So You Want to Play the Bassoon? Ready to Start Taking Lessons?

Yes, the bassoon has a reputation for being difficult, but—here’s the secret—it’s just that the bassoon is more difficult for beginners. Well, at some point you will have to deal with reeds, but so do oboists. But other than the endless quest for the perfect reed, it’s difficult to play any instrument well at the advanced level.

If you want to play the bassoon, and I’m telling you this as a teacher who wants you to succeed, I put together two lists. The first list is what I hope my students—and anyone wanting to start playing the bassoon—should be able to do at the first lesson. The list is below.

Prerequisites and Suggested Skills and Abilities

  • You should be comfortable reading music and be able to sight read simple melodies. The challenges for a beginning bassoonist are such that you don’t want to learn the bassoon AND learn to read music at the same time. It’s helpful to be familiar with bass clef too.
  • You should have some experience playing another woodwind instrument. Clarinet or saxophone are recommended, but flute is okay too. The experience of hand/eye coordination, that is seeing a note on the page and knowing what fingers to use, is very helpful to the beginning student.
  • Be patient. It may take several lessons for you to start sounding good and learn enough notes to play a tune. It may be several months before you are ready to go into the bassoon’s upper register. More patience required: if you are renting a school instrument, it may not be in the best working order (I’ve may insist on repairs at the school’s expense); you may have to wait for repairs before you can start.

My second list is what you should expect if you stick with the bassoon through high school, which I hope you will!

Intermediate Expectations, be prepared to:

  • Fuss endlessly with reeds. Most advanced players and professionals make their own reeds. I insist that after 2-3 years of study, students begin learning how to adjust reeds. Reeds change after time, and those changes affect the tone quality, the student’s ability to play in tune, and resistance (that is how hard or easy it is to produce a sound and get the bassoon to respond in all registers).
  • Learn to read tenor clef. Yes, we bassoonists—along with cellists, double bassists, and trombone and tuba players—need to learn an oddball clef where it is easier to read music written in the upper register.
  • Practice regularly. The bassoon is over 8 feet long, and it takes a lot of air to make an 8 foot “air column” vibrate and project. Bassoonists need to develop strength in the intercostal muscles, the abdominal muscles, and even muscles in the low-mid back in order to have sufficient breath support. Practicing is the best way to develop both the muscles and the muscle memory. You’ll need to develop your embouchure too (the muscles of the lips and mouth), but I teach that breath support is more important.

Okay, so what about the good stuff? Well, here are some of the benefits of the bassoon:

  • The bassoon is addictive. If you get good at it, you’ll want to play more. Nothing else sounds remotely like a bassoon. You can be alternately comical and soulful. You can play low notes, high notes, and make a mellow sound in the middle.
  • You may be not be satisfied or challenged in your school band. It’s hard for a bassoon to compete, volume-wise with instruments made of brass or other metals. You may want to play in a youth orchestra where you’re basically one on a part and you’ll be able to be heard and maybe even have a few solos. I would strongly encourage to stick with your band though, and play in an orchestra after school.
  • You may learn to be a problem solver and actually like challenges. Yes, the bassoon is about making music and solving problems. You’ll learn skills that will help you not just play the bassoon, but to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Ready to start the bassoon? Let’s schedule a lesson!


Bassoon lesson?

Although I teach my students to use a lot of air in playing the bassoon, this gal is obviously overdoing it!

First I would fix her posture, then she needs to get a seat strap or other support, and establish correct hand positions. A good reed—one that plays easily— might help too!