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Instrument: It all begins with the instrument and reed. Which is more important? Probably neither because a failure with either one can cause insufferable intonation problems. From my personal experience with students and their school instruments, I have found two brands that consistently provide good quality and predictability in student line instruments: Fox and Schreiber. There are other lesser-known brands available of acceptable quality, but I haven't seen enough of these to make a reasonable judgement on their overall merit. For more specific information on selecting the instrument that is appropriate for your budget and ensemble, visit the "instruments" section of this site.

Other school instruments are definitely hit or miss, mostly miss. And when I say miss, I mean really miss. Some student instrument that I have tried are actually unable to produce certain notes because the intonation is so horrendous. If at all possible, avoid purchasing a "cheap" bassoon because it will simply cause you more trouble than it's worth. The extra money you invest in a good quality bassoon will more than pay you back in performance over time.

Bocals: The bocal is a surprisingly important piece of the bassoon puzzle and it contributes significantly to the intonation. They can also provide the bassoonist with a quick fix for overall flatness or sharpness. Bassoon bocals are made in different lengths to give the bassoonist a means to raise or lower the overall intonation of the instrument without having to alter their reed. The standard length for bocals is indicated by a #2 imprinted on the side of the bocal (click on the picture to see an enlarged view of the imprint). These are intended to play at A=440. The higher the number, the longer and, therefore, lower the pitch. Most new bassoons come equipped with two bocals, the standard #2 and usually a #1. Unfortunately, young bassoonists generally tend to play on the sharp side, rendering the #1 a poor choice! When purchasing a new instrument, ask for a #3 instead of a #1 - you will probably get more use out of it.

Note: Fox bocals are one number shorter than other brands, ie. their #2 is comparable to the normal #1. They are, however, designed to match the instrument they come with and should produce the proper results when used correctly. If a Fox #2 is used on another brand, the resulting pitch level may be too high. For more on this, go to the instrument section of this site.

Hand rests or crutches: all new instruments will come equipped with the option of using a hand rest (crutch) for the right hand. Bassoonists are divided on the use of this. Many players prefer to use the crutch because it helps support their hand and frees up the motion of the fingers. Others argue that it creates an unnatural hand position which inhibits free and relaxed movement with these fingers. Personal preference would seem to be the final solution, but beginners may not necessarily be initially attracted to the solution that would be best for them in the long run. Personally, I do not use the crutch and have found that the vast majority of my students are happy without it. I have, however, had a few students who find that the crutch really does improve their right hand technique. I encourage you to solicit advice from your nearest professional bassoonist!

Reeds: The reed contributes very much to the overall and relative intonation of the instrument. A good reed can do a lot to compensate for a poor instrument, but a good instrument cannot do much to overcome a poor reed. For some suggestions on purchasing good commercial reeds, click the link to reeds on the left menu.


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© 2002 Bruce Hammel. All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated: January 22, 2007

Bruce Hammel
Music Department - VCU
922 Park Ave.
Richmond VA 23227
Phone: (804) 828-4018