Bassoon FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions

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Bassoon FAQ's

Choosing An Instrument

What’s the difference between a bassoon and a contrabassoon?

The bassoon produces sound pitched in the key of C, and uses the bass clef most often. For higher notes the notation sometimes switches to tenor clef. The playing range of the bassoon goes from Bb1 to F5. As for the contrabassoon, it is the biggest of the woodwind instrument family. It is pitched in the same key of C, but sounds one whole octave lower than the bassoon.

What is a good material for the bassoon?

Bassoons are often made of plastic or wood. But the better quality ones explicitly feature wooden construction, with the highest-end instruments featuring special wood types. Plastic bassoons are relatively more affordable and a great choice for beginners, especially children; which is why a lot of starter bassoons are made of plastic. Plastic options are also way more durable than wooden ones because they’re resistant to temperature and humidity changes that would otherwise damage a wooden instrument. 

Are beginner bassoons okay to play?

Beginner/student bassoons are completely fine! But as their name suggests, they’re not for advanced or experienced players. Their setups are very basic and would only benefit a player who’s just starting out; meaning an experienced player can’t do unique techniques on it that would be otherwise possible on a professional level instrument. They’re relatively cheap, too, which makes them a great choice to start out with. Eventually, the student’s skills will outgrow a beginner bassoon, but that doesn’t mean a lower end instrument is a bad choice. 

Maintenance

How do you clean a bassoon?

Cleaning a bassoon requires you to focus on two joints: the wing and the boot. You can use separately sold wing joint and boot joint swabs for that. These microfibre cloths are a good way to get rid of any built-up dirt, grim, or even spit on the instrument. If you have a plastic instrument, cleaning is not much of a problem as with a wooden one, because the wood will suffer damage if you don’t clean it out. 

How do you take care of a bassoon?

We’re going to focus on a wooden bassoon for this one, because that’s the standard. Taking care of a bassoon starts and ends with swabbing it clean after every performance or practice session. Like any other woodwind instrument, a bassoon’s biggest enemy is built-up moisture and dirt, which can cause the wood to rot if not kept in check. Make sure to soak all that moisture up before you keep it in its case, which should be stored in a place away from temperature and humidity extremes. And lastly, to prevent stiff joints, always have a vial of cork grease at hand to lubricate and loosen them up. Specialist bassoon care kits are readily available.

Can you tune a bassoon?

Tuning a bassoon requires adjustments on the bocal. If you want to seek out higher pitches, you can switch to a longer bocal. Or you can pull the bocal out from the tenor joint a little for a similar effect. In order to do this correctly, however, you must make sure that the pianissimo tone hole on the bocal stays within reach of the whisper keypad. And lastly, reaching lower pitches requires you to do the opposite: switch to a shorter bocal or push it as far as possible into the tenor joint. 

Technique

How do I improve my tone?

Some bassoonists tend to just let the instrument have its way with where the notes fall into place. By doing so, they may cause inaccurate intonation because not all instruments are perfectly made; each one has its own set of imperfections in the body and mechanisms. Improving tone and playing in tune is all about perfecting embouchure (lip technique) and air stream, which is often done subconsciously and is achieved with constant practice, just like with any other woodwind instrument. Take a look at our dedicated bassoon technique and practice guides for more advice.

How do I get better at bassoon?

Like we always say, practise, practise, practise! But not just that: you also have to practise smart. To do so, set individual goals for each session and make sure they’re as specific as possible. Say, you might want to improve your tone or master your lip technique. Once you have these goals, you must focus on achieving them in any way you can. Build great work habits, but don’t stay on one concept for too long with aimless repetition. Analyse your performance after every session and identify your problem areas. Then keep working! Take a look at our dedicated bassoon practice article for more advice.

 

General Bassoon FAQs

How long is a bassoon?

The bassoon is basically a wooden tube so long that it has to fold in on itself so you can play it. If you were to unfold one, it would be almost 3 metres (3000mm) long and would be impossible to handle for a normal sized human. But since it folds in on itself, it’s a relatively manageable 1.2 metres (1200mm) tall if placed vertically. The size of the bassoon can make it difficult for those who can’t physically reach it. 

How many fingers are required to play the bassoon?

All ten fingers are required to play it. This is very unlike other wind instruments, where it’s normal to use the thumb to support the instrument itself while playing. For those with smaller hands, special ‘shortreach’ bassoons are available. On the bassoon, there are a lot of ways to produce notes of the same pitch, but they’d often require a specific fingering technique. For instance, producing soft, gentle sounds or pianissimo means a bassoonist will have to find different fingering positions to achieve a certain timbre, which is something they tend to enjoy. 

Bassoon FAQ's
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