Fundamental Tuning Q & A
Q: Why does the pitch change when I plug my ear in the ear plug tests?
A: Because the note you are playing is false in pitch and/or its overtones. Singers often check their pitch by plugging an ear. It is highly recommended to check regularly when warming up or testing reeds to perform this quick and simple test. Chromatic tuners are picking up the fundamental pitch only. In some cases if the note is really false it can register as another pitch rather than the one you are fingering.
Q: Is there a way I can use the ear plug test for notes that are in the right hand?
A: YES, there is! You can plug up the tone holes in the left hand with very small rubber stoppers or by using poster putty to cover up the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd tone holes in the left hand. If you use putty, press it down firmly to ensure a tight seal. Use your left hand to plug your left ear to test the RIGHT hand notes, B, Bb, A, Ab, G, F#, F and E. If you have a whisper key lock, put it on, because you will not be able to hold down the whisper key during this process.
Left Hand with Poster Putty
Q: When performing the ear plug tests using the LEFT ear (testing the right hand notes of B, A, and G, etc.), I’m hearing a big difference between the Low A and Low G. Low G is quite flat by comparison.
A: Low G is one of the notes along with F and C that are sensitive to the amount of bocal penetration into the reed. Ream the reed slightly and the G will come up for a closer match to the neighboring notes. However, before doing this be sure that you have done Test 1, 2 and 3 checking if bocal depth is correct for F and C. Before going too far with the reaming, be sure that the reed is close to or at its finished vibrating length. If the blade is still too long, this may be part of the problem.
Also note that Low G on many bassoons is tuned flat to help the octave half-hole G’s pitch which can be sharp if the reed is not properly tuned. See Introduction Q & A for more information.
Also be sure to test the Ab/Bb trill in Test 4, especially if the A is sharper than B. Pad heights may also be an issue which is covered in Test 4.2.
Q: I don’t have a lot of time to practice or work on reeds. What are the most important tests that I should check for adjustments?
A: The Quick Guide is designed as a step-by-step testing sequence and all tests are important! But if you only have a few moments to check the reed these are often the most critical tests:
- Test 1: Open F and (1 finger) E are in tune, stable and pass the ear plug test.
- Test 2: Bare Fork Eb and neighboring D (and D’s upper octave) are stable, in tune, and pass the ear plug test.
- Test 4 and 5: Low F is not sharp, low G is not flat, and Ab-Bb trill is stable.
- Tuning note A and Test 9: Harmonic A pitch is not flat.
- Test 14 and 18: Reed slurs up across breaks.
Q: What are the most important reasons to clip the tip?
A: There are a number of reasons to clip the tip, but before you do, make sure its warranted. You can be fooled by a flat and/or unstable F or E, thinking that you should clip the tip. There are two adjustments to check:
- Depth of the bocal into the reed.
- Whether to make a wire adjustment, especially if the reed is too free-blowing, to add resistance.
To see a complete list of reasons, see Ten Reasons to Clip the Tip.
Q: What if F collapses at fortissimo, but E is stable?
A: Adjust in the F zone to be sure that the tip scrape is symmetrical and also check for a dip behind the tip. Another thing to check is whether the tip closes in the center first when the blades are squeezed shut. See Figure 5C. Also check the F-G trill.
Q: My open F is quite flat. Should I ream or clip?
A: If the reed blade and vibrating length is longer than is standard for your best reed, then clip before considering reaming. But if the reed blade IS at the standard length and the tip has been scraped as outlined in Test 1, then reaming should be considered. Before reaming, also check the wire adjustments (rounding and tightening the wires).
Q: How do I prevent reaming too far into the tube before I make a mistake?
A: It’s very easy to accidentally ream too much away with sharp, spiral-tip reamers. To fix, make or purchase a stopping collar to place on the blade of your reamer. A simple stopping collar would be to add tape around the reamer to prevent it from going deeper. Another suggestion is to take a forming mandrel that has either a line on the mandrel or a stopping collar on the mandrel and check reaming against the mandrel’s depth into the tube. The lines on the mandrel become a depth measurement gauge.
Q: I reamed my reed too much and now it plays sharp. What can I do to fix it?
A: Add a wire either over the binding or over the cane behind the binding at the butt of the reed (if there’s room). The wire must be pulled quite tight if the wire is over the binding.
Q: When I slur down to A loudly, the note is unstable like it has a “bubble” in it. Is there a special adjustment to prevent this from happening?
A: There are two possible problems which makes this happen, the bassoon and/or the reed. In some cases, the low Ab pad(s) leak or “blow out” when slurred into from a wide interval, but can also produce this effect from neighboring notes above. In terms of the reed, it is most often a problem of the balance of the blade. Check the channel tapers, tap tests, and thumbnail test. It is also important that the Ab/Bb trill works satisfactorily.
Q: Are there additional quick tests to check for responsiveness in the low register before I start scraping?
A: Try the “putt” test from Advanced Reed Design and Test Procedure: On a reed properly adjusted for low notes, you should be able to get the reed (alone) to produce a short, single low pitched “putt” sound when tongued in a light staccato fashion with the embouchure near the middle of the reed. Another good indication is whether you can produce a Sub G multiphonic: finger low Eb with a half hole right hand first finger.