Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning by Mark G. Eubanks

Just received a copy of Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning (2017) by Mark G. Eubanks. It is everything I’d hoped it would be and more! Eubanks provides a supplement on the Arundo Research website that complements the book very nicely. Since it is sold through Amazon, I’m hopeful an e-book version will be available at some point.

I found my old favorites plus a number of new tests/remedies. I like the more detailed explanations given for the tests, and the additional wide ranging commentary on all things bassoon. I have regularly used Tests #2 (E to E-flat, left hand only), #10 (harmonic tuning for B & C at the top of the bass clef staff), and #15 (response of A/B-flat/B/C at the top of the bass clef staff–I even use breath attacks to gauge response of these). Right away, I find that the Test #4.1 (A-flat/B-flat trill) is really helpful and I look forward to working through the additional harmonic fingering tuning tests.

The Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning is printed in color on high quality paper. This book will hold up! Things are a little crowded, and the print is very small, but I got used to it. An e-book version would offset this limitation. At ca. $1.00 per page, this book is actually a bargain at the $14.95 price point. I highly recommend it!

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Reed making books

I don’t by any means expect to include every useful reed making resource in this post, but here a few that have attracted my attention, either again or for the first time:

Sakakeeny’s Making Reeds Start to Finish (2014). This multi-media iBook is a terrific presentation of reed making lore written by master teacher and professor of bassoon at the Eastman School of Music, George Sakakeeny. The only possible drawback is that this publication is only available as an eBook for iOS or the Mac.

Weait’s Bassoon Reed Making (2000). A step-by-step approach with clear photos/illustrations and explanations. This has always been my go-to book for new reed makers.

Craypo’s The Banana of Life (2017). Creative and extremely helpful guide to reed making according to the “Herzberg/Kamins” method. Reed making pedagogy for the 21st century!

I’ve always liked Bassoon Reed Making (4th edition, 2013) by Popkin & Glickman.

The Bassoon Reed Manual: Lou Skinner’s Techniques (2001) by McKay/Hinkle/Woodward is loaded with techniques, insights, and wisdom. Since it is fairly complex, it is probably not the first reed making book a student should own.

For me, no one book has it all. I think the individual bassoonist absorbs information/techniques/etc. and eventually makes reeds with a personalized approach. That’s why I’m always interested to learn about how others tackle each step. Maybe one of the most thoughtful and insightful perspectives on reeds and reed making is this “reality check” post by Barrick Stees: Choosing Reeds Beyond the Omnireed: Willard Elliot.

Along those lines, then, I’ve ordered my copy of the Eubanks’ Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning (2017) and look forward to seeing how the the venerable 1992 publication, Advanced Reed Design and Testing Procedure has been updated and improved.

Bassoon reed making resources on the web continue to increase in number and quality with international contributions. And, there is something for everyone. Find links in the Reed Making menu on the right-hand side of the screen →→→

Reed making book review: The Banana of Life by Rian Craypo

Kristin Wolfe Jensen has published The Herzberg/Kamins Reed Making Method on her website. This is a fascinating window into the reed world of Norman Herzberg, his students, and grand-students. Presented in a series of impressively produced tutorial videos, we learn the language, the methods, and the details of a reed making culture of one of the most successful and influential twentieth-century bassoon teachers and his students as primarily transmitted by one of Herzberg’s most significant students, Benjamin Kamins, formerly principal bassoonist of the Houston Symphony and currently professor of bassoon at Rice University.

Now, Rian Craypo (a student of Wolfe Jensen and Kamins) has published a condensed but very rich book, The Banana of Life: Peeling Away the Mysteries of Reed Making for the BassoonCraypo is principal bassoonist of the Houston Symphony–one of the leading symphony orchestras in the United States. She has ample professional experience to substantiate the approach outlined in The Banana of Life, but what makes the book so delightful is her personality as a teacher.

We get to know her first in ten tutorial videos featuring her explanations and demonstrations of reed making steps from tube cane to finished reed. Craypo is patient and clear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen better pedagogy in a reed making video!

Then, in her book, Craypo takes us to the next level. Her diagnostic procedures and system for fixing and/or improving reeds is presented as an interactive gamebook in a section entitled, “Choose Your Own Adventure” (CYORMA). The book is paced as she appears in the videos–patient, systematic, and clear. We aren’t inundated with words and data, rather we turn page after page finding answers. Almost mystically, she anticipates the questions the reader/reeder will have and leads us through the process efficiently and thoroughly. I learned what is highly valued in “the method,” and I look forward to implementing the concepts, procedures, and methods in my own reeds!

The Banana of Life is a compact little book, but the careful thought with which it was designed is camouflaged by its modest appearance. This is truly an important book! The Banana of Life is published by Diabolical Genius Press and printed/sold on demand by Lulu ($25).

Orchestral excerpts: web resources

Here are two comprehensive bassoon orchestral excerpts websites:

http://orchestraexcerpts.com/bassoon/

http://www.orchestralbassoon.com

Both websites provide the excerpts with recordings, but The Orchestral Bassoon by Brett Van Gansbeke is more comprehensive including scores, program notes and pedagogical commentary. We are looking forward to publication of the print version of the content of Van Gansbeke’s The Orchestral Bassoon website this year!

Before the web existed, bassoon students used print excerpts published in anthologies like Il fagotto in orchestra: anthology of important solos and passages for bassoon, extracted from the opera and symphony literature by Fernando Righini and Difficult passages and solos for bassoon by Ciro Stadio. The Righini and Stadio books conveniently include most of the leading excerpts, though Righini is out of print.

My teachers marked the tables of contents of my excerpt books to indicate which excerpts were the most important. Van Gansbeke lists twenty “Main Excerpts,” and particularly helpful are the University of Michigan bassoon studio lists of excerpts including “Top Ten Bassoon Excerpts” based on survey/analysis of audition lists.

Beyond the comprehensive Righini and Stadio books, there are smaller focused collections of excerpts by Strauss, Wagner, and 20th-century music.

Studying excerpts in context is very useful. The Orchestra Musician’s CD-ROM Library includes parts and scores for many important works and many full parts are readily available on the Petrucci Music Library (IMSLP) website.

The First Bassoon Lesson

I’ve used this format to “introduce” students to the bassoon, especially those students who are planning to switch from another instrument to bassoon.

  1. Instrument assembly.
  2. Posture, holding the instrument using a seat strap.
  3. Say “oh” and pull lips in over teeth. Corners in and chin back.
  4. Breath support. Fill up lungs (as if one were about to swim underwater), maintain a directed air flow.
  5. Teach fingerings for fundamental octave (F1—F2) in Lydian mode, then add B-flat and teach the F major scale.
  6. Evaluate aptitude as follows:

GOOD APTITUDE

  • full tone to start
  • adjusts pitch to match tone played on the piano
  • finds fingerings relatively quickly
  • only allows fingers to slip off tone holes a few times
  • self-correcting
  • plays F major scale 1 octave up and down without stopping —desire is strong

FAIR APTITUDE

  • full tone with some “wheezing” and “grunting”
  • plays flat
  • needs a few reminders for fingerings
  • needs help keeping fingers on tone holes
  • little self-correcting
  • plays F major scale with stumbles
  • desire is moderate

POOR APTITUDE

  • difficulty producing sound
  • learns left hand notes, but little else
  • awkward posture and hand position
  • may seem frustrated
  • desire is weak

The bassoon concertos of Antonio Vivaldi: Toward a pedagogical ordering

(This article first appeared in the Journal of the International Double Reed Society No. 15, 1987)

Of the some thirty-seven Vivaldi bassoon concertos available in modern edition [Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi published by Edizioni Ricordi, Milan. As Richard Seidler points out in his definitive research, “The Bassoon Concertos of Antonio Vivaldi,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Catholic University, 1974, there are two incomplete bassoon concertos which remain unpublished], only a handful are regularly used by teachers. Few are available in adequate performing editions [One such edition is the beautifully prepared two-volume set of ten concertos edited by Sol Schoenbach and published by G. Schirmer, New York] or on recordings. According to Wayne Wilkins’ Index of Bassoon Music (The Music Register: Magnolia, Arkansas, 1978, pp. 64-65), fewer than half of the concertos are published in performing editions. Of these, five concertos have been published more than once and five others appear only in Schoenbach’s Schirmer edition [Ten Bassoon Concertos in two volumes. G. Schirmer, New York]. While in some cases the neglected concertos rightfully may be ignored because of inferior quality, it may be that habit has kept many bassoonists from delving into the lesser-known works. More to the point, bassoonists and bassoon teachers may be hesitant to experiment with “new” Vivaldi concertos not having the time to really examine the pedagogical merits and difficulties of each piece.

There are numerous thematic catalogues of Vivaldi’s works (so many that one requires a concordance to keep track of the various numbering systems), but no teacher’s guide to the concertos – a help toward choosing a piece. The teacher may be reduced to offering students the tried and true sequence of concertos over and over, always beginning with the same “easier” introductory Vivaldi and progressing through one or two moderately difficult pieces until reaching the virtuosic pinnacle of one of the C major “tours de force!”

If one’s goal is to arrange the thirty-seven in a progressive pedagogical order, which technical criteria are to be examined? These might be divided into two categories: (1) those technical considerations which are unequivocal (such as fingering difficult intervals, rapid passages, complex rhythms, rapid tonguing, and the like) and (2) those musical considerations which may require a particular level of sophistication (such as the working out of slow movements, ornamentation, phrasing, etc.). Certainly, it is likely that a useful teacher’s guide to the Vivaldi concertos would be based substantially on unequivocal considerations and less so on abstract interpretive considerations (leaving interpretive considerations up to the individual instructor).

Since the concertos are mature Baroque in style, one presupposes certain useful practice methods in preparing to play them. Practicing major and minor scales and arpeggios would seem to be the most obvious preparatory endeavor. A distinctive and seemingly characteristic stylistic feature of Vivaldi’s scoring for the bassoon in these works is the use of the embellished bass line, often with either rapid scalar flights or patterns of fast arpeggiated notes. In fact, these arpeggios may be identified for their peculiarly Vivaldian flavor, especially since they often feature extremely wide interregister leaps of over an octave (see the example below).

Example of leaps in Vivaldi C major Concerto

Students typically have the most difficulty with Vivaldi’s characteristic broken arpeggiated figures, less with scales. In terms of finger dexterity and fingering technique, the wide interregister leaps and disjunct [disjunct is defined here as melodic intervals greater than a semi- or whole tone] patterns yield some of the most difficult passages in the concertos. On the average, the Vivaldi concertos are fairly evenly balanced between scalar or conjunct [conjunct is defined here as melodic intervals of a semi- or whole tone] material and disjunct material with a slight predilection for disjunct material (55.5%). The concerto with the least disjunct material was nearly 70% scalar or conjunct while the concerto with the most disjunct material was nearly 75% disjunct.

Measure by measure analysis of the concerto bassoon parts provided the raw material for a disjunct material percentage score which was used to prioritize the concertos in order of least to most disjunct material (see Table: Vivaldi Bassoon Concertos: A Pedagogical Ordering below). Passages having exceptionally wide leaps in fast notes were weighted as were passages featuring rapid scalar runs. The resulting order is progressive in terms of increasing difficulty based on the amount of disjunct material contained in each successive bassoon part. The list may meet pedagogical needs in that it provides the teacher with a technically concrete means of determining the relative difficulty level of each concerto. This information may assist the teacher in choosing a series of pieces that provides a consistently increasing challenge to the student rather than an uneven fluctuation between exceptionally difficult and moderately difficult.

Brainerd MN Music Department website and resource

We were really impressed with the Brainerd MN Music Department website. Take a look at a very busy and thriving school music program! Of special interest is the resources page, which includes links to Embouchure Boot Camp by the Brainerd High School Director of Bands, Christopher Fogderud. There are Embouchure Boot Camps for all the band instruments. The Bassoon Embouchure Boot Camp doesn’t appear to be just a transposed bass clef version of any of the other EBCs, either. Fogderud must know his instruments–the bassoon exercises are nicely bassoon-specific. The testimony of one of my experienced students is that the Bassoon EBC is terrific! Bravo!