- The five elements of tone production are breathing, support, embouchure, vowel and fingerings.
- Problems with embouchure hold students back early on.
- Problems with support make high notes difficult.
- Problems with vowel cause issues with low and high notes and tuning.
- Incorrect fingerings can be avoided by using a good fingering chart.
There are five elements of a great bassoon sound. Each of these elements contributes something different to your tone production. In order to create a beautiful, steady sound keep these five things in balance and adjust one at a time when something isn’t working.
Always breathe in through your mouth. Keep one lip touching the reed so you don’t have to reset your lips each time you inhale. Breathe low and keep your shoulders relaxed.
Support is how we pressurize our air to accomodate the wide range of notes on the bassoon. It is important to create a focused, powerful stream of air for some notes and a wide, slow stream of air for others. If you have problems with pitch or cracking, it’s a good idea to adjust your air first. You may find you need more air than you thought to make a note speak clearly and with good intonation.
Our embouchure connects our lips to the reed. Roll your lips over your teeth and round your lips. When you’re first starting out, I recommend centering your lips on the reed: not too close to the wires, but not too close to the tip either. Don’t bite down or squeeze the reed too hard or your notes will squeak and your lips will get tired. Let the reed and your air do the work, not your lips!
The shape of the inside of your mouth can have a huge impact on your tone. Try to keep your jaw relaxed, and the inside of your mouth shaped like an O (like Ho Ho Ho). Keep your tongue low and flat so there is a lot of space in your mouth. Leave room in between your top and bottom teeth. All of that space will make your tone full and open. For higher notes, you can try adjusting the shape of your mouth to be more of an OO (like cool) this narrower shape helps focus the air and bring up the pitch. For very low notes, you might need to be even more relaxed and open. Bassoonists must hear and "place" each note correctly to get good response and intonation, much like a brass instrument.
As you’ve noticed, the bassoon has a lot of keys! There are many ways to make a note speak, but usually there are only one or two really good fingerings. Work slowly and refer to your fingering chart so you learn the correct fingerings from the start. It is easier to learn a correct fingering the first time than it is to re-learn a fingering that was wrong. Fingerings can affect pitch, tone, and even response so don’t just guess, check! For more information on specific fingerings, check out this post.
Begin by playing a single note on the reed and holding it as steady as possible. Your goal is to play an F on the reed without any wobbles. Once you’re comfortable with that, try playing your reed and bocal together. This should sound like a C or C♯. If the pitch is off, adjust your air first (faster=higher, slower=lower), then your embouchure (firmer=higher, more relaxed=less squeaky,lower) until the sound is stable and in tune.
For more information on these concepts along with great videos and exercises, check out the book Making Reeds Start to Finish by George Sakakeeny.