The Bassoon is a unique instrument that is often performed by the few and the brave. It has its quirks and adds a singular quality of sound that contributes to classical music quite well. In today’s post we will summarize Mr. Charles West’s book, ” Woodwind Methods, An Essential Resource for Educators, Conductors and Students” about Common Problems of the Bassoon. I have found this book to be invaluable and recommend this book to be in your library of must haves.
Problem four is biting or pinching the reed. Avoid this by playing in a somewhat relaxed yet dynamic manner. Remember if you bite the reed, your instrument will often play sharp.
Problem five involves balancing the instrument with the seat strap. This is often improperly adjusted and positioned. Remember that the left hand becomes tired. As a result, the hand will become tight quickly if the weight of the bassoon is held by the left hand rather than being counterbalanced. This problem creates a domino effect where added tension is added to the body, making the ideal performance difficult.
Problem six involves holding the bassoon vertically and then reading the music under the bassoon. This will is problematic. Better hold the bassoon diagonally and read the music over the top side of the instrument.
Problem seven involves reaching and covering the holes on the bassoon. If the musician’s hands are not large enough, reaching all of the holes of the bassoon will not be possible. For younger student musicians consider having them use a “Short Reach” bassoon. This may help. A short reach bassoon is an instrument with an extended “touchpiece” over a hole that would otherwise be open. As a result, this allows musicians with smaller hands to control the hole.
Problem eight is a big issue. The reed does not fit on the end of the bocal. This is because it is either causing leakage or is not fitting securely. Consider the following:
- The bocal sometimes gets damaged. This occurs at the end where the reed connects with the bocal. When this occurs the bocal is often not round and as a result does not create a seal. Amateurs may even worsen the situation by jamming a pencil into the bocal thinking that they would restore the roundness of the bocal. Unfortunately, this often breaks the solder seam within the bocal.
- Another possibility is that the actual reed opening may not be large enough for the bocal. In this case the reed opening may be enlarged with a reamer specially made for bassoon reeds.
Problem nine is that the bassoonist is using a bent bocal. Bassoons with bent bocals create tiny leaks within the metal tube. This makes the bocal useless and a replacement must be purchased.
Problem eleven is using incorrect fingerings, which “almost” sound correct. As a result of this issue musicians will encounter regular intonation issues and lack a consistent characteristic sound.
Problem twelve is not tonguing. Like any woodwind instrument, the bassoon must include an element of tonguing to achieve the variety of styles of music. Tongue the bassoon by touching the end of the tongue to the reed tip. Release the reed with a with air supporting it.
West, C., & Lautzenheiser, T. (2015). Woodwind methods: An essential resource for educators, conductors, and students. Meredith Music Publications, a division of G.W. Music, Inc.