What affects pitch and intonation on the bassoon?

Accurate bassoon intonation depends on:

  • instrument  in adequate if not good mechanical condition
  • bocal of appropriate  length and focused tone quality
  • reed in proper  adjustment
  • player with  excellent pitch sense and understanding of the tendencies of  the bassoon

The mechanical adjustments must be made by a qualified repairman, the instrument “voiced” to a relatively even scale. Leaky pads, or pads which open to the wrong height can be detrimental to your ability to play in tune.

The bassoonist would do best to combine a bocal and reed that feature a very centered (focused), perhaps dark, tone. A centered tone makes it easier for the other instrumentalists in the ensemble to hear, even feel, the pitch so that they may more easily find and match that pitch. Pitch ambiguity is often the result of a bright tone quality that features unusual strength in overtones and weakness in the fundamental, hence a quality that may imply to some listeners pitch other than the one desired. I used a Heckel “CC” bocal for many years, and still like it. Recently, though, I switched to the new R2 Fox bocals and believe they are even better! I think most Fox CVX vocals may be too bright for modern bassoons (Fox CVC bocals are better). The newer Fox “Double Star” bocals are excellent and can make any bassoon sound better. As always, though, try as many bocals as you can to find one that matches your instrument. What about length? Most bassoonists use a Heckel #1 or #2 (comparable with Fox #2 or #3). Your particular reed style and instrument will determine the length you need.

A reed that is adjusted to play especially well in the lowest octave is recommended since the bassoon is scored predominantly as the bass voice in the ensemble. (There are other ways to improve response in the upper register.) The bassoon player is cautioned, however, against allowing the free-blowing reed to be too low in pitch, since constant “lipping-up” of pitch eliminates any resonance benefit to the lowest octave. The reed that is strong in the lowest octave, in combination with the bocal that produces a compact sound–strong in the fundamental partial, will produce a resonant darkness in tone quality that is desirable in ensemble performance. I tell my students to aim for a reed which is 56-57 mm long. Then, if the “one finger E” drops too easily, there is still room to clip the reed without making it too short to play the octaves in tune.

The bassoon player must be aware of the pitch tendencies of each of the notes and registers of the bassoon. The reed must be flexible enough to allow embouchure adjustment of the pitch for the full range of the instrument, especially so that the player may accommodate certain sharping or flatting tendencies of the other instruments in the ensemble.



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