Q: Notes higher than High G won’t play for me. Is there a way to fix or repair this problem?

A: We assume that the G you refer to is the 3rd G up, above the staff or 2nd line treble clef.

There can be several reasons for the notes above this G to not play well or at all: the reed, bassoon, or me (tone production).

Reed Factors:  

  • The reed itself plays too flat in pitch which is very common with music store reeds.
  • The reed is not pushed far enough onto the bocal and needs the reed to be opened up with a reamer.
  • If the reed does not crow at F – G, this could be the problem.
  • The reed should slur up to the short fingering for high C, found in the Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning, Test 18.1.


  • Be sure that the wires are tight and stay in place when the reed is wetted. The wires may need to be rounded to give more strength of the blade by squeezing both the first and second wires from the sides.
  • Ream the reed so that it penetrates 8-10 mm onto the bocal.
  • If the crow is lower than F and wire adjustments do not bring the crow up to pitch then the reed may need to be clipped to shorten the blade length.
  • The distance from the reed’s tip to the first wire (a.k.a. the vibrating length) may be too long. The first wire may need to be relocated closer to the tip of the reed. This will also help raise the pitch of the crow.
  • If the reed does not slur up easily to High C after making these adjustments, the reed shape itself may need to be narrowed by sanding as in Test 1. Narrower reed shapes may also be recommended as many music store reeds are quite wide and narrower tip openings are preferred for ease of playing in the high register.
  • If none of these solutions give you satisfaction, then other factors below may be needed.

Bassoon Factors:

  • Another problem could be that the vent keys (High D, High B/C, and High A/Bb) are plugged up in the wing joint with debris from swabbing or are filled with moisture.
  • The High B/C vent keys on the lower part of the wing joint near the C# key’s tone hole is stuck shut. Depressing the C# key with no fingers down (left hand thumb C# key) should open the vent key next to the C#. This tone hole vent may also be clogged.
  • Your bocal could be hindering you. Some bocals play much better in the high register than others. Fox bocals, especially the CVX bore, play well in the extended upper range compared to Heckel C or CC bores.


  • Carefully remove the upper left thumb vent keys mentioned above. This requires a tiny screw driver that will fit in posts that hold the keys in place. Use a small pipe cleaner to clean the vent holes or an open paper clip to clear any debris inside the three small vent holes. Carefully swab out the debris from the instrument or use compressed air to blow it out of the bore of the wing joint. Be sure the wing joint is removed from the bassoon while doing this operation.
  • If the B/C vent key next to the thumb C# does not open, gently lift up on the pad to un-stick it. If it is not stuck shut but still does not open, the springs designed to lift the pad or the mechanism may need to be adjusted. With the C# key held down, the ring key on the third finger should lift up to activate the B/C vent key. There may be a problem with one of the two springs involved with this mechanism being out of place or not strong enough to activate both the ring key and the vent. Adjusting these mechanisms can be tricky and difficult for most bassoonists. You may need help from someone mechanically inclined or a woodwind repairman.
  • The B/C vent key pad should be closed and sealed well so as not to leak. The B/C vent key is open only when the High B/C “octave” key is depressed (when fingering High B or High C).
  • Try different bocals if you’re having problems with the notes above High C. The best high note bocals for the extreme high notes is the Allgood bocal which is designed specifically for the notes above High C.

Tone Production (a.k.a. “Me”) Factors:

  • Another reason that the high notes may not speak in the upper register is that your tone production is not correct.


  • Blow harder and increase your air speed into the reed.
  • The embouchure needs to move up toward the first wire. Many bassoonists grip the reed near the tip which is a common problem for many bassoonists.
  • You might be holding your throat too open, like singing a low note.  This is a common problem with some players who have switched from clarinet or sax. A fixed, open throat doesn’t work for the bassoon’s high register.
  • The highest notes need for you to move the tongue upward and forward like whistling with faster air. Sing the note that you are about to play (perhaps in falsetto) to get the proper closed vowel shape inside the mouth.
  • The muscles of the diaphragm must be pushed up higher and inward like singing in falsetto.
  • Practice using a high-pitched vocalized “eek” before starting a high note.
  • See Tone Production under Resources for more information and exercises that will help develop playing in the upper register.

And finally, if the G is an octave higher 4th G up, you will need a special reed and bocal or put your teeth lightly on the reed.

Q: I have to bite down on my reed to make the highest notes work. They sound sharp and pinched. How can I improve my reed to make the high notes play easier with a big sound?

A: The best indicator that a reed will play well in the high register is testing whether the reed will slur up from the middle register C3 to high C (C4) using the “short” High C fingering. The reed should slur up without hesitation or flatness in pitch on the short High C. This is the absolute minimum requirement for a high register reed. Play C3 with the register key held down. Lift the 2nd and 3rd fingers while increasing air speed. The note should pop up an octave.

Failure of this test is due to weakness in the arch of the blade (blade strength) and/or excessive length of the reed’s vibrating length (tip to first wire). Finding the balance of length/strength is the solution. This often requires rounding and tightening of the wires and shortening the blade length by clipping the tip. It may also require narrowing the reed shape at the tip.

You must blow faster air speed for the high notes to speak. See Tone Production. Avoid using excessive lower lip pressure if you are playing sharp on the high notes. A slight shift to upper blade pressure should begin with High G3.

The very best high note reeds will also slur to short High D4 and Eb4. These fingerings are found in the Quick Guide, Test 18.

Q: I’m always sharp on High G3, especially when I try to play High G softly. What can I do?

A: Some bassoonists find it necessary to reduce the size of the High G vent by inserting a small straw or tube into the vent operated by the ring key (2nd finger R.H.). While some find this helpful, the downside is when High Ab3 and A3 are fingered using the F key instead of the standard G key, the pitch of these notes is too flat and stuffy to stand alone without a modifier key such as the Bb or F# key. Some bassoons have an additional ring key on the first finger R.H. that opens an additional vent which allows the F key fingering to stand alone without the addition of extra keys. With this additional ring key, the tuning of the G vent can be modified.

Since most bassoons don’t have the extra vent, the tuning of the reed for High G is critical. It is a fussy note and without adequate tuning it will negatively affect all the notes above it. If you’ve ever played Bolero the repeated soft High G’s can be problematic in keeping the pitch down. In the case of G tuning, it is typical to go back and forth between the rail and channel tuning zones until the harmonic G is stable and in tune.

For many bassoonists, the embouchure is the issue approaching the upper register by biting upward on the lower blade. This approach tends to produce sharpness on G and every note above it. An embouchure shift is recommended to place pressure on the upper blade keeping the lower lip in the same position as much as possible for the middle register.

Q: Sometimes I’m flat on the notes above High G3. What am I doing wrong? 

A: The most important factors pertain to tone production changes. The three most important are increased air speed, change of vowel shape inside the mouth to a more closed “eek” and more upward/inward breath support. It is not necessary to bite to get the upper register to respond but the embouchure should be more firm and move in toward the wire. With a properly tuned reed, it is possible to play the whole range of the bassoon with the reed in the corner of the mouth.

A simple exercise is to sing the note you are about to play in a falsetto voice and immediately play the note on the bassoon maintaining the same vowel shape and muscle support (“eek”). See Tone Production.