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I've composed this passage: Leaping passage

I'm concerned about it due to the large leaps in three of the four instruments. I have tried to find some information online about leaps and woodwind instruments, but found mostly nothing. Are these passages playable by a decent flutist/clarinetist/oboist?

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    You might add that nearly all of the leaps are octaves. Since at least some winds have octave keys, that may affect the answer.
    – Aaron
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 8:38
  • Exactly, sax for instance have octave keys, so it would be trivial to play it. For the ones without, it is not an extreme leap either but it's true than you have to change fingering, which is partly what playing a woodwind is about ;)
    – Tom
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 8:46
  • Please indicate whether the clarinet parts appear in concert pitch or transposed
    – nuggethead
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 15:48
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    @nuggethead The clarinet part is obviously in concert pitch, but that makes no difference to the playability.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 16:53
  • @Tom the octave key is near-irrelevant. Especially on leaps down, breath control and embouchure are critical to maintaining clear tone. Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 19:35

6 Answers 6

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In fact woodwinds are particularly good at doing jumps very quickly because on a woodwind essentially all your fingers stay at the same place. This means that theoretically to get from one note to a different one the only thing you need to do is to open or close the correct fingers.

Woodwinds allow you to play overtones by overblowing them, special holes or keys or special fingerings. Most instrument to have a key to facilitate overblowing once, which gives the instrument a base range where it is very flexible. Especially when the jump is done simply by pressing this key it is very easy to do.

But keep in mind that not all woodwinds behave the same. Open flutes and conical reeds (e.g. oboe) will overblow into the second harmonic, while cylindrical reeds (e.g. clarinet) and closed flutes will overblow into the 3rd one. So on some instruments you get an octave, on others an octave plus a fifth.

Also you should be aware that fingering systems for reeds are really straightforward for diatonics, but they get more complicated when you get chromatic. This means that some chromatic intervals are awkward to play!

Lastly you should keep in mind that woodwinds tend to be a bit worse for response in their lowest notes as well as in really high notes. Doing fast jumps in these ranges can be a bit challenging.

That being said, unless your example is to be played in an insane prestissimo this is not at all fast, and will be playable with no problems even by amateur musicians. But please keep in mind that woodwinds will show significant tonal differences between the registers, which affects how the instruments mix and project.

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These leaps should be okay. Mozart, for example, in his concerti for flute, oboe, and clarinet, respectively, routinely included leaps of two octaves.

Some woodwind leap examples from Mozart

Flute

Flute Concerto, K313, Mvmt 3, mm. 155 – 59
Flute concerto, K313, Mvmt 3, mm. 155 – 59

Flute concerto, K313, Mvmt 3, m. 246. Flute concerto, K313, Mvmt 3, m. 246

(Image source: IMSLP, Flute solo, ed. Paul Sarcich)

Oboe

Oboe Concerto, K.Anh.C 14.06, mvmt 1, mm. 140 – 42
Oboe Concerto, K.Anh.C 14.06, mvmt 1, mm. 140 – 42

(Image source: ISMLP, Oboe solo, arr. L. Gärtner)

Clarinet

Clarinet concerto, K. 622, mvmt 3, mm. 314 – 18
Clarinet concerto, K. 622, mvmt 3, mm. 314 – 18

(Image source: IMSLP, Clarinet solo, ed. Notenschreiber)

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    I find the examples unconvincing. That a (likely: professional) soloist manages the admittedly more demanding passages, gives little clues about decent player level on the examples.
    – guidot
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 17:22
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    @guidot None of those examples are particularly hard to play as far as I can tell.
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 18:02
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    @Nobody: I agree, from what I know those intervals look fine. But in general, it’s not good to use examples from solo parts as a guide for what’s reasonable in ensemble writing. Examples from ensemble writing would be much more useful here.
    – PLL
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 10:26
  • @PLL Why would ensemble vs. solo writing make a difference? The question is just about the presence of leaps, not orchestration. Please elaborate.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 17:25
  • @It'sHEDLEY: The question asks “Are these playable by a decent player?” “Playable” is a very context-dependent standard: concerto solos often include technically challenging material which requires a lot of intensive work and practice, and is only “playable” given that extra work. For a solo part, or a particularly prominent section in an ensemble piece, it’s reasonable to expect that extra effort, and assume it in judging “playability”; for meat-and-potatoes ensemble parts like what the OP pictures, it isn’t.
    – PLL
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 23:27
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As the other answers suggest, these notes are playable. The bigger consideration is Orchestration. The flute does not project in its lowest octave. I suggest writing bars 35 and 36 an octave higher, and also reconsidering the final low E. The flautist will grumble - rightly so - about playing a note that no one will hear.

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  • I agree, though those notes anyway look more like a sort of echo that might not actually be necessary to hear. Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 20:21
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    Tell that to your principal flautist and earn yourself a black eye. :)
    – nuggethead
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 21:16
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    In this passage, the violins have the melody (and a countermelody), and the woodwind passage is just outlining the bassline and filling out the harmony(The bassoon is playing a variant of the bassline with pizzicato cellos). I know you flautists hate it when you don't have the melody, I'm just evil like that :)
    – OprenStein
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 22:52
  • * not actually a flautist, for the record
    – nuggethead
    Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 2:48
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An octave is not a large leap for woodwinds. This passage is easily playable, even at a fast tempo.
Even if the leaps were two octaves it would only be difficult at a fast tempo.

Now this is difficult (from Carl Baermann's "Complete Method for Clarinet"): enter image description here

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  • I’m still not great on clarinet but doesn’t the articulation also make a difference in difficulty? As in tongued leaps are easier than slurred, right? Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 13:04
  • @ToddWilcox - Yes, at least in my experience, tongued leaps on the clarinet are easier than slurred ones.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 14:05
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    @ToddWilcox Yes, tongued leaps are generally easier.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 16:55
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Great question and as a woodwind player I appreciate the attention you are giving to playability!

Woodwinds are great at leaps generally speaking and particularly doing octaves as in your example.

A suggestion: Have a range chart for each of the instruments and stay away from leaps to or from the very lowest or very highest notes. Those can be handled technically by a skilled player but it may be difficult to execute depending on the dynamics or tempo of the section. There can also be a sonority/intonation challenge with either end of the instruments' range.

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Speaking as a flutist: the notes you wrote are articulated, and you should expect any professional to be able to do such leaps between any notes in the range of the instrument as long as it's not terribly fast. Slurs are trickier. Slurs from low to high even wider than an octave are very doable, but the sort of thing I might practice to really try to get smooth (thinking of Mov III solo in Shostakovich 5). Slurs descending are much more of a challenge (e.g. high E to middle E would be very awkward; which doesn't mean you can't write it though!)

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