The Stay at Home Bassoonist
Clean Your Tone Holes
This is a MUST DO on a regular basis. Using wet Q-Tips, scrub the inside of the F, E, D, C and B tone holes until no gunk or discolorations appear on the Q-Tip.
- The F tone hole is small making it difficult to get the Q-Tip through. Pull out on the end of the cotton tip to make it smaller.
- Push each Q-Tip all the way through the tone hole into the bore and back out. Repeat with the other (wetted) end of the Q-Tip.
- Use at least one Q-Tip for each tone hole.
- When finished, it is important to swab (from the big to small end of the wing and boot) to clear the bore of the debris. If possible, finish with a blast of compressed air as well.
The Closed tone holes that need regular cleaning are the following: 1) Register key vents. High D key, B/C and A/B vent holes. These must be cleaned with a soft pipe cleaner. (Note some have metal in them and should be avoided). 2) C# tone hole on the wing joint. This is easy to unscrew with a tine screwdriver. Use Q-Tips here too and scrub thoroughly. 3) Remove the high E key and Eb/F# trill pads. These are more difficult to remove and tricky to replace, but are often so clogged that getting a high E to speak is hindered. These pads are often the first to leak as the pads deteriorate from long term contact with moisture trapped int he bore. 4) C# trill small pad on the boot. This one is easy to remove and is often clogged and wet for years on end. Although this key is rarely used, it can cause problems with a big sneaky leak and wetness can lead to dry rot.
Clean Your Bocal
First, make sure the inside of the bocal is wet. Immerse the bocal under water and let it sit. If you have a bocal brush, run it though several times from the large end out through the small end. Flush out with water each time. If you don’t have a bocal brush you can use pipe cleaners:
- Fold over the end of one of the pipe cleaners about 1 inch.
- On the opposite end, twist several pipe cleaners together.
- Be sure they are firmly attached to each other, twisted together several times and overlapped about 1 inch.
- Insert the folded over end into the small end of the bocal and carefully scrub back and forth as you insert the pipe cleaner further into the bocal.
- Flush the bocal with water.
- Repeat by inserting from the large end.
- Take great care that the pipe cleaners are twisted together and strong enough that they won’t come apart inside the bocal.
Cleaning the Bocal Vent
Insert brass reed wire into the hole in the bocal vent. You can also use bristles of a small cleaning brush or broom.
Does the Bocal Fit too Loosely in the Bassoon?
Solution 1: wrap dental floss around the cork on the bocal. Waxed dental floss is best; it will stick to itself and stay attached to the cork.
Solution 2: wrap thread around the cork on the bocal. Rub the edge of a candle onto the thread to help it stick together and lubricate the thread.
Solution 3: insert the cork end of the bocal into a glass of water. Remove from water and wave the cork over a lit candle or a hot burner on the stove. The heat will cause the cork to swell up. Repeat several times. Caution: cork is extremely flammable therefore only hold it in the flame for a short amount of time and rotate the cork in the flame and quickly back into the water. Don’t try this method on the bassoon’s wing or bass joint.
Is the Tip of your Bocal Flat on One Side or out of Round?
To make it round, insert the tip of a small screw driver or small nail into the tip. Carefully push the side of the screw driver or nail against the flattened side of the bocal tip. You can also use a reed forming mandrel or the dull end of a drill bit that is close to the right size. These operations should be done very slowly and carefully so that you don’t break open the soldered seam on the bocal.
Clean the Dust off Your Bassoon
Many problems with pad leaks are attributed to reed scraping debris, animal hair (don’t let them sleep in your case!), and dust. Use the soft cosmetic brush to keep the body of the instrument clean to prevent migration of debris onto pads. If that doesn’t remove the dust or gunk use dry or wetted Q-Tips to scrub around the area that is thick with gunk.
Clean your Pads
Use paper currency like old dollar bills on sticking pads. Place the bill between the pad and tone hole, press down firmly to close the pad, and pull out the bill. Older currency has oils in the paper from handling the bills over time. If possibly, try pulling the currency in different directions several times.
If you have pads that stick, sprinkle talcum powder on the currency or on a piece of paper and again pull the paper out from under the closed pad. If the pads are extremely dirty or sticky scrub with a wetted Q-Tip. Follow up with the dollar bill treatment.
Check your Bassoon for Leaks
Wing Joint Test: Plug the small end with your finger and with the other hand cover the tone holes. Your hand will be backwards on the tone holes. Blow forcefully into the large end to see if any air escapes. You may want to clean off the cork grease or gunk on the large end before doing this. The alternative method is to use suction and see if it holds suction. If either of these methods don’t hold air for a significant amount of time, it may be necessary to remove the keys with pads to clean them.
Vacuum your Bassoon Case
Have you ever found you cat sleeping in your open bassoon case? Or laid it down on the carpet to find it covered with dog hair? Pet hair can and will end up in your case and on your bassoon. A German Shepard hair laying across a pad can cause a big enough leak to ruin your day. Vacuuming a case is the LAST thing bassoonists think about, but as one who repairs other’s bassoons I find most cases are filthy with all kinds of floating objects. If you lay the bassoon in your lap while scraping reeds, the bassoon collects all the debris and can deposit it inside the case when you put the bassoon away. Vacuum the case!
If you are not a reed maker, maybe now is the time to learn! We are sure that the double reed and cane shops would appreciate your business.
Adjust your Reeds and Check Their Tuning
Purchase the Quick Guide for Bassoon Reed Tuning available on Amazon.
Make Sanding Tools
Here’s how; check it out!
Schedule a Re-pad Overhaul or Restoration Service for your Bassoon
If you play a Fox instrument you can make an appointment with the factory to have your bassoon serviced.
Practice Warm-up Exercises
When is the last time you practiced ALL of your scales including the chromatic scale? If you really want to stretch out, practice your two whole tone scales and three diminished scales.
Practice the Dreaded Double Tongue
Create Your Artistic Vibrato
Here’s an exercise to help develop an even vibrato: Vibrato Practice Method