Tuning Method Solutions
Back and Forth Adjustments
Because F# and F are rarely flat, back and forth adjustments including in the area of the rails would be extremely rare for these notes on Test 8. However, it may be helpful in fine tuning for A-flat and neighboring A. This would be the area below the A tuning zone in Fig. B. See Update: Additional Tests below for fine tuning.
For Test 9, the most common adjustment is to raise the pitch of the harmonic by sanding the rails if the harmonic is flat. Test 12 and 13 usually require several back and forth adjustments to balance the tuning. For instance, the regular D, harmonic D, and Long D comparisons almost always require this type of back and forth. A flat harmonic C almost always indicates a dip in the thickness of the rails at the C tuning point or an imbalance between the two blades in rail taper, in rail thickness between right and left. Use the tap tone test to zero in on the weaker rail.
Test Methods Updated
Remember: DO NOT try to tune or UNCONSCIOUSLY adjust the pitch when performing harmonic tuning tests! The goal of harmonic testing is to determine the difference in pitch between the standard fingering and the harmonic test fingering.
- If the harmonic test fingering’s pitch is above the standard fingering, that leads you to one set of adjustments. And if the harmonic fingering pitch is below the standard fingering this leads you to another set of adjustments.
- It is important to be sure that the tuning of neighboring notes, both above and below, remain in tune after any adjustment.
- Make it a practice to recheck tunings by playing through the harmonics in consecutive order moving up the scale of the notes listed on page 10 of the Quick Guide.
Very Important New Tests: Fine Tuning for Notes in the Middle Register
The following fine tuning tests, once completed, add very desirable outcomes. It keeps the tone color and resonance consistent at varying dynamics, and helps eliminate a “bump” when flicking the register keys.
- While holding the notes A, B-flat, B, C, and D in the middle register at pianissimo, add the appropriate register/octave key to check if the pitch drifts sharp or flat. (Use the lower register key for A and B-flat, use the upper register key for B and C, and use the D key, if available, for D.)
- If the pitch drifts sharp or flat, the reed needs additional tuning following the methods in Quick Guide (channel and rail adjustments) for the affected note. With the register key held down, pianissimo playing has greater stability/flexibility and response to articulation and slurs to these notes from above or below is greatly enhanced.
- Also check trill fingerings as well as non-standard and alternate fingerings for tonal clarity. For example, the one-finger G# to A trill, B-flat to C trill, and B to C# trills using the third finger left hand as the trill from the standard fingerings.
Kak, Crack, Croak, Stutter, and Hesitation
Test 8 — F#, G, and A-Flat
Have you ever wondered why it is difficult to slur across the break from E or F to Half-hole F# softly without the tone breaking between notes or hesitating? Have you ever wondered why F# and G generally play sharp in pitch? If the reed is not properly tuned, the harmonic fingering for these notes is significantly sharper in pitch than the regular fingering. Correction of the harmonic’s tuning lowering it in pitch also lowers the pitch of the standard fingerings. The additional benefit is substantial. Slurring across the break with the reed properly tuned will speak immediately and not break the tone in the slur. A reed that is fine tuned will slur across the break to F# and G without half hole (first finger lifted) and be in tune.
Test 9 — A and B-Flat
For this test, the A/Bb register and the low D key must be held down simultaneously. Bridging the thumb across from the register key requires that the thumb be arched so as to not accidentally touch the low C mechanism or low C plate (trill key). If this test shows the harmonic as very flat, it may be the execution of this fingering that is causing it. The thumb may be partially closing the low C key. To test this, prop open the A/Bb register key with folded paper, a pencil, etc. Now the thumb is free to just touch the low D key. Retest by slurring from the standard A to the harmonic A.
Obviously, the tuning note A is critical. If you feel uncomfortable tuning your A in rehearsal or concert, it is important to learn to quickly make the necessary adjustments for this note. As a reed ages and weakens the tuning A can drift flatter in pitch. Correction can be quickly made at the rails.
Note: tap your sanding tool or file at the tuning location for A at the rails listening for the pitch. Sand/file the side with the lowest “tap tone” first. Use the rail tap method for all harmonic fingering adjustments. For more information, see Adjustment Techniques.
The same problem exists in fingering harmonic Bb. Some bassoonists find that the harmonic Bb does not speak or is unstable. Check and correct the tuning of forked Bb in Test 11 to see if it becomes responsive. Also check Test 4.1 and 2.1. When properly tuned Bb3 should not be flat in pitch, which is its tendency.
Test 10 — B-Flat, B and C
Note that the primary tuning zones for the double sensitive notes are in the tip portion of the reed with secondary tuning points in the channels.
Test 11 — Fork B-Flat
Fork Bb is also a secondary test to establish the low Ab-Bb trill in Test 4 and vice versa. If Fork Bb is unstable or flat check the harmonic tuning for A and B natural. See Test 9 and 10.
Test 12 (C#, D, and E-Flat) Additional Fixes
Flat on C#, D, and E-Flat
Adding Tape to the Long Joint
It is recommended to use 1″ wide blue masking tape to build up layers around the circumference of the interior of the long joint, small tenon. Note: do not pull out the long joint to adjust pitch for low D. It is a primary reason for D3 to be flat. If pad heights are too high on the bass bore, especially if the low E pancake is too high, can lead to flatness on D and the upper middle register.
Bocal and Bell Adjustment
If there is a continuing problem with flatness on D or the middle register in general, check out bocals and bells in The Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning and also the Introduction supplement. In addition, check Tone Production.
Test 13 — E, F, and F#
While it is possible to check the true harmonic fingering for E and F, it is preferred to check alternate fingerings which are easier to obtain. The F# harmonic (finger B3 with a half-hole left hand) is a viable fingering and should be checked along with the comparison fingering of the standard and alternate F#.
When slurring down to E (and Eb) from a note a 3rd or greater, it can be frustrating when the fingering is changed to E that the note hangs on a higher note or a higher harmonic (a higher mode of vibration). Fine tuning of the E test fingerings and fine tuning of its neighbors, Eb and F, should be checked. In some cases the channels in the tuning zones for these notes are out of balance in one or more of the channels. Run the fingertip up the channels to check for balance.
In the example below, from the 2nd movement of Beethoven, Symphony No. 4, the Gb should be played with the 2nd finger of the left hand ONLY instead of 1/2 hole-2-3. This is known as the slur up or start fingering for F#/Gb.
Test 14 — Slur-ups
Before doing this test be sure the vibrating length is close to your standard length or this test may not work. Reeds that pass this test at a longer VL than your standard blade will be better candidates for middle register playing.
In some occasions the use of register keys is cumbersome or impossible. For example, take the opening phrases of Vivaldi, Concerto in e minor, movement 1. Ease of slurring across the break is a good test of the proceeding harmonic tuning adjustments as well as a measure of finding the correct vibrating length.
Note: The goal for slur up exercise 14.2 is for the lower note of the interval in each pair to be 14 cents below equal temperament with the upper note at equal temperament. Pitch flexibility is necessary in tuning using just intonation. If this is difficult, are you making tone production adjustments in both vowel shape and air speed? This test assumes that all harmonic tunings pass their tests.
Test 15 — Articulation and Croaking
The beginning of a note can be distorted and/or the note can be distorted after the initial attack with a split tone, sometimes referred to as croaking. The most common problem in unclear articulation is related to an unbalanced tip section and is most often related to the common problem of a dip behind the tip. It can also be related to an unbalanced reed affecting individual notes.
Even though Test 15.2 asks that clear and repeated articulation be checked without the register/speaker keys, in practice the use of these keys is essential. The goal of this tuning test is to get the maximum tuning potential from the reed.
We also make a note in the grey box in Quick Guide, pg. 13, that repeated articulation is always more responsive with the register key held down and the properly adjusted reed will also be clearer and cleaner with the register key held down.