musings of a professional bassoonist

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas and bassoon swabs

If you're like many bassoonists, you may not give much thought to your swabs.....especially the care and maintenance of those swabs.  Perhaps they deserve notice, since swab malfunction can wreak havoc.

First, the bocal swab......recently the tail broke off of my bocal swab, so I will never again pass that swab through a bocal.  Why?  Well, as some of you know from firsthand experience, swabs can become stuck inside of whatever they're supposed to be cleaning/drying.  Can you imagine trying to extract a stuck swab from a delicate and expensive bocal?  Perish the thought.

This is a bocal swab with its tail ripped off (see top of photo).  Now it's the same as a swab with no tail, which is NOT recommended!
I keep the above swab only to use as an example of a swab which should never pass through a bocal.  Some swabs are actually manufactured and sold without a tail, but I do not recommend using a tailless swab.  (A swab with a tail is easily identified by the fact that it has string attached to each end.)  The reason the tail is important is because if the swab gets stuck (and nearly every bassoonist has a stuck swab story) it may be possible to use the tail to remove the swab without damaging the bassoon.  The tail at least offers hope that the swab can be pulled back out from the point of entry (in the opposite of the intended direction).

This is a proper, intact bocal swab:

an intact bocal swab with tail
Bocal swabs are easy to take care of.  I wash mine out after each use. (I run the bocal swab through my bocal once a month.  Unlike the boot and tenor swabs, the bocal swab doesn't have to be used on a daily basis.)  Since it's so small, I just scrub it with nontoxic glycerine soap and water, rinse it thoroughly, and hang it up to dry.  Washing only takes a couple of minutes, and the silk swab dries quickly.

The same swab style - silk pull-through with a tail - is ideal for the boot and tenor joints.  Washing these swabs is not as simple a matter, though, because they take longer to air dry (they're too fragile for the dryer) so you must plan the washing according to your playing schedule.  So I had to wash them today, Christmas Day, because this is my first day off from playing the bassoon in a long time.

I washed both the boot and tenor swabs today and hung them outdoors to dry (because the fresh air makes them smell good).  I just hope they'll be dry before tomorrow's Nutcracker performances.  (They will be - silk dries quickly.  On a breezy day like today, they'll be dry in a couple of hours.)

My boot swab hung out to dry
Some bassoonists don't wash their swabs, but if they did, they'd realize that while the swabs may look fine, the water used for washing tells the real story.  They're not clean.  Not at all!

Another very important part of swab maintenance is cutting off any frayed ends of tails.  Ragged tail ends may cause the swab to easily become entangled, and as many bassoonists have learned the hard way, it's absolutely mandatory to be sure that there are no knots in the swab before it is inserted into the joint or bocal.  Also, it can take a long time to disentangle a swab, and if you're in a hurry you may be tempted to go ahead and use a tangled swab.  (Don't!!)
Cutting the ragged end off is highly advisable!
Merry Christmas, and may the new year bring great reeds and gigs to all!





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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am a student bassoonist (non-music major) freshman in college. I really love playing and your Blog is great!

I have a question about your most recent post--I don't know how to double-tongue. How do I begin to learn how to do it? My instructors have never brought it up and I'm a bit apprehensive about starting it. Any suggestions/help would be greatly appreciated. :D

B.S. said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your question. After reading it, I've decided to write a post about how to begin learning to double tongue. But for now, I'll offer you a tip to get you started: First learn to say "Tuh-Kuh-Tuh-Kuh-etc." over and over. I had to be able to say it before I could do it on the bassoon. Then, do it slowly on the bassoon. It will sound bad at first....it will sound bad for a long time. Just be patient and when you are comfortable with the above, start practicing "Kuh-Tuh-Kuh-Tuh-etc." so that it becomes as strong as the Tuh-Kuh. And stay tuned for more!

Best wishes,
Betsy

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you! :)

In the meantime, I'm going to be working on using the "Tuh-Kuh-Tuh-Kuh-. . ." tongue motion/technique and look forward to getting better at this the more I work on it.

(and I'm going back and reading all your previous blog posts--I just found your site during Christmas break and it is awesome!)

Thanks again.

B.S. said...

Anonymous, I just posted my routine for learning to double tongue. Thank you for your question which led to the post, and please feel free to ask more questions about tonguing or any other topic!