Bassoon extensions

Unlike brass instruments, woodwind instruments have finite range – at least on the bottom of the instrument.  For the Bassoon, this is the bottom B-flat below the bass clef.  However, this has not stopped composers from ignoring this rule.  Low As are seen with enough regularity that bassoonists almost don’t even bat an eye at them.  They occur in nearly every work by Mahler, and in the latter operas of Wager as well as scores of other works.  However, an extension on the bassoon to reach this note is rare.  Heckel offered it as an option for years, but seems to have dropped it from their catalog.  When it was offered, it was done as a second bell.  The traditional B-flat bell was used for the majority of the time, and the low-A bell was only brought out when needed.  In my 20 some-odd years of bassoon playing, I have only ever seen one true low-A bell.  However, the low-As still exist.  The easiest way to produce the note is to stuck a tube in the bell.  I have a plastic tube that projects about 7 inches above the bell and produces a fairly nice low-A.  However, the low B-flat is completely unplayable.  When the extension is in, many other notes are affected, so it’s best to have the extension in for as short of a time as possible.

Conclusion: low-A is fairly normal, but give the player time to insert the extension, and don’t write a B-flat and an A together.


Contra is a totally different story.  Contras with low As are fairly frequent.maybe up to 10% of instruments have the note. However, the note is almost never scored for.  The only example I know of is in Elektra.  In my own Contrabassoon Concerto, I heavily use the low A, but I score this work with a Contraforte in mind which always descends to that note.

Here is a video showing extensions for both instruments.

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