It’s time to extend the woodwinds.

Every single woodwind can have a range extension downwards.  It’s time for the instrument manufacturers to realize this potential and update the winds.

Flute

The normal C Flute, at least in professional settings, always has an extension downwards to a low B, yet the other members usually lack this note.  The Piccolo is the worst offender here.  The Piccolo (and sometimes the G Treble Flute) only descends to a written low D forgoing the C altogether.  However, there are numerous cases where the low C is called for.  Alto, Tenor, and all lower flutes should have the low B.  Low B-flats are sometimes seen, but almost never written for.

Oboe

There is absolutely no reason Oboes d’Amore, English Horns, and Bass Oboes should not descend to a written low B-flat.  These notes are called for in all three instruments, yet they are only available on special order.  In fact, low As are now being encountered on some Oboes (particularly those by Loree).  Why not extend all the oboe family to a written low A?  Oboes have the smallest range of all the woodwinds at around two-and-a-half octaves.  By pushing the lower limit, we can nearly reach that magical three octave mark.

Clarinets

Basset Horns, Bass Clarinets, and Contrabass Clarinets all have extensions to a written low C.  It makes sense then to have all the clarinets reach this note.  The current low E is a compromise note.  It’s as low as the clarinet needs to go in order for it to be completely chromatic.  However, if we extend the range downwards, we not only get an increased range, but performers are able to use new techniques in the break register that are otherwise unavailable.  For instance, going from a simple B-flat in the staff up chromatically to a B-natural is a cumbersome maneuver, but an extended range clarinet can do this simply by moving one finger (fingering the written low E-flat and the low E while pressing the register key).  Bass Clarinetists already use this technique that is completely unavailable to the other instruments.  So-called Basset Clarinets, A Clarinets extended to low C, already exist.  Let’s make this the norm.

Saxophones

On and off throughout the years, various manufacturers have extended the saxophone’s range to a written low A.  This note is already the norm for all modern Baritone Saxophones.  Years ago, Selmer made Altos with a low A, and now some players are having their Sopranos extended to low A.  The low A is the most logical note for the instrument to descend to.  Instead of the B-flat and E-flat instruments having their lowest notes be A-flat and D-flat respectively, their lowest notes would be G and C.  G and C are much more natural.  Sopranos can now cover the range of the Violin; Altos can cover the range of Violas.  The mechanism is already standard on Baritones, so saxophone players are used to it.

Bassoon

The bassoons are already the most extended of the woodwinds.  The natural scale starts at F, and the range is extended a perfect fifth to a low B-flat.  This is in deference to the other woodwinds whose range is extended at most a second.  However, Wagner and Mahler both write low As in their music, and this note is not really that out of the ordinary.   While I don’t think the low A should be standard, I do think it should be available as an option from manufacturers.

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2 thoughts on “It’s time to extend the woodwinds.

  1. Matthew Banks

    Bret,

    I’ve asked a few oboe professors why the Oboe d’amore, English Horn, and Bass Oboe do not descend to a logical low Bb like their smaller older sister, and have not received a conclusive answer. Why do instruments like this continue to be manufactured when standard literature requires Bbs fairly frequently?

    1. Justin oboe

      Regular oboes with B flat is already PRETTY HEAVY to hold for a long period of time. A lot of oboists try to find a strap for an alternative, that doesn’t work, but a thumb adjustment helps quite a lot.
      Oboe d’amore is a lot heavier than the regular oboe, if you put a low Bb on the instrument, most players will not be comfortable playing it for long at all.
      English Horns are super long and super heavy to hold without a strap, you put a Bb without a strap it’s game over.
      That’s the reason why oboe manufactures hesitate to make oboes with low A or English Horns with Low Bb

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