Here are some samples from Chapter 6A. Getting Started on Bassoon:
1. Bassoon Overview
The bassoon is a double reed instrument in the woodwind family used in orchestra, wind band and chamber music. It is named a double reed because the reed is constructed of two pieces of cane fastened together; the player’s air stream passes between the two pieces of cane causing a vibration. The instrument acts as a magnifier of the vibrations producing the bassoon sound.
The bassoon has been called the “clown of the orchestra” because of its ability to produce a bright staccato sound and the jovial and comedic quality of its low register. This stereotype is too limiting however, as the bassoon has incredible lyrical, vocal qualities and a range spanning three and a half octaves (requiring three clefs to notate: bass, tenor and treble), making it an extremely flexible instrument. Though it began in an accompanimental role as basso continuo, it has grown to become a brilliant solo instrument within all ensembles.
The bassoon family has only two main members: the bassoon and the contrabassoon. The contrabassoon sounds an octave lower than the bassoon and has a more narrow range. The bassetto, or minibassoon, also exists, but is used only for starting very young children on the instrument.
2. What to look for in a potential bassoonist
Here are some attributes you should look for when choosing students to play bassoon:
1. The student must be tall enough that their feet touch the floor when sitting in a chair in order to support the seat strap.
2. The student should have hands that are large enough to both cover the tone holes and reach all of the thumb keys on the left hand. If the student’s hands are too small to accomplish this, there are small hands bassoons available; all middle school programs should own one of these instruments.
3. The student should have teeth that are relatively well aligned. Students with an excessive overbite or underbite will have difficulty with embouchure formation and jaw flexibility.
4. The bassoon embouchure is quite different than the other woodwind instruments. For this reason, it can be a challenge to transfer a student from another instrument because they have to change their embouchure dramatically.
Parental support is every bit as important to a bassoon student as the above physical attributes because of the expenses involved in playing the instrument. Good quality bassoon reeds cost 15-20 dollars each and students need to have three on hand at all times. In addition, private lessons are strongly encouraged because it is a difficult instrument to learn.
Directors who want to consider transferring a student from another instrument should consider all the above factors plus basic musicianship. There are no other instruments that share bassoon technique.
3. The Bassoon Reed
A good reed is an essential part of excellent bassoon playing. Handmade reeds are preferable to those made by an automated reed-making machine because a machine does not account for the unique qualities of each individual piece of cane. Hand-made reeds tend to be more expensive but they are worth the investment.
Reeds come in many different lengths, shapes and strengths. Beginners should choose a reed that is 26-27mm from collar to tip and 16-16.5 mm wide at the tip. A reed that is too wide or long will cause flat intonation, and one that is too narrow or short will be sharp. If the reed maker specifies strength, choose medium or medium soft because a reed that is too hard or soft will lead to bad embouchure habits.
Look for a blade that has even color, a tip opening that is uniform, and blades that match evenly on the sides. The wrapping should be secure and the wires should not be loose.
The most common wrapping is string, but hot glue, shrink wrap or nail polish are also popular. Any of these are acceptable as long as the tube of the reed does not leak.