Is that even remotely reasonable? If so, how long does the switch time there and back need to be?

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  • Yes, it is perfectly reasonable to have bass cl for four bars. Be kind and allow time for this. Maybe 15 seconds would be ample. Even less would be ok, but it is better to err on the side of caution.
    – Jomiddnz
    Mar 31, 2021 at 21:32
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    Note that union rules may apply that set the additional amount that must be paid to the clarinetist who doubles on bass for those bars. Still, it’s cheaper and more reasonable than hiring a separate bass clarinetist. Mar 31, 2021 at 23:03
  • I assume, your bassoon is already busy? Because its color is quite similar to bass clarinet on the low end of the range.
    – guidot
    Apr 1, 2021 at 11:49
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    You can also ask any reed player that has played in the pit of a musical for their suggestions. I've seen guys cover as many as 5 parts.
    – Duston
    Apr 1, 2021 at 14:30
  • @guidot bassoon sounding like bass clarinet? Only if one (or both) are terrible musicians! Apr 1, 2021 at 15:33

2 Answers 2

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Reed and wind players routinely double on other reed and wind instruments, so asking a clarinetist to play a few bars of bass clarinet is fine.

There are a variety of procedural considerations in the switch itself. There's an illuminating blog post and discussion on bretpimentel.com, of which I'll paraphrase the main points.1

  • Allow no less than 8 seconds; 10 is sufficient.
  • The bass clarinet can be played by leaving it in its stand and just leaning it to the side, facilitating a faster switch.
  • A long enough wait before the secondary instrument is used can lead to problems in keeping the reed wet and the instrument in tune. However, doublers experienced with this issues can often mitigate them.

1 See https://bretpimentel.com/about/ for background and credentials.

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  • Most clarinet players don't have a bass clarinet. A lot of orchestral woodwind players double on another instrument of the same type, but most don't. The only double you can rely on getting is piccolo from a flute player. B-flat/A clarinets don't count as a double.
    – PiedPiper
    Apr 1, 2021 at 19:49
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It depends on the orchestra. A professional orchestra will have someone who can play the part. In an amateur orchestra the second clarinet player might not even own a bass clarinet. You should ask if bass clarinet is available.
In either case you are likely to annoy the player who has bring and set up the bass clarinet for just four bars, unless these four bars are an important solo. Either give the bass clarinet a substantial part or leave it out.

For the change to and from bass clarinet you should leave no less than five seconds. More is better.

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