The bassoon is a double-reed instrument, and like the oboe, it is descended from the 13thcentury shawm. Adaptations to the shawm were made in the 16thcentury to reduce the size of the instrument, transforming it into what was known as a dulcianor curtal. The early bassoon consisted of four sections: wing joint, boot, long joint and bell, and the main change made to it over the course of the 18thcentury was primarily the addition of new keys. The contrabassoon (or double bassoon) sounds and octave lower than the bassoon.

Facts and Features

1)    The bassoon is one of the largest members of the woodwind family and operates in the tenor and bass register. 

2)   Bassoons are commonly made out of maple or pear wood, however some bassoons are made from a hard rubber that is known as ebonite. 

3)   The bassoon has long, conical tubing that measures almost 8 feet (2.4 m). This U shape allows the bassoon to differ in sound from the oboe. 

4)   The bassoon can be extremely tricky to play because it is one of the few instruments that require all ten fingers to be used. 

5)    There are two models of bassoon: the more widely used German ‘Heckel’ and the French ‘Buffet’. The Heckel bassoon consists of 24-27 keys and 5 open finger holes whilst the Buffet bassoon has 22 keys and 6 open finger holes. 

Famous Players

Etienne Ozi (1754-1813) 
Archie Camden (1888 – 1979)
William Waterhouse (1931-2007)
Arthur Weisberg (1931-2009)
Judith LeClair (1958-)

Music to Listen to

Devienne - 3 quartets Op. 73 for bassoon and string trio, 1800
Mozart - Sonata B-flat major for bassoon and cello, K. 292
Osbourne – Rhapsody
Ravel – Boléro
Tchaikovsky - 4th, 5th, 6th symphonies

Find Out

1)    What are the key differences between a bassoon and a contrabassoon?
2)    What does the whisper key do on a bassoon?