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Are Bassoon reeds different from other Woodwind reeds?

There are many different instruments in the world!

Woodwinds are different from other instruments in a lot of ways.

One of those ways is the reed! The reed is essential for creating the sound on these instruments. For woodwind instruments, blowing air into the instrument through a reed makes vibrations in the reed, which creates sound that is amplified and resonated throughout the instrument.

Because there are lots of woodwind instruments, a question people sometimes asks is, "Are the reeds on the bassoon different from other woodwinds?"

There are many different types of woodwind instruments. But don't the bassoons in the second row look really cool? (see if you can identify the 3 bassoonists in the picture)

The answer is yes! Bassoon reeds are quite different...

The bassoon uses a special type of reed called the double-reed. This is made up of two pieces of cane tied together usually with string and metal wiring.

String and metal wiring on a bassoon reed.

These two pieces of cane in a double-reed vibrate together to create its unique sound.

Did you know that there is a family of instruments actually called the “double-reed?"

Within the double-reed family, the oboe and bassoon are the two heads of the western orchestral double-reed family. And of course, the cousins, aunts and uncles include english horn, oboe d’amore, oboe da caccia, contra bassoon, sarrusophone and more!

The Double-Reeds are a just a normal family of instruments.

Ancestors to the fabulous double-reed family include duduk, shenai, rackett, shawm, crumhorn and more! There are definitely lots of different double-reed instruments!

In the double-reed family, oboes and bassoons are the most popular (although, this is sort of like saying Snow White is the tallest amongst the seven dwarfs.)

Snow White is quite tall compared to her friends.

Oboe reeds are slightly smaller than bassoon reeds, and they work in a similar way. (However, oboe reeds just can't be used on bassoons, or the other way around.)

What different Double-Reed instruments look like: Oboe reed (left) v.s. Bassoon reed (right)

As you can see, even though these are both double-reeds, they can be quite different!

Other woodwind instruments like the clarinet and saxophone use a mouthpiece along with a single reed. These instruments use a single strip of cane, creating sound by vibrating with the edge of the mouthpiece.

For comparison, below is a drawing of a double-reed (oboe) v.s a single reed (clarinet reed + mouthpiece).

The clarinet creates sound from the single cane reed vibrating on the mouthpiece.

The bassoon makes its sound from two pieces of cane vibrating.

Compared with other types of reeds, bassoon and oboe reeds are more difficult to make. Each one also sounds and feels quite differently from one another. No two bassoon reeds sound alike, because they are made of cane which is a natural material.

For these reasons and others, sometimes bassoonists will consider plastic or synthetic reeds. Synthetic reeds are machine made so that each one is more consistent. There is a much larger price range for synthetic reeds v.s. natural cane reeds.

Legere brand synthetic bassoon reed.

Please feel free to check out the Bassoon Reeds section of this site for more information about reeds, where you'll find some helpful information on where to buy some if you're a beginner. Or if you really want to be adventurous, in the Bassoon Reeds section you can also find helpful information and videos on making your very own reeds!

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