There are several very good reasons why teachers would want to use the tuning guide method found in the Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning:
- You don’t have to play your student’s reed to see if it’s working properly. By having the student perform the tests you can make the adjustments on the student’s reed while the student observes the method. Be sure to wash your hands before and after to avoid transferring germs!
- You can tell as a student warms up using the chromatic scale exercise shown below where the problem notes are on the student’s reed and/or instrument.
- By tuning the reeds as you go you can focus on proper tone production and playing in tune with a big tone. It is often the case that students will appear with music store reeds that require an improper embouchure placement to play in tune with a resulting pinched off or flatulent sound. Corrections can be quickly made by tightening and rounding the wires, a quick clip of the tip, or ream.
- Tuning tests can also show problems with the instrument itself. These include mechanical adjustments, faulty pad height, pulled joints or bocal problems.
- If you begin by showing the student the adjustment and then as soon as possible have them make the adjustment from the test you ask them to perform they will become self-sufficient in reed tuning adjustments.
Warm up Exercise
Musicians need to have a set of warm up exercises rather than random blowing prior to rehearsal or performance. A logical approach is start at the bottom of the register and work your way up. I’ve heard many musicians start playing in the middle and upper registers before the instrument itself is up to temperature and the reed is vibrating properly. The result of this approach is a sharp, thin tone to get the notes to speak on a cold horn. This can carry over to a habit of tone production in the upper registers that is out of tune and inflexible in pitch and response.
Below is a link to the warm up exercise I personally use every time I get out my bassoon, and especially prior to performance. It is used by my students at the beginning of every lesson. It is especially helpful to assess any problems one might be having with the reed, bassoon, or tone production.
Beginning students may not be comfortable starting the warm up chromatically from low Bb. It can be valuable for beginning students to use an F major scale, adding one note at a time. When appropriate, begin on a chromatic scale starting on F, then when they reach a point where they can play the chromatic scale starting on Bb. The purpose of starting this exercise on low Bb is to get air into the full bore length of the bassoon to warm up the wood, to check tuning, and observe any mechanical or fingering problems. The starting points are also designed to check fingering problems that may cause the notes not to speak, break between notes and across register breaks.
After completing the Bb1 to Bb2 warmup, repeat the exercise using the chromatic-add-a-note process from F1 to F2. Repeat the process again with the following start points: C2 to C3, F2 to F3, and for advanced students Bb3 to Bb4, and Eb3 to Eb4. The goal of the exercise is to maintain a big, full tone as you go higher up in register. The warm up can also be modified to follow the same methodology (add a note and return) to an F major scale. I strongly recommend learning the chromatic scale as early as possible.
What can you as a teacher or performer learn from this warm up?
Problems students may exhibit:
- Trouble getting the low notes to speak or notes breaks in tone while slurring. Be sure to check the bassoon’s bridge key closure and/or left thumb key adjustments (see below).
- It is common to hear a change in tone quality and size when restarting on F1. Have the student play the Bb1 to Bb2 final measure with a big tone and immediately start on F1 matching the same big tone quality produced on Bb1 to Bb2.
- Difficulty slurring smoothly back and forth from C2 to C#2 (see below).
- Difficulty slurring across the break from open F to F# without a break in the tone or accent on F# (see below).
- Difficulty maintaining a full tone across the break and up the scale into the middle register. This will present itself for both C2 to C3 and especially F2 to F3. It is common for the tone to thin out and/or the pitch to go flat while trying to maintain a full tone. Check tone production elements.
Low Note Troubles
If the student is struggling to get the low notes to speak then check the following:
- Is the whisper key pad cracked or skin missing? Is the bridge key from the pancake (Low E) key to the whisper key pad closing the pad completely? Does the pancake key close completely to the bottom without any resistance? In both cases, the solution is to check the alignment mark (standard on most new bassoons like Fox, Renard, etc.) on the wing and boot joints. If the pad stays open, the wing joint should be rotated counter-clockwise with the mark moving to the left until the whisper key closes. If the pad is closed but the pancake key does not bottom out without extra thumb pressure, the wing joint should be rotated clockwise. In many cases student instruments have a bent bridge key or the bridge key needs tape to be added to it to cause the whisper key to close completely. Either of the problems mentioned will make it difficult for the lowest notes to speak.
- When the thumb is fingering Bb, it is possible that there are leaks are not closing the pads above or the thumb is not properly placed. For instance, when fingering low C the low D pad should close completely. When fingering low B and touching the low B key only, the B, C and D pads should close completely. See low register key adjustment techniques (coming soon!).
- Has the reed had sufficient time to soak up moisture before the warm up? Does it crow?
- Is the tip opening too small or still yawning from soaking? (Is it a new reed? Has it been broken in? Are the wires in the proper position?)
C# Thumb Key Problems
- Students will pick up the thumb rather than rock the thumb toward the C# key.
- Student will slide the thumb to the C# key rather than rock.
- Coordination of C# key and the simultaneous addition of the low D key. Try a slight rotation of the wrist to bring the thumb into position to touch the low D key. For some students (with small thumbs) this may require addition of cork or other material to raise the height of the D key.
- The C# key and whisper key have too large a gap between the keys to comfortably rock on to the C# key while still holding down the whisper key. In this case, the whisper key may need to be bent upward and/or the C# key bent downward to close the gap.
F to F# Problems Crossing the Break
- It is common for a reed that’s not properly tuned for F# harmonic fingering (F# tuning is quite sharp) to hesitate before it speaks when crossing the break. Check the F# harmonic and F tuning tests from the Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning.
- Finger coordination in producing a half hole with all other fingering closing simultaneously is common. The problem is made worse by a reed not properly tuned (see #1). Practical solutions: 1) without playing, close the fingers of the right hand first and then add the fingers of the left hand, 2) place the left hand with half hole first, then add the right hand.
- Avoid fingering accent. Don’t slap the fingers down crossing the break. Anticipate the F# fingering by moving the fingers ahead of time before the note is to speak. (Hesitation, moving the fingers at the last possible moment, will create an accented note or if the finger coordination is off the slur will break.)
Problems Getting into and Up the Scale in Middle Register
- Insufficient air pressure increase going up the scale (flatness).
- Embouchure too firm (sharpness).
- Notes don’t want to stay up in the register (pop down, croak/split tone).
- Reed tuning problems related to incomplete harmonic test reed adjustments.
- Clogged whisper key vent.
- Dip behind the tip: unbalanced tip tapers and reed adjustment problems.
- Insufficient blade arch. Reed tube too oval/flat in shape. Adjust to round the 2nd wire.
- Throat and/or vowel too open.
Below is a link to an exercise that I use in teaching tone production especially crossing the break upward into the middle register.