THE BASSOON

Common Questions & Answers

OK, SO WHAT IS A BASSOON?

The bassoon is a unique double-reed woodwind instrument, known for its distinctive tenor and bass notes. This instrument plays a key role in concert bands, orchestras, and chamber music ensembles. It has a very characteristic tone color, can extend across a very wide range of notes, exhibiting a variety of different characters and styles.


Bassoons measure approximately 4 1/2 feet in length, and are usually made from either maple wood or plastic composite materials.

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BASSOON

Most music historians trace the origins of the bassoon as the direct descendent of an older instrument known as a Dulcian, which possessed a mellow and pleasant sound whose name translates to “sweet-sounder.”


The bassoon was invented in the 18th century. It is known in known as the fagot in French, fagott in German, and fagotto in Italian...which translated literally means "a bunch of sticks."

The 19th century is when the modern bassoon as we know it today was developed. Today, German Heckel bassoon has 25–27 keys, gaining popularity in the German-speaking world and becoming the international standard during the 20th century. In France, parts of Canada, and the romance countries, on the other hand, a French model with 22 keys is in use.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT PARTS OF A BASSOON?

Every bassoon has 6 key components:

1. Bell Joint 

2. Long Joint 

3. Wing Joint 

4. Boot Joint 

5. Bocal 

6. Reed 

Other parts include the seat strap, as well as a hand rest (optional). Air travels from the reed to the bocal, through the wing, boot, long, and then finally out through the bell joint.

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ARE BASSOON REEDS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER WOODWIND REEDS?

Bassoons are part of a special group of woodwind instruments that uses a double reed. Double reeds are usually made carefully and delicately from cane reeds, although there are ones made of polymers (some of these are inexpensive and usually not very good, but others can be very expensive!) The double reed is made up of two reeds stacked on top of one another. Every bassoon reed sounds different, and often bassoonists have tools to adjust their reeds. Some bassoonists even make all of their own reeds.

ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF BASSOONS?

In general, there are two types of bassoons. One is the German (Heckel) type, and the other is the French (Buffet). Both styles of bassoons are played today, typically in different countries, with the French bassoon played in France, Canada, Belgium, Latin America, and other romantic countries. The German version is more popular at this moment, although both are beautiful sounding instruments. Because bassoonists usually do not switch between the two, when choosing one you might want to think about where you live and see if you can find a teacher that can help to give you helpful information on which would be better for you.

There are also other kinds of interesting bassoons, such as the contrabassoon...which plays really low and deep notes.

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IS THE BASSOON A DIFFICULT INSTRUMENT TO PLAY?

A lot of musicians who play different instruments will say that the bassoon is not an easy instrument to play. (For example, there are 9 thumb positions alone to think about!) Finding the right reed and having plenty patience to adjust it can sometimes be difficult for musicians looking for an instrument that they can easily pick up and play no matter what reed they are using.

Having said this, like any instrument, with a lot of patience, hard work and practice, the sound and pieces played on the bassoon can be some of the most memorable amongst any instrument.

WHEN IS A GOOD AGE TO START PLAYING THE BASSOON?

Because the bassoon is a larger, slightly heavier, and more complex instrument, many musicians starting the bassoon may be slightly older (10 yrs+) and have frequently played other instruments before. (However, some bassoonists started really early...check out one of our supporters Kristian Oma Rønnes who started the bassoon when he was just 5 yrs old!)

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WHAT INSTRUMENTS DO PEOPLE PLAY BEEFORE SWITCHING TO BASSOON?

Many musicians who start the bassoon have some experience playing on another instrument. Although knowing another instrument isn't necessary, it could be helpful as you will already know how to read and understand music, and can just focus on learning the ins and outs of the bassoon.

Musicians switching to bassoon come from all different instruments, including piano, flute, and the saxophone to name a few.

Probably the instruments that are easiest to switch to the bassoon, however, are the clarinet and bass clarinet (that's how I got started!) This is because the fingering for one of the octaves is already the same between these instruments.

CAN BASSOONS ACTUALLY HELP ME GET INTO MY SCHOOL BAND?

Yes! One of the major challenges that the bassoon faces is that there are not enough musicians playing this amazing instrument today.

What this means is that your school band (middle school or high school) will probably love you if you tell them you play the bassoon, and you will also be one of the few special musicians playing it!

Many youth orchestras are frequently also looking for bassoonists. Youth orchestras are an extremely fun and amazing experience!

If you're in high school and thinking about applying to college, some musicians will even say that if music is a part of your interests, the bassoon can help with college applications. If you're really good, there are college scholarships available for talented bassoonists.

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WHAT IS A CONTRABASSOON?

As musicians become more talented with their bassoon, they might be lucky and have the chance to play a special version of the bassoon called a contrabassoon!

Also known as a double bassoon, the contrabassoon is the larger cousin of the bassoon. It is deep-sounding woodwind instrument that playing in the same low sub-bass range as the tuba.

The contrabassoon is twice as long as the bassoon and typically curves around on itself twice. Because of its weight and shape, it is supported by an end pin instead of a normal seat strap.

You'll see the contrabassoon in large symphony orchestras.

WHAT STYLES OF MUSIC ARE TYPICALLY PLAYED ON THE BASSOON?

One of the misconceptions of the bassoon is, "You will only find it played in classical music."


That could not be farther from the truth!

In reality, talented musicians are using the bassoon to play popular music, as well as jazz and modern improv. (Did you know that you could hook up your bassoon and turn it into an electric bassoon? Check out our supporters Paul Hanson & Garrett Jones to see some of the interesting and amazing things they do with the bassoon!)

If you are a fan of movie music, bassoons play a major role in many of the movie soundtracks we are familiar with too! (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, etc.)

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HOW SHOULD I GET STARTED IF I AM INTERESTED IN PLAYING THE BASSOON?

The best way to get started is to first try it by renting an instrument (sometimes your school or local music shops will offer bassoons for rent.) Bassoons can be expensive, and so renting is a good way to try it out first and see if it might be a good fit for you!

It is also always a good idea to find an experienced bassoon teacher. These days, while it may be difficult to find a good teacher close to where you live, a lot of really exceptional teachers with considerable teaching experience (as well as experience playing professionally and even recording albums) are providing lessons and tutoring sessions online. 

The key is to find the right teacher for you! Please take a look our bassoon teacher reference section if you'd like connect with some very talented bassoon instructors.

 
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BASSOON VIDEOS

Watch different styles of bassoon music played by many of B.O.S.S.'s supporters around the world!

 

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