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Pay the Piper
Cost: from £2,400 (the lowest price we could find, VAT included)
Best age to start: 12 years upwards
Easy to start? Fairly, if you can reach the keys!
bassoon is the largest member of the woodwind family, except for its
rare giant relative the contra-bassoon. The wooden tube is doubled
back on itself (otherwise it would be about eight feet long!) which
makes it hard to manufacture and therefore expensive. You hold it
slanted in front of you, usually suspended from a sling round your
neck, and blow directly through a reed (two carefully-shaped pieces of
bamboo-like material joined together). It is the reed which vibrates
to make the sound, rather like blowing a blade of grass between your
To make the different notes you cover and uncover holes with a system
of keys operated by rods and levers. The advantage of this
complicated system is that there are alternative ways of
fingering many notes, so whatever the order of the notes you need to
play there is always an easy way of doing it. The rods and levers that
operate the keys of a bassoon are necessarily very long, and the
gentle clacking noise they make can sometimes be heard even on
recordings of the highest quality.
To play the bassoon you need to have hands big enough to reach the
keys which means that it is rare for children to start on the bassoon
before the age of 12 or so. One thing to bear in mind is that you have
to exert some pressure with your front teeth to control the vibration of the the reed, which isn't good if you
still have your milk teeth (and is impossible if you have no front
teeth at all!). Also, quite a lot of "puff" is required.
All bassoons are the same size, except that there is a special "short-reach"
bassoon available for smaller beginners, and more advanced players
will often "double" on the contra-bassoon which is a larger
instrument used in some orchestral music. The contra-bassoon is so big
and heavy that it is usually supported by a spike on the floor instead
of a sling round the player's neck, and is absurdly expensive to buy.
The bassoon is not a particularly difficult instrument to start, and
by the time you get to Grade 4 or 5 there is little difference between
the bassoon and any other woodwind instrument.
The bassoon comes apart into several pieces, and packs into a case
about three feet long - not unduly difficult to carry, and the case
offers excellent protection.
There is a special small bassoon made especially for beginners which
some teachers recommend. You need to consider that eventually you will
outgrow it and need to replace it with a normal-sized instrument, and
when that time comes - will you be able to sell the little one easily?
We're not too sure!
The bassoon is principally an orchestral instrument, but can also be
used in wind bands. However it offers excellent opportunities for
group music-making because there are not many bassoonists around, and
if you become a good player you will find that you are suddenly very
Bassoons are less robust than other woodwind instruments, mainly
because the extensive keywork is vulnerable to knocks. They do not
like being dropped at all, and chipping or cracking the wood can mean
very major expense indeed. Every couple of years you will have to have
the pads renewed (the soft pads fixed to each key that close the holes
off) which can cost as much as £50 or £60. The reeds cost
from £6.50 each, and can last several months. On the other hand,
if you catch the delicate tip of the reed on your clothing and chip
it, it could last only five minutes! You need to have a couple of
spares with you all the time. Some experienced bassoonists learn to
make their own reeds. Apart from that, there is little maintenance to
A good "student" bassoon costs about £2,400.
Alternatively they can be rented from some music shops. There are not
many bad bassoons on the market, but for the beginner the good makes
are Fox, Adler and Boosey & Hawkes.
Two of the best-known and most popular tutors for beginners are
as you play bassoon and
Bassoon. Click the links to buy them online. A few people try to
learn the bassoon by themselves without a teacher. We don't recommend
this, but if you're determined,
Tune a Day for Bassoon may be fairly old and no longer the best
bassoon tutor book around, but we still think it's particularly
suitable for lone students.
It might help you to make your decision if you listened to the
bassoon being played really well in a variety of styles - try
Very expensive instrument
Moderately easy to start
Quite hard to find a teacher
Excellent opportunities for group music-making
Not particularly prone to damage, but repairs can be expensive
Moderately easy to transport