My Notes Pop Down

Hi. I just recently started playing bassoon this past summer and I have a problem with my notes popping down when I’m not using the whisper key…what’s my problem?


Unstable notes in the second octave is one of the most frustrating problems for beginning bassoonists. Let’s say that is not an easy thing to correct without seeing and hearing what you are doing. It can be the reed, the embouchure, the amount of breath support and air speed as well as problems with the instrument and bocal.

Some of us call this problem “croaking”. It is an inherent problem with the acoustics of the bassoon. The whisper key is not a true octave key, so when you let it off, there is no guarantee that the notes will go up to the desired note or stay there. ( There is a modification to traditional keywork that make a true octave key out of the whisper key if you have an extra $3,000.00 to have it installed. Very few have, but I’m thinking about it.)

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Low A on Bassoon

There are low As throughout the Mahler Symphonies. Not all have them. They also are in one or more of the Strauss works and Wagner’s Ring Cycle has one or two as I recall. It also appears in the woodwind quintet by Nielsen and Paul Chihara’s Branches for two bassoons and percussion. I’m sure I’ve fagotten a few. Haha.


Leon and Mark with low A

Some would take an English horn bell and stick it into the end of the bassoon in the Nielsen Quintet, or a rolled up piece of paper or cardboard tube. These work okay, but lack in resonance and good pitch. We always covered these low As with a piece of plastic plumbing drain pipe. I made a fancy matching set for Bob, Juan, Bonnie Cox and myself with a plastic base and metal end with a nice flair. It’s fun to blast a low A. Peter Schickele, a bassoonist himself, wrote a low A solo in his Lip My Reeds for bassoon quartet. We are recording that with Leon Chodos and Mark assisting on the low A for Lip My Reeds which goes back and forth with low Bb. That’s what we’re doing in the photo and you can hear the results on our Escaped CD.

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Bassoon Audition Advice

Below is a list of the top rated audition pieces used by professional symphony orchestras. If your goal is to play in a symphony, you will eventually be called upon to audition on one or more of these. All are difficult bassoon solos or technical passages. Some are technically difficult, some musically difficult and others difficult for both.

You should begin practicing these if you are a serious bassoonist well before you are ever asked to audition. Bassoon solo excerpt books and collections of the complete parts are available through double reed specialty shops and sheet music stores. Listen to recordings to get a sense of how the part fits into the musical landscape and record yourself playing the excerpts to get some feedback. Advice from an experienced symphony bassoonist in private lessons could reveal some tricks of the trade for special fingerings that help in the sticky passages.

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