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Let's Play Basson

Author - Hugo Fox

Starting the Student on the Bassoon

Either transfer the students from another instrument or start them directly on a student bassoon. If you have access to a short-reach model bassoon, it is practical to start them in elementary. Since the bassoon does not require a firm or tight embouchure, there is leeway in selecting suitable players.

The teeth need not be straight, nor does the player need to have a normal bite. The lip tension is much less, for instance, than used in playing clarinet or oboe. The reed should be taken into the mouth until the upper lip almost touches the first wire. The lips control the reed completely; the teeth play a minor role. The feeling of the lip should be one of grasping the reed all around and the reed should be supposed on the sides, as well as from above and below. The teeth should be apart when playing bassoon, much like when playing trombone. The air stream must have a clear, unobstructed path through the reed, continuing through the instrument.

So that the reed will enter the mouth in a comfortable and natural position, the body and instrument position should be correct. The body should be erect, standing or sitting. The head should also be erect and facing forward. The adjustment of the neck or seat strap should be such that the reed enters the mouth with the head in this position.

Assembly

To assemble the bassoon, place the wing and bass joints together with the bottom ends even (see illustration) and insert them into the boot joint. Next, add the bell and then the bocal or mouth pipe. Exercise care in inserting the bocal so that the pad on the whisper (piano) key will not be injured or broken off.

An alternate assembly method is to first insert the wing joint and twist it to achieve a comfortable adjustment of the piano key mechanism. This adjustment should be measured with the bocal in the wing joint and the mechanism should be such that the whisper (piano) key covers the bocal button just prior to or simultaneously with the “pancake key” on the boot joint. On Fox and Renard bassoons, it is possible to install the wing joint so that the groove running the length of the wing is concentric with the large socket on the boot. This will match a scribe line on the bottom of the whisper key side of the wing with a similar line on the boot, which can also be used for aligning it. After achieving this position, the bocal should be removed and the bass joint inserted into the boot joint. The player should be extremely careful when using this method of assembly, since carelessness can damage the keys or the tenons on the wing and bass joints.

If a body lock is used on the instrument, its closure should be made after the bass and wing joints are in alignment. If the key alignment is incorrect with the body lock in place, disengage the lock and have it adjusted by a repairman. It is the opinion of the author that body locks, while of some value, are a constant hazard to the instrument, because they can easily be torn off the thin tenon wall of the bass joint. An exception to this is with plastic bassoons, which have stronger sections that the wooden instruments. If wooden instruments have thread wound tenons, there is less of a need for the body lock, since the thread wrapping can be adjusted to provide a firm fit between the joints.

Use of a hand rest is optional and is governed in most cases by the length of the player’s hand. When playing with a neck strap, some form of hand support is necessary and the hand rest becomes more important, in order to position the instrument. The size and shape of the hand rest should be selected to provide maximum comfort to the player.

Care of the Instrument

General

Treat the instrument like a fine piece of furniture. Avoid excessive heat and moisture, particularly sudden changes. Do not leave it in a cold automobile overnight and then try to play it immediately upon entering a building. The cost of making a bassoon is mostly hand labor. It frequently costs more to repair a damaged instrument than it does to make a new one.

Bocals

Blow out, by blowing on the large end, after each use. Once a month, flush with a mixture of one tablespoon of baking soda in a large glass of warm water. Upon doing so, swab the bocal with a bocal brush and flush it out with warm water from a faucet. Check the hole in the bocal button to be sure it is open. This is best done by blowing through it.

Oil the Bore

After protecting the pads with wax paper or other suitable material, or after removing the keys, the unlined portion of the bore should be swabbed with LIGHT mineral oil, using a pull-through swab. After allowing the oil to soak in for about an hour, remove the remaining oil with another pull-through swab. This should be done every six months.

Cleaning the Bore

Wood and pads can be severely damaged by moisture. Swab the bore after every concert, rehearsal and practice, in order to remove the moisture that has been deposited there as well as for sanitary reasons. This should be done with a pull through swab. A silk swab works best because it can be dropped down the “unlined” side of the boot and pulled out the “lined” side, pulling the moisture away from the wood and out through the rubber lining. Although plastic bassoons are impervious to moisture they should still be swabbed to protect the pads and for sanitary reasons.

Cleaning the Finish

Plastic Models - clean weekly with a damp cloth being careful not to wet pads. Dry after cleaning. Soap and water may be used if necessary.

Wooden Instruments - clean weekly with a damp cloth being careful not to wet the pads. Dry after cleaning. Once every two months, polish with furniture polish.

Key

Clean with a dry cloth after each use. If the keys are nickel, they should be buffed by an experienced repairman once a year. If the keys are silver, they should be polished once a month. If the keys tarnish very rapidly, it may be due to the climate or the system of the player. This should be discussed with the instrument manufacturer.

Mechanism

Use light key oil on long screws and heavy key oil on the pivot screws. This should be done every two weeks. Weekly, check all screws to see that they are tight.

Tenons

If Cork Wound, use a thin coat of cork grease once every two weeks, being sure to wipe off the old coating before applying the new.

If Thread Wrapped, use a cake of canning wax. Warm it in your hand until it is soft, then rub a thin layer on the threads. This should be done once every month. Do not use cork grease on thread wound tenons because it will eventually get embedded with dirt.

Bassoon Fingering Charts

In the  fingering charts, all the keys on the bassoon are shown in the diagram under each note. To finger any note, depress the keys, levers or cover the holes shown in teal. Special attention should be given to the hole covered by the first finger of the left hand. If the lower half of the hole is shown covered, then this hole should be only half covered by this finger. A group of important alternate fingerings are included at the end of this chart. This illustration shows the correct fingering of a bassoon. The thumb of the left hand operates nine keys and the thumb of the right hand operates four keys. The keys on the front of the bassoon are operated by the fingers of both hands.

The following fingering chart is the bases for tuning all Fox Bassoons, and also applies to most Heckel Bassoons, as well as many other makes. To permit the use of this chart with the majority of instruments, a group of important alternate fingerings has been included at the end of the standard chart. It should be realized that the lower register of the bassoon is relatively inflexible, and that an instrument manufactured to be tuned to A-443 cannot easily be altered to play A-440 or vice versa and still retain its tone quality. The reader should be aware, however, that the pitch of most notes can be adjusted slightly by reaming or filling in tone holes, or by adjusting key height, and that many intonation problems can be corrected by using these methods. When a tuner is used to check the intonation of the instrument, all notes should be carefully checked, and compensation for temperature should be considered. A one degree rise (above 72 degrees) produces a pitch increase of about two cents, or ½ vibration per second at A-440. Good bocals will improve the tone and intonation of most poor instruments. This is primarily due to their cross-sectional dimensions, and is only slightly affected by length.


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