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.)

The reed. If the blade of the reed is too long, or the reed is too thick at (or just behind) the tip, this can be part of the problem. You can thin the extreme tip of the reed with sandpaper. Often reeds which are too soft or worn out are too weak to play easily in the second octave.

When you play in the second octave with the whisper key off you must blow a faster, more focused and cooler air stream. The tongue inside the mouth should change to a higher position more like whistling than saying “ahh”.

The vent hole in the bocal must be checked to see that it is not clogged. Is the instrument in good condition?

If none of the above help stabilize the reed, you must hold down one of the appropriate true octave keys above the C# key for the unstable note. Some bassoons have two octave keys, better horns have three. The first one above C# is held down for A (top line) and Bb, the next for B and C and the top one (if you have it) is for C# and D. If you hold down the correct octave key for the note and have sufficient air speed when you blow, the note will be clear and not croak.

Bassoonist learn to flick these keys to start the note or when slurring over the break to these notes or slurring down to these notes from above to be sure the right note comes out. The left thumb must learn where to go to find these keys as this is one of the most important elements of bassoon playing. As professional players, if we have any question that a note might croak, we hit or hold down the appropriate “octave key” every time.