Middle Register Tunings Q & A
Q: I’m confused about sanding the rails (Fig. C). How do you properly sand the rails without creating gaps and/or leaks?
A: From Quick Guide, Tuning Method Solutions on pg. 10, it says to “sand or file (with the “grain”) along a note’s rail zone overlapping its neighbors (Fig. B and C).”
Use the proper technique: be sure that the sanding tool or file is held perpendicular to the rails and the rails are sanded with the grain in both directions as indicated by the arrows in Fig. C. Be sure to overlap the target note so as to also hit the neighboring notes which will help with the tuning.
If you are over-sanding, eventually you are going to create a leak. If you find that you have to sand away too much to raise the pitch of a harmonic or the standard fingering and to the point of producing a leak between the blades, then you should consider the following cross checks or related tests:
- Tunings for Level 1 may be incomplete or have changed. The notes F, E, and D should be comfortably in tune before making middle register adjustments.
- Before narrowing the reed shape in Test 1 to raise the general pitch of F and E, be sure that the bocal penetrates at least 8mm into the reed tube.
- Be sure that the wires are in their proper position and snug. The wires may need to be tightened and rounded to get more strength through a more arched blade which will also raise the pitch.
- The reed shape itself may be too wide in the belly or the throat, or too big for your instrument or your style of playing. If you make your own reeds, experiment with narrowing the reed shape before the reed is formed to see if that is a good solution or consider starting out with a shorter vibrating length.
- The tuning of D is pivotal. We call D the “nexus” note because its tuning and its octave effect the general pitch of the middle register. The test for D (2.2 Ear Plug Test), the pitch balance between D octaves, may be failing. Note: Within Test 2, we state that if the tuning of D is flat, the upper octave D will be twice as flat and generally the pitch of the middle register may require too much embouchure to bring it up to pitch.
Q: I’m confused by the sentences in Test 10: “with blades separated by plaque, check for even rail thickness and taper. Correct by removing plaque and sanding along the thinnest point(s) of the rail.”
A: It is very important for the tuning of Bb, B and C that there is no significant dip in the rail taper, especially at point D in Fig. 2A. A dip can be accidentally created in scraping for Fork Eb and D in Test 2.1. Strengthening the rail at this point is essential to keep the pitch up for these notes. It is typical for many reed makers to over emphasize the “fingernail” shading in the wings weakening the rails between points d and f in Fig. 2A. This type of scrape not only produces flatness on Bb and C, but also can cause the reed to “stack up” and limit the upper dynamic in the middle register. If the rail is thin at point D or the taper is not the same on both rails, then the thinnest point should be thickened or simply sand/file both blades until the dip is removed and/or a symmetrical taper is restored.
Q: What if I can’t match the tuning A?
A: Check the Harmonic A tuning, Test 9. If the harmonic is flat in pitch, the regular fingering will also be flat. As a cross check, also check Fork Bb, Test 11 and the Low Ab/Bb trill (Test 4.1). Pad height greatly effects the tuning of A: if too open, it will be sharp, if too closed it will be flat. On some bassoons the A tone hole is too small, leading to flatness and croaking/split tone in articulation in the middle register. Check the pad height tuning in Test 4.2 to be sure Low A’s pitch is properly centered between B and G.
Another test that can correct flatness of the harmonic is to push the reed further on to the bocal. Be sure that this does not negatively effect the other bocal penetration-effected notes — F and C.
Note: the lower A is often sharp, while the tuning A can be flat. If the tuning A is okay, recheck tuning techniques in the Fundamental Tunings, especially Test 4. Tuning tape in the A tone hole is not recommended unless both Low A and tuning (middle) A are exceptionally sharp with a standard pad height (Fig. 4B in the Quick Guide).
Q: I can make all the other harmonic test fingerings work except for the Bb harmonic. Am I doing something wrong?
A: This harmonic tends to be stuffy and more difficult to focus than the others. You may want to skip this tuning as you work through the harmonic tunings and come back to it. It is essential that the neighboring note’s harmonics and tunings have been properly adjusted for this harmonic to work. The tuning and stability of the Fork Bb will help stabilize the Bb harmonic tuning. Since this tuning is related to the fingering for Low Eb, it is very common to find that the pad height for Low Eb is too high which also will effect proper blowing resistance. This always seems to be the case with Fox bassoons. Use a test similar to the pad height Test 4.3. In this case play Low D and Low E then check to see if Eb tunes equally between these notes using a chromatic tuner. Adjust the pad height lower by adding paper shims under the cork for the Low Eb key.
Q: Why does my embouchure get so tired when playing long tones in the middle register?
A: A good test for checking middle register fatigue is the opening lines of Mozart Concerto for Bassoon, movement 2. Check the opening C by plugging your right ear while holding the pitch with a tuner. Does it drift flat? Check the same with D. Flatness on these two notes indicates a lack of good resistance in the reed vibration. Squeeze the second wire from the sides to close the tip slightly and then reopen the tip by squeezing the first wire from the sides to the original tip aperture. This procedure will strengthen the spine and raise the pitch of the middle register.
It is common to become very fatigued in Brahms symphonies, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and Handel oratorios. The best solution for long, extended periods of playing is to make a cut reed which requires less embouchure.
As stated in the Quick Guide Final Tests, can you play the entire range of the bassoon out of the corner of your mouth? If you become fatigued in playing long passages, swing the reed into the corner of the mouth to rest the lips and to regain blood flow.