Transitioning Between Horns

Jeff Coffin

As some of you may know, my primary gig is performing with Dave Matthews Band (DMB). One of the reasons I got the gig with DMB is because I can play all the saxes and flutes at a high level. When we are on tour, it is not unusual for me to play five or six instruments—all the saxes, flute, sometimes alto flute, and an occasional D whistle (Irish whistle)—in each performance.

So, how do I make the transition going from soprano to baritone to flute to alto back to bari to tenor to D whistle from one song to another and make it sound like whatever instrument I’m playing is my primary instrument? 

Daily Practice

Every show day that I’m on the road, I play every instrument. I warm up on them; I do exercises. I make sure the reeds are playing well and that I have backup reeds ready. I make sure the horns are not leaking and the pads are not sticking. I make a general run-through of them all to be sure that whatever happens, I can’t blame the horn!

Separate Preparation

In general, I don’t really think of the saxes as being related to each other except that the fingerings are the same. I don’t think about how I play the soprano when I’m playing the bari or the alto when I’m playing the tenor. If you think about them as separate instruments that need a different embouchure and a different airstream, you are more likely to feel comfortable.

Flute is totally different than any of the saxophones and needs adjustments in your playing as such. You can’t wait half a tune to feel like you’re adjusted to the instrument. It needs to be immediate. I recommend playing all the horns as much as possible, so when you get called for a studio session playing lead alto, tenor, and bari with a solo on soprano, flute, and double clarinet, you’re ready to say, “YES!”

Marching Outside the Box

Minnesota parade bands and Indiana track showbands have perfected the art of marching beyondthe football field. You might be surprised to learnabout the excellence and ...