Common Problems of the Bassoon

The Bassoon is a unique instrument that is often performed by the few and the brave. It has its quirks and adds a singular quality of sound that...

The Bassoon is a unique instrument that is often performed by the few and the brave. It has its quirks and adds a singular quality of sound that contributes to classical music quite well. In today's post we will summarize Mr. Charles West's book, " Woodwind Methods, An Essential Resource for Educators, Conductors and Students" about Common Problems of the Bassoon. I have found this book to be invaluable and recommend this book to be in your library of must haves.

Common Problems

Problem #1

Problem one is that often bassoonists put too much reed in their mouth when they play. By doing this the sound becomes very bright and hollow which is not the ideal dark and full sound you normally want. In addition, by putting too much reed in the mouth the instrument will often go sharp and have a poor response in the low register. Simply use less reed and find the sweet spot when you play the bassoon.

Problem #2

Problem two is the opposite of problem one. In this case the bassoonist is putting too little reed in the mouth. The result of this problem is that the musician will find that their upper register will begin to become flat and higher notes will not be playable. Again, simply play with a little more reed in the mouth to resolve this problem.

Problem #3

Problem three is not forming the embouchure correctly. The lips must be engaged to adjust in a dynamic way. Don't play in a way where the lips are too relaxed and inactive. Tip: watch professional bassoonists play. Then analyze your embouchure as you play in a mirror. Then adjust accordingly.

Problem #4

Problem four is biting or pinching the reed. Avoid this by playing in a somewhat relaxed yet dynamic manner. Remember if you bite the reed, your instrument will often play sharp. 

Problem #5

Problem five involves balancing the instrument with the seat strap. This is often improperly adjusted and positioned. Remember that the left hand becomes tired. As a result, the hand will become tight quickly if the weight of the bassoon is held by the left hand rather than being counterbalanced. This problem creates a domino effect where added tension is added to the body, making the ideal performance difficult.

Problem #6

Problem six involves holding the bassoon vertically and then reading the music under the bassoon. This will is problematic. Better hold the bassoon diagonally and read the music over the top side of the instrument.

Problem #7

Problem seven involves reaching and covering the holes on the bassoon. If the musician's hands are not large enough, reaching all of the holes of the bassoon will not be possible. For younger student musicians consider having them use a  “Short Reach” bassoon. This may help. A short reach bassoon is an instrument with an extended "touchpiece" over a hole that would otherwise be open. As a result, this allows musicians with smaller hands to control the hole.

Problem #8

Problem eight is a big issue. The reed does not fit on the end of the bocal. This is because it is either causing leakage or is not fitting securely. Consider the following:
  • The bocal sometimes gets damaged. This occurs at the end where the reed connects with the bocal. When this occurs the bocal is often not round and as a result does not create a seal. Amateurs may even worsen the situation by jamming a pencil into the bocal thinking that they would restore the roundness of the bocal. Unfortunately, this often breaks the solder seam within the bocal.
  • Another possibility is that the actual reed opening may not be large enough for the bocal. In this case the reed opening may be enlarged with a reamer specially made for bassoon reeds.

Problem #9

Problem nine is that the bassoonist is using a bent bocal. Bassoons with bent bocals create tiny leaks within the metal tube. This makes the bocal useless and a replacement must be purchased.

Problem #10

Problem ten is simply the improper use of half hole. If a note is not using the indented half hole it will create a growling sound and is considered an incorrectly played note. If a musician over covers a half hole, the bassoon will make a wavering sound and will not project as a clean note.

Problem #11

Problem eleven is using incorrect fingerings, which “almost” sound correct. As a result of this issue musicians will encounter regular intonation issues and lack a consistent characteristic sound.

Problem #12

Problem twelve is not tonguing. Like any woodwind instrument, the bassoon must include an element of tonguing to achieve the variety of styles of music. Tongue the bassoon by touching the end of the tongue to the reed tip. Release the reed with a with air supporting it.

Problem #13

Problem thirteen involves the whisper key pad not functioning (or the pad is missing altogether.) The whisper key pad is vulnerable and the pad can easily be sheared if the player carelessly twists and removes the bocal.

Problem #14

Finally, problem 14 takes place when a “popping" sound occurs when sustaining a note. This happens when there is water in the lowest part of the curve in the bocal. This is somewhat similar to when brass musicians have excessive condensation in their instrument and have not removed it with their spit valve or water key. For the bassoonist be sure to remove the bocal and blow the water out from the large end. Do not  shake the bocal because there is chance you might hit something and bend the bocal. If this occurs it may keep the reed from properly sitting on the bocal.


Like many instruments, the bassoon creates a beautiful sound if the musician is trained properly to do so. And also like any other instrument, the bassoon also has innate problems that need to be overcome by an aspiring bassoonist. These fourteen isolated bassoon problems, previously listed, will provide  any music educator the tools to assist in the development in the growth of their student bassoon musicians. 


West, C., & Lautzenheiser, T. (2015). Woodwind methods: An essential resource for educators, conductors, and students. Meredith Music Publications, a division of G.W. Music, Inc.

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