The First Bassoon Lesson

The First Bassoon Lesson (30 minutes)–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
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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 As Richard Seidler points out in his definitive research, “The Bassoon Concertos of Antonio Vivaldi,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Catholic University, 1974, there are two incomplete bassoon concertos which remain unpublished], only a handful are regularly used by teachers.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!

Finding fingerings to solve technical problems

The most complete repository of bassoon fingerings is here:

https://www.idrs.org/resources/BSNFING/FINGHOME.htm

In particular, click on “Fingerings by note name (index).”

https://www.idrs.org/resources/BSNFING/fingnote.htm 

While it’s a little tricky to read, find the note you need from the list above the staff displaying the range that includes your note. Many fingerings suggested by a considerable variety of bassoonists, teachers, and professionals are given. Just try them out to find the fingering that works the best for you. Of course, I wouldn’t follow this procedure for every note, just those that are causing trouble (usually depends on context).

If you would like a good basic fingering chart, try this one:

https://www.foxproducts.com/sites/www.foxproducts.com/files/LetsPlayBassoon.pdf

The fingering chart starts on page 14.

Some very nice bassoon playing

Here is a very expressive performance of a bassoon quartet arrangement of the Prelude to Act I of La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi (arr. A. Burford):

And, a very nice performance of Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat major, Hob. I/105 with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring Leszek Wachnik, bassoon:

An early edition of the Haydn bassoon solo part is available on IMSLP (click on “Parts” link)

Bassoon Master Class–EMU AIM 2017

Welcome to bassoon master class materials for AIM 2017 at Eastern Michigan University

https://www.smartmusic.com/

SmartMusic is a great tool for practicing. We use it as a “tuned metronome” accompaniment for performing in the studio. For a reasonable annual subscription rate, students have access to a wide variety of technical exercises, method books, solos, and large ensemble repertoire designed to make individual practice a “whole music” experience.

Dave’s Reeds (good reeds for a fair price)

While most of the music we used in the master class is included in SmartMusic, here is some sheet music you might like to print and practice:

No longer in print, Let’s Play the Bassoon by Hugo Fox is a terrific little guide to the bassoon. The included fingering chart is particularly useful.

For a more complete fingering chart, take a look at the IDRS Bassoon Family Fingering Companion.

New reed–is it a fail?

Just made a very nice reed. Cane looks and feels spectacular, the sound tapers beautifully, the tone is . . . dead!?! How can it feel so right, but sound so wrong? Then, I looked inside the tube. AHA!

IMG_0405[38352]

Those pesky stray fibers can ruin the sound of a reed. They are easy to fix, but unless you remember to look for them, they can make the reed act incredibly weird. And, it’s really awful if I forget to look and start in with my knife and file. 😦 So, this time a little work with my needle file, and voilà! Now the reed sounds as good as it looks!