Bassoon Overview and History
The bassoon is a woodwind instrument that is a double reed instrument. It typically plays music written in the bass clef (sometimes the tenor clef). It’s modern form arrived in the 1800’s and it is prominently written for in orchestra, band, and chamber music literature. The instrument is known for its very distinctive tone color and variety of character. It has a somewhat dark sound. Most students start on the bassoon after playing the flute or the clarinet; you have to have larger hands to play this instrument well, as the spaces between keys are somewhat wide. Some manufacturers make instruments that are designed for younger players.
Where to Purchase
Some instruments are written in concert pitch. This means that when that specific instrument plays a “C”, a “C” comes out. To transpose means that the player is playing an instrument that sounds a different pitch (higher or lower) than the pitch they are presently reading on the staff. Bassoonists are lucky- you are in concert pitch and you do not have to transpose!
Bassoon Brands and Models for Beginners
Fox/Renard 51 Model
Fox Renard 41 Model
Bocals: Request a #2 and #3 bocal when you purchase your bassoon. The recommended bocal is a Fox CVX, CVC, and R2 bocal (#2 and #3).
Reeds: It is important that your reeds are of high quality. It is best to purchase your reeds from a reputable store/maker. The ones that are sold in our local music stores are cheaper, but the quality is much lower. Here are some suggestions:
Bassoon Brands and Models for Intermediate Players
Fox/Renard 222 Model
Fox/Renard 220 Model
Fox/Renard 240 Model
Step 1: Place the wing and bass joints together with the bottom ends even.
Step 2: Insert into boot joint.
Step 3: Add the bell and bocal. Be careful while inserting the bocal so that the pad on the whisper key will not be dinged or broken off!
Step 4: If there is a body lock on your bassoon, you should close it in after the bass and wing joints are in alignment. Exercise a lot of care when dealing with this part of the instrument; it is very easy to pull off the body lock while assembling or disassembling your bassoon.
Step 5: If you are using a hand rest, adjust it so that your hand is supporting the bassoon comfortably.
Hand Position and Posture
Step 1: Place the seat strap across the front of your chair. The hook/cup from your seat strap will hang to the right side of your chair.
Step 2: Hold the instrument firmly with the thumb keys facing you and attach the seat strap to the boot cap.
Step 3: Hold the bassoon firmly with your right hand and lean slightly forward from the back of your chair. Adjust the seat strap until the bocal arrives at your embouchure.
Step 4: Place the reed on the bocal and adjust it so that it is horizontal on the bocal.
Step 5: Tilt the bassoon to the left so that it leans against your right leg and across your body. Your gaze towards your conductor and sheet music will be looking past the right side of the bassoon.
Remember to sit balanced, with no tension in your body. If you are tense, your sound will suffer!
Step 6: Your left hand should bear the weight of the bassoon (corner of your palm near the base of your index finger). The long joint of the instrument rests on the palm.
Step 7: The heel of your hand should be curved and away from the instrument so that you fingers can approach the instrument curved. The thumb should be relaxed and free (look at ALL of those thumb keys!).
Step 8: The right palm should rest on the crutch between the index finger and the thumb. The bassoon shouldn’t rotate to the left while you play. The thumb should be relaxed and hover over the thumb keys.
Posture and Hand Position
Embouchure and Sound Production
The “embouchure” (pronounced ahm-boo-sure) is the way a musician applies their mouth to the mouthpiece of their instrument. All wind musicians must work very hard to build muscle memory in the jaw and mouth so that your sound is consistently of good quality.
- The reed should be placed in the mouth until the upper lip almost touches the wire. The lips are to be placed around the reed (keep those teeth out of there!). The lips should seal around the double reed and the reed should be supported on the sides as well as top to bottom. The air stream should be strong and clear. Your body must be balanced in your chair, so the seat strap or the neck strap should be adjusted so that the reed enters your mouth without your neck having to crouch forward or down to meet the reed.
- Start with your reed only. Draw the reed into the mouth and form your embouchure.
- Play through the reed. You should hear a “fun” sound come out, which is called a “crow”. You should have a large range of high/low sounds that represent the overtone series.
Cover the first three holes in your left hand to play the note “C” (if you are coming from clarinet, this is the same fingering for a middle C!). Set the embouchure, take a breath, and blow through the reed. Work on this long tone with a tuner. Adjust with your embouchure to play it in tune. Use the fingering diagram to the left for assistance.
Tonguing on the bassoon is a very gentle process. To articulate, place the tip of the tongue on the tip of the reed. Gently release the tongue from the tip of the reed as you blow air through the reed. This is a “doo” syllable.
Out of Tune Notes
On the bassoon, there are a few notes that are notoriously out of tune. Here are the notes that are the major problems, and how to fix them!
Both of these notes are typically sharp on the instrument. To lower the pitch, relax your embouchure and slow the air stream down a bit.
Bassoon Fingering Chart
(Download your own Fox Fingering Chart!)
Care and Maintenance
Be sure that you leave your instrument in a climate controlled space. Moisture can severely damage instruments. After you are done playing, blow out the bocal to be sure that all moisture is gone. Once a month, flush with a mixture of one tablespoon of baking soda in a large glass of warm water. Swab the bocal with a bocal brush and flush it out with warm water from a faucet. Swab the bore (inside tube of the bassoon) after each rehearsal, performance, or practice session. A silk swab works best. If you have corks on your bassoon, use a thin coat of cork grease once every two weeks.
Notable Bassoon Players