Are you stuck thinking about where to get a hard to find bassoon? Come on in, shop online and check out our featured products! The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that typically plays music written in the bass and tenor registers, and occasionally higher. Appearing in its modern form in the 1800s, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band, and chamber music literature. The bassoon is a non-transposing instrument known for its distinctive tone color, wide range, variety of character, and agility. Listeners often compare its warm, dark, reedy timbre to that of a male baritone voice.
The bassoon is held diagonally in front of the player, but unlike the flute, oboe and clarinet, it cannot be supported by the player’s hands alone. Some means of additional support is required; the most common ones used are 1) a seat strap attached to the base of the boot joint, which is laid across the chair seat prior to sitting down, or 2) a neck strap or shoulder harness attached to the top of the boot joint. Occasionally a spike similar to those used for the cello or the bass clarinet is attached to the bottom of the boot joint and rests on the floor. It is possible to play while standing up if the player uses a neck strap or similar harness, or if the seat strap is tied to the belt. Sometimes a device called a balance hanger is used when playing in a standing position. This is installed between the instrument and the neck strap, and shifts the point of support closer to the center of gravity. The bassoon is played with both hands in a stationary position, the left above the right, with five main finger holes on the front of the instrument (nearest the audience) plus a sixth] that is activated by an open-standing key. Five additional keys on the front are controlled by the little fingers of each hand. The back of the instrument (nearest the player) has twelve or more keys to be controlled by the thumbs, the exact number varying depending on model.
To stabilize the right hand, many bassoonists use an adjustable comma-shaped apparatus called a “crutch,” which mounts to the boot joint; players use a thumb screw to secure the crutch and vary the distance that it protrudes from the bassoon. Players rest the curve of the right hand where the thumb joins the palm against the crutch. The crutch also keeps the right hand from tiring and enables the player to keep put the finger pads flat on the finger holes and keys.
An aspect of bassoon technique not found on any other woodwind is called flicking. It involves the left hand thumb momentarily pressing, or ‘flicking’ the high A, C and D keys at the beginning of certain notes in the middle octave. This eliminates cracking, or brief microphonic that happens without the use of this technique.
Flicking is not universal amongst bassoonists; some American players, principally on the East Coast, use it sparingly, if at all. The rest use it virtually 100% of the time-it has become in essence part of the fingering.
The alternative method is “venting.” which requires that the register key be used as part of the full fingering as opposed to being open momentarily at the start of the note.
A new automatic octave key system is available as an add-on, invented by Arthur Weisberg. When installed, the Weisberg system completely eliminates the need to ‘flick’ in the upper octave. Only a few years old, it has yet to be offered as standard equipment by any of the major bassoon manufacturers.
While bassoons are usually critically tuned at the factory, the player nonetheless has a great degree of flexibility of pitch control through the use of breath support and embouchure and reed profile. Players can also use alternate fingerings to adjust the pitch of many notes.
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