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How to Play the Bassoon

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my name is dr. Douglas Owens I teach

multiple woodwinds at Fort Lewis College

in Durango Colorado and I would like to

extend my congratulations to you for

choosing bassoon to play in band and

orchestra well let me tell you a little

bit about why I like bassoon

I think bassoon has a really really

awesome Tambor that is sound quality not

only do you get to play a lot of really

cool low register stuff but you also get

to play a lot of very expressive higher

register solos that are going to help

your development as a musician and as a

bassoonist so enjoy you've got a lot to

look forward to so we're going to talk

about how to put the bassoon together

now the bassoon comes in what looks like

about a billion parts so we're going to

go ahead and cycle through each of those

before we do that dip in your reeds

in water is much faster than having it

in your mouth so one of the things that

I strongly strongly strongly recommend

is that you thoroughly soak your reeds

but not too much what we're going to do

is we're going to open up the case and

as with most cases there's a right way

in a wrong way to open it make sure that

the bottom of the case is on the bottom

of whatever you're setting the case on

and at the top of the case is what opens

because you don't want to have the

bassoon fall out over the floor so my

particular case the top part is thinner

the bottom part is thicker and the latch

is open in a way where there's little

doubt as to where the top of the case is

so there we go we've got a bassoon case

and we're looking at a bassoon right now

okay so the first thing that I want you

to do is I want you to access your seat


this is a seat strap right here you

actually may have what's called a boot

strap now the boot strap is a little bit

different from the seat strap because

what the boot strap does is there is a

cover that actually fits over this

portion of the bassoon I like seat

straps better with these hooks right

here because with a boot strap you may

get some interference with the pads

which we'll talk about later but with a

seat strap you basically take it and set

it under you like so with the hook in

sticking out of the right side and along

in here and you can adjust this to the

left or to the right whatever way you

need to adjust depending on your height

depending on where the bassoon is going

to fall so let's do one thing at a time

let's go ahead and take out this is

called the boot joint the bottom joint

of the instrument let's go ahead and

latch it on to the seat strap now right

now while supporting the boot strap what

I want you to do is go ahead and take

out what's known as the long joint you

can tell because it's the longest joint

on the instrument and I want you to

insert it into the boot joint now some

people put the long joint and the wing

joint in in the opposite order for me

but either way it's fine just so they

interlock which I'll show you in just a

second what I'm talking about

so while supporting the bassoon go ahead

and grab your wing joint and put it

right next to the long joint now I spoke

earlier about having the two joints

interlocked my particular bassoon has a

lock mechanism some bassoons don't so

you got to fidget with them a little bit

more but in my lock mechanism basically

all I do is I lower this and I line

the lock up with the wing joint I'll

show you again there it is and now

they're locked and held together in

position so now we've got most of the

bassoon figured out go ahead and take

the bell the instrument otherwise known

as the bell joint out of the case hold

down well this is called the low B flat

key hold this down and make sure you're

not getting any metal on metal and you

can line it up with this lever and

that's going to be how you play the

lowest note which we won't get to today

but making sure that this is lined up

together okay so the next part that we

add is what's called the vocal basically

French for neck same thing as a neck on

a saxophone the thing that kind of

curves like this is the other saxophone

buddies play now I've got to talk about

this bocal for a second this is very

soft very thin metal so you've got to be

really really careful with it make sure

that the cork on the vocal is very

lubricated what this does is it makes

contact in the upper hole of the wing

joint like so if it's not lubricated and

you've got to put a lot of pressure down

on this then you may bend your vocal and

to be completely honest I've done that

before and I can tell you it's expensive

to fix so be really careful that learn

something for me don't make my same

mistakes you know make sure that that's

lubricated and you can put that in also

make sure that this little thing

sticking out right here doesn't collide

with this guy right here this is called

the whisper key right here and with the

whisper key if this scratches into this

there's a pad right here that can be

ripped off if you're not really careful

so again be very very very very

careful putting the vocal in now the

very last thing you do with the bassoon

assembly is put the reed on you'll

notice that at the end of the reed

there's a hole that hole fits on the end

of the vocal like so now make sure that

the reed and the vocal have a nice snug

connection because if you don't the reed

may actually and again this has happened

to me before the reed may actually fall

off during performance and you don't

want that to happen so make sure that's

a snug fit right there

so the parts again Reed vocal Bell long

joint wing joint boot joint and seat

strap as a bassoonist breathing and

posture are two incredibly important

aspects to proper tone production as far

as posture let's think for a moment

about our respiratory system that is to

say the system of the body that enables

us to breathe to take an oxygen that we

need to survive with our mouth we have

our windpipe

we have our lungs our windpipe is what

gets that air from our mouth our our

nose to our lungs think about that

windpipe like a garden hose if you do

that then you can see if that garden

hose is in any way twisted or bent or

tied together right that that water

can't flow through it the right way it's

the same thing with our windpipe if

we're slouched over

we're bent back if we're doing some kind

of odd posture with our body then air

doesn't flow optimally between when we

intake it and between the time that it

gets into our lungs so it's very

important to sit up straight keep the

torso straight keep the head as straight

and as straight forward as

possible now what you also may have

heard about posture is keeping both feet

flat on the floor now what this does is

it enables our guts to be in the right

place if we sit there and do this or

this or even this it changes the way

that our midsection pushes up into our

lung section make sure that you're

sitting both feet flat on the floor as

well as sitting up straight now let's

talk about a few things that are

specific to bassoon posture this seat

strap is a great invention it takes a

lot of weight off of either our necks or

hands by supporting most of the weight

down here on the boot joint you've got

to be really careful though with the

seat strap that it's adjusted the right

way if the seat strap is adjusted too

low look at what happens I have to Crane

my neck forward and down to reach the

Reed if my seat strap is too far this

way if my seat strap isn't far enough

then I have to Crane my neck up to get

to that you know I talked about with a

wind pipe that you want to have this

this clear path for the air to get

through and the clearest path is with

the head forward kind of like this so

make sure that your seat strap is

adjusted the right way now with regards

to breathing let me ask you this where

do we get our air from how do we take

our air in well one of two places right

through the nose through the mouth let

me show you something I'm going to

breathe in once through my nose

once through my mouth and I want you to

guess which one I'm taking more air

through or


same amount of time I guarantee you if

you did that on your own that you would

find that you'll be taking a lot more

air through the mouth that's the way you

need to breathe when you're playing any

wind instrument specifically in this

case bassoon you need to breathe in

through your mouth

whether that be at the beginning of a

note or whether it be in a short rest

and eighth note or a quarter note rest

that you may have in the middle of a

phrase so mouth breathing number one

number two is the depth of breathing

well what am I talking about I know

you've seen people do this before okay

what raised on me my shoulders right my

shoulders went up actually what happens

when your shoulders go up well if this

goes up something has to squish and

that's my lungs my lungs are actually

getting smaller because my body's having

to stretch to make those shoulders go up

you think that's good for breathing now

it's really not there's a better way to

do it I'm going to put my bassoon down

to show you this one this is what I call

deep breathing and this is the most

natural form of breathing I guarantee

you if you weren't playing an instrument

this is the way you would breathe

ordinarily put your fingers right here

now once you breathe in in such a way

these fingers separate watch me

I had a band director used to make us do

that before every rehearsal it was the

greatest trick in the world because it

shows you a couple of really cool things

about breathing one of the words you may

have already heard your band director

use if you haven't heard him he or she

use it yet you may be hearing it in the

very near future diaphragmatic breathing

okay what is the diaphragm diaphragm is

actually an involuntary muscle between

the lungs and our stomach what that does

is if we're breathing deeply and

breathing properly it actually goes down

like this and what does it do it pushes

the guts out of the way in order to make

room for the lungs to fill up properly

once we do this again try it on your own

that's the type of breathing we need to

have when we're playing a wind

instrument so breathing in with your

mouth and deep diaphragmatic breathing

give a try on your own basic bassoon

fingerings can be a little bit different

than any other member of the woodwind

family do the complexity of the

instrument fingers on the bassoon that

are doing things are not very common on

other instruments in the woodwind family

to have active roles in standard

fingerings the best example of that is

the left thumb now the first one of the

first notes that you learn is F which

uses this key with the left thumb if you

look they're actually eight other keys

that can be pressed some of those are

for low notes some of those are for

higher notes we won't talk about those

right now but just realize that with the

left thumb the most frequently played

note is F and this note this finger is

actually held down for most of the notes

that are lower in pitch than this the

first finger in the left hand covers the

first tone hole second finger covers the

second tone whole third covers the third

tone hole the pinky has the job of

playing with one of these two keys we'll

talk about one of them momentarily but

the other is a lower note that we won't

be addressing in this video in the right

hand the same basic scheme applies first

finger goes to the first tone hole

second to the second the third finger is

a little different there are two keys

the third finger most of the time 99.9%

of the time we'll go to the longer

fatter key right here

instead of right here the pinkie in the

right hand is also a pretty busy digit

having three potential keys that it can

play on also the right thumb can be used

for one of four different keys so you

may have heard that the bassoon is a

very thumb oriented instrument was

absolutely true you have to use your

thumbs very very very frequently on

bassoon to have facility in the entire

register of the horn hey I know you're

really eager to make those first sounds

on the bassoon why wouldn't you be it's

a great sound an instrument let's talk

for a second about something that you

should do before trying to make those

first sounds first of all what we need

to do is we need to talk a little bit

about our embouchure when we play with

soon embouchure is a fancy foreign word

meaning mouth muscles so how to control

our mouth muscles on the bassoon let's

start off by taking just the reed alone

now what I think of when I think of the

proper bassoon embouchure is think of an

ooh ooh syllable so while thinking that

is syllable go ahead and put the reed in

the mouth and blow and see what happen


something like that should happen your

sound might not be as crazy as mine is

on the reed alone right now but it

should sound something like that and you

should definitely be able to make a

sound if you're not making a sound it

probably means a couple of things it

might mean you're biting too hard

something like that or that your Reed's

not soaked up enough but yeah if you're

making that GU sound and your reeds ripe

you should sound something like that so

now stick the reed on the instrument and

why don't you go ahead I've already

talked about fingerings a little bit why

don't you go ahead and put your thumb

left thumb down on that what I said was

F remember this this key down here why

don't you go ahead and put your thumb

there make that blue embouchure and blow

the same way

uh something like that put a lot of air

through the horn

don't hesitate in making a big sound

so if you're putting a lot of air

through your reads right your embouchure

is right you should probably be able to

make a nice characteristic first sound

on the bassoon give it a try