Bassoons – Introduction



Introduction – I have always loved the bassoons.  I have a special place for them being a bassoonist myself, so some of my observation in this chapter may be a little keener than the rest.  The bassoons have an old, almost antique sound to them.  My favorite quote about the Bassoon speaks to this very fact:

 “The bassoon is one of my favorite instruments. It has a medieval aroma, like the days when everything used to sound like that. Some people crave baseball…I find this unfathomable, but I can easily understand why a person could get excited about playing the bassoon.”

It of course was not said by a bassoonist, or a traditional classical composer, but the musician Frank Zappa.  I think Frank’s right.

Traditionally, the bassoon family has the smallest family of any woodwind instrument.  I have never understood this.  Going back to the Renaissance we had a family of bassoons (or more properly dulcians) that included six sizes.  Today, at best we see two.  Why did the other sizes die out?  Best answer I can give here is that composers never (and to this point, I literally mean never) wrote for the other sizes of bassoon.  With no literature, no one played them, and when no one played them manufacturers stopped producing them.  Then, about twenty years ago, a modern manufacturer in Germany started producing small bassoons initially for children to play, but gradually professional players are taking these instruments up.  Here for the first time, I will present the bassoon family as it should be.

Currently, five sizes of bassoon are being manufactured.  We all know the regular Bassoon and Contrabassoon, but above this are three smaller members, the Alto Bassoon, and two sizes of Tenor Bassoon.  Theoretically, a smaller size still, a Soprano Bassoon, could be manufactured (it would be the same as the old Soprano or Descant Dulcian).  I also propose here that one additional member of the family be resurrected, the Semi-Contrabassoon pitched between the Bassoon and the Contrabassoon.

Alto Bassoon

Tenor Bassoon




6 thoughts on “Bassoons – Introduction

  1. Alex Kindel

    I’m curious, when you played the tenor bassoon, did you use standard bassoon reeds on in, or specially construct smaller ones?

    I’ve never played a double reed instrument so perhaps I’m off-base here, but my intuition is that using standard bassoon reeds on the higher bassoons, as in the alto bassoon video, is part of what renders these instruments more limited than the lower size. Do you think proportional reeds would improve their high registers?

    1. The reeds I used were specially made. The main difference was a smaller throat size and a slightly shorter length. The videos with the Alto Bassoons are all using standard bassoon reeds. I did make a few Alto reeds when I had limited access to an instrument, and the sound was much different.

  2. Matthew Banks

    If you don’t mind me asking, why can’t the tenor and alto bassoons ascend beyond the (extreme) high register of the standard bassoon?

    1. I think that it has to do with the instruments that are currently being manufactured. They are designed as student instruments. With some tweaks to bore and bocal design, they could reach their full potential.

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