Bassoon Blog

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Making bassoon reeds with GSP cane

 Bassoon Reedmaking

1. Soak GSP cane in water for a few hours or overnight.

2. Fold cane in half using a knife as a guide (fold the cane over the knife blade, but don’t actually use the knife to cut the cane).

3. Use pruners to cut the ends of the cane off if necessary. The bark should be 1 and 1/18” long. (The top wire is applied at 1 inch, and there is a 1/8 inch “collar” of bark above the top wire.)

4. Score the bark with lengthwise knife marks, barely breaking through the bark, which will enable the tube to be round.

5. Fold the reed in half and apply the top wire at 1 inch from the bottom.

6. Wrap string around the reed below the wire and moisten the reed with water.

7. Use parallel pliers to nudge the bottom of the reed open so that the forming mark may be inserted.

8. Insert the forming mandrel, being careful NOT to TWIST!  Insert it straight in, slowly. If it won’t go all the way to the line on the mandrel, loosen or remove some of the string. Never twist the reed or mandrel.

9. Remove some of the string at the bottom of the reed and apply a wire to the bottom of the tube, with the wire twisting on the opposite side of the reed from the top wire.  This bottom wire should go around 3 times instead of the normal 2 times so that it’s extra strong.

10. Allow the reed (called a “blank” at this stage) to dry, ideally for at least 2 weeks. ————————————————————————————————————————————————

11. Remove string and wires.

12. Straighten out the piece of cane and bevel each end by rubbing the bottom third of the bark on a sanding block.


13. Fold the cane and wrap dry string around the bottom third. Apply the middle wire at 5/16” below the marks where the top wire was. 

14. Apply the bottom wire at 3/16” from the bottom, making sure the wire twists on the opposite side from the middle wire.

15. Apply the top wire at 1” from the bottom. It should twist on the same side as the bottom wire.

16. Apply a small amount of Duco cement to the edges of the bark below the middle wire.

17. Cut off the twisted part of the bottom wire.

18. Wrap the reed with thread between the bottom and the middle wire, forming a “Turk’s head” around the bottom wire and then folding the middle wire form over the string just under the middle wire. 

19. Apply Duco cement to the string wrapping and dry overnight.                                       ————————————————————————————————————————————————

20. While dry, ream the inside of the tube.  Ream until you reach the stopping mark on the reamer, since there should be no guesswork involved.

21. After reaming, smooth the inside of the tube with a rat tail file or rolled sandpaper.

22. Measure from the bottom of the reed to the top (2 1/8 from bottom wire or 1 1/18 from top wire) 

23. Soak the reed in water for a few minutes.

24. Cut the tip off the reed off at 1 1/8” from the top wire. Measure carefully, being cautious not to cut too much off.

25. Use the top profiler. Start with the side with wire twist on top. Continue using top profiles until no more cane is removed, then turn the reed over and tip profile the other side. Make sure the cane is kept wet so it won’t crack!

26. Cut the corners of the sides of the tip with a knife and cutting block.

27. Hand finish the blades as needed, being mindful of maintaining the heart in the center of the blade.  It’s possible that your reed might not need any hand finishing, so be sure to play on the reed before hand finishing.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Guidance for High School Orchestral Bassoon (and Woodwind) Playing

In major metropolitan areas throughout the world, high school woodwind players are afforded the opportunity to perform in local youth orchestras, some of which are affiliated with professional orchestras. For students in the Columbus, Ohio area, the Columbus Symphony Youth Orchestra (CSYO) is a fine example of an organization which provides high level orchestral experience for high school aged musicians. Based upon my experiences with the students of the CSYO, I've assembled a few pointers for young orchestral wind players.

One of the first basics an orchestral player must learn is how to follow the conductor and how to allow the conductor to provide the pulse of the music. Each musician in the orchestra relies on their individual sense of pulse, which is ideally locked into the pulse provided by the conductor.  If you are not watching the conductor, then you may not know what their pulse is. (While focusing your eyes on your sheet music, you can still watch the conductor peripherally, but it doesn't happen automatically. While peripheral vision is always available, it doesn't do any good unless you notice it, or use it.)  If you feel out of touch with your internal pulse, just practice more with a metronome so that when you turn off the metronome, you can still hear it in your mind. That's your internal pulse. Focusing on the conductor (and aligning your pulse with theirs) is particularly important for wind players, for unlike the string players, we are not members of large sections of musicians all playing the same parts.

 Equally important is the goal of listening carefully to your orchestral colleagues, in your section and in other sections. Similarly to peripheral vision, your ability to hear others is always available, but it won't do any good unless you actively choose to hear the playing of others. Unless you consciously listen to others, you will only hear your own playing, ignoring how it fits in with the playing of the other musicians. When you listen carefully to your colleagues, you'll be able to figure out how to fit in stylistically, rhythmically, dynamically and pitch-wise. That's how you become a good ensemble player.

Timing is everything in music. It doesn't matter how well you play a passage if you're not playing it at precisely the correct time! Use your eyes to follow your conductor, and use your ears to fit in with your colleagues.

Pay attention to the conductor's words also! To this day I remember (and abide by) words of wisdom spoken by my youth orchestra conductor from high school. For example, once when a trumpet player was struggling with a technical passage, our conductor advised us to always practice with a handicap - if the passage is going to be performed at a tempo of 120,  then it should be practiced at tempos up to 125. Conductors are teachers as well as musical leaders, and if you aren't paying attention, you might miss some valuable information about music in general or about the piece being rehearsed. Also, it goes without saying that if you're tuned in to your conductor, then you'll always know where in the music you'll be starting, and you'll be ready to play on time. Remember: timing is everything!

The importance of CONFIDENCE

In any orchestra of any level, the woodwind players are soloists.  Since each wind position is a solo position, it makes sense to encourage wind players to play with great confidence. 

As a bassoon student of K. David Van Hoesen, I was taught that if I wanted to succeed as a musician, it would be necessary to play with absolute conviction. That means playing with great strength and authority, as though you totally know what you're doing, as though you know beyond doubt what the music is supposed to sound like, and you know how to deliver it. It means playing out, with a full sound, which is particularly important for a bassoonist because the bassoon has the most limited dynamic range of the orchestral instruments. It means playing with confidence.

The best way I know of to gain confidence is to prepare thoroughly to the best of your ability. That means listening to recordings of the music you're playing, and writing helpful notes in your part. For example, if you hear on the recording that you have an exposed passage in octaves with the 2nd oboe, write that in your part.  If you hear that one of your passages is not played by any other instrument, write "solo" in your part to avoid being caught by surprise.

It also means spending adequate time practicing your parts. Learn the notes, of course, using effective practice techniques such as slow practice, and use the metronome and tuner! Those devices teach you how to play with good intonation, accurate rhythm and a steady pulse. That will boost your confidence!  One of my own consistent practice techniques is to practice passages with a tuning drone to check intonation, which is especially effective for bassoon players considering our pitch instability. Woodwind players often augment their practicing by playing along with recordings of the orchestral works they're preparing. (Even professionals do that sometimes!)

What do wind players do while the conductor is rehearsing another section of the orchestra? Oftentimes it's wise to listen to what the conductor says to other sections because it can inform your own playing. Also, it may be a good use of your time to finger through your own part (moving your fingers as though playing the part, but without blowing into your instrument) while another section is being rehearsed (either silently "playing" along with the passage being rehearsed, or silently "playing" a different passage you're concerned about). Definitely do not check your phone or daydream, since you never know when your section will be called upon and it's best to be ready to jump in.

If you do those things (listen to recordings, mark your music, practice your parts assiduously with metronome and tuner, watch and listen during rehearsals) then there is no reason for you NOT to play with confidence! Preparation enables you to do your best, which naturally inspires confidence. 

Confidence, of course, is a mindset, which may be applied even when you do not feel that you've had quite enough time to prepare. Even in the professional orchestral world, confidence is not always felt by the player, but can be displayed anyway! If you're not feeling confident, then fake it, since confident playing is guaranteed to bring a better result than shy, timid playing!  It makes much sense to develop the habit of playing with confidence at all times, in any situation (including sight reading) while reinforcing and justifying your confident mindset with careful, contentions preparation and mindful attentiveness during rehearsals and concerts.

The earlier you take on the aura of confidence, the better!  It will serve you well throughout your life.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Shostakovich 10 & Britten Violin Concerto

This past week the Columbus Symphony with Music Director Rossen Milanov performed Shostakovich 10 and the Britten Violin Concerto featuring our Concertmaster Joanna Frankel.  For this demanding concert I found that in order to do justice to each solo and exposed passage, I had to use no less than 4 different reeds.  Furthermore, some of those reeds were used more than once during each concert.  That's a lot of reed juggling, and it goes against my usual policy of playing the entire concert on one reed to avoid the distraction of fussing with equipment.

Why did I decide to put myself through the hassle of keeping track of 4 alternating reeds?  This past week I couldn't ignore the vast differences in sound and character among my various reeds.  The program featured the bassoon over and over in a wide variety of exposed passages and I decided that in order to really sound my best on each of those passages, reed changes would be necessary.  Certainly I could have used one reed for everything, but the result would have been a compromise to say the least.

The last time I played Shostakovich 10 I wrote about it on this blog.  Apparently I didn't fuss quite as much with reeds back then.  We musicians are constantly raising our standards and expecting more of ourselves, so it makes sense that I'm more particular about reeds than I used to be.

Does that mean I'm recommending using multiple reeds for a concert?  Not necessarily - it depends upon how much of a difference it seems to make, and whether or not your concentration is reliable enough to successfully execute the reed changes.  During Friday night's concert, my concentration proved to be fallible.  I missed an exposed entrance in the Britten Violin Concerto due to nearly forgetting a reed switch (and executing it later than planned) thereby demonstrating why I normally prefer not to switch reeds.  As one might imagine, I had carefully marked all the reed changes in my parts (using numbers to identify the different reeds) but sometimes it's possible to accidentally overlook even the most clearly marked instructions. 

In many professional orchestras there is an assistant, associate or co-principal bassoon.  That person would most likely play the Britten Violin Concerto on a program such as this one.  In Columbus the principal woodwinds play everything - there are no assistants.  Playing the Shostakovich is daunting enough, but it turns out that the Britten is no stroll through the park either!  There is a solo near the end of the Britten  which, under different circumstances, would give pause:

Considering that Shostakovich 10 was on the same program, this solo was relegated to the category of “just figure out how to ensure that the high Db comes out, and don’t give it another thought”.  That meant searching for a reed that favored the high range.  And for me, it also meant planning to de-activate the low C, B and Bb keys by inserting an earplugs underneath the keys.  That's because my left thumb unintentionally depresses the low note keys whenever I use the high D key.  (Bassoonists with larger hands never have to worry about this.)

yellow squishy earplug lodged under low C key (to de-activate the low note keys)

The first movement of the Britten features an unusual repetitive solo:
This solo doesn’t require a special reed necessarily, but I noticed that the sound of this solo varied considerably from reed to reed.  I don’t know if my particular bassoon is more reed-affected than most bassoons, but this past week, the sound and character differences resulting from reed choices were impossible to overlook.  Furthermore, I kept changing my mind about the reed choices!  By the final concert, I had finally settled on the reed I truly liked best for this solo - a reed that I thought had a full and slightly darkish sound even on short staccatos, and it was flexible dynamically.

That same reed handled exposed eighth note passages in movement II with adequate strength and projection:
This is conducted in one beat per measure, so the 8th notes are fairly fast.  Also, this is a passage that benefits from paying close attention to the conductor.

Identifying the best reeds for Shostakovich 10 was much more involved.  The day before the first rehearsal (which took place two days before the first performance) I lined up all of my best reeds for a "reed audition".  I went through several rounds of recording the two main Shostakovich solos on each reed.  I ended up with 6 reed “finalists”.  These are the two Shostakovich 10 solos I used for the "reed audition": 

Movement 1 solo

Movement IV solo

At first I wasn't sure if I'd use the same reed for both of these solos; both require a reed that is unusually strong in the high tenor range.  Also I was looking for a reed that made it possible to match tone quality from note to note in that range.  A certain type of sound, round and projecting, was included in the search.  I ended up using the same reed for both solos.  That reed was difficult to control in some situations and did not sound good in the low range, so I didn't use that reed at all except on those two solos.

An exposed passage near the end of the first movement also required a certain type of reed - one that favors the low range but can be played softly: 

Exposed passage in octaves with contrabassoon near the end of movement I

A reed favoring the low range is definitely needed later in this symphony, but the one I planned to use later was too loud for this passage. So I used two different low reeds in this symphony, which is definitely not my usual modus operandi.

The second movement features a rather raucous outburst which must cut through the orchestra.  This is the type of passage more commonly relegated to the trombones or tuba., so it calls for an unusual reed, one that favors the low range, has a big sound, and plays in tune in the low range:

from movement II

The bassoon solo in the third movement would normally be a fairly big deal for an instrument which is so often neglected by composers!  In this particular symphony, however, it is quite overshadowed by more dramatic solos.  Still, I struggled with finding the right reed for this:

Third movement solo

I tried many different reeds for this, but it never sounded quite right. Our concert hall is extremely dry and I thought this solo needed some resonance to sound decent.  Finally, by the last concert I found a reed that I was more satisfied with.  It was the same reed that I used for the loud low solos.  Originally I didn’t think this solo needed a low reed, but eventually my nonstop experimentation revealed that a low reed was helpful in creating the illusion of resonance.

After the major solo in the 4th movement the bassoon begins a series of low exposed passages:

from the 4th movement 

This is in unison with the low strings. If you try to hear the strings (who are likely to be located quite a distance away from you) and play with what you hear, you’ll likely end up lagging behind. Instead, it’s  advisable to follow the conductor.  We often hear conductors telling the strings to listen back to the winds. This is one of those situations when we truly hope that happens.  

The final bassoon solo of Shostakovich 10 probably inspires a reed change for even the most laid back of bassoonists.  It’s not that it can’t be played on a “normal” reed, but a reed specializing in the low range may ensure that each note responds on time, with a big sound, and perhaps most importantly, in tune.  This jaunty solo presents a carefree reversal of Shostakovich’s depiction of Stalin with despair, terror and rage which had characterized the symphony until this point.

Final bassoon solo of Shostakovich 10
Very few composers throughout the history of western music have kept the bassoon player as busy as Shostakovich does.  I’ve often wondered what type of bassoon sound Shostakovich had in his head. It may have been the then-prevalent French bassoon, with its narrow bore, nasal sound and ease of high and lyrical playing.  (The first recording of Shostakovich 9 was made in 1946 with Koussevitsky conducting the BSO, with Raymond Allard - uncle of Maurice Allard - on French bassoon.)  Regardless of what type of bassoon playing Shostakovich was familiar with, it's our ongoing challenge to honor Shostakovich’s devotion to our instrument as best we can, even if it means changing reeds a few times.


Sunday, April 24, 2022

Orchestral bassoon adventures: Bach St. John Passion

Columbus Symphony Bach St. John Passion with overhead English subtitles
Being an orchestral player is an ongoing adventure.  Even when you think you know what you're in for, there are so many variables - orchestra size and personnel, stage setup, conductors, soloists, tempos, number and timing of rehearsals, interpretations of the score, interpretations of the style, and for bassoonists, the functionality and quality of the reeds.

This past week, for the first time in 56 years, the Columbus Symphony performed the monumental  Bach St. John Passion.  I thought I knew what to expect.  I've listened to plenty of recordings of the piece, and I've played Baroque music before (although not nearly enough!) and I was definitely looking forward to the experience.  In this highly emotional masterpiece Bach tells the story of Jesus' betrayal, denial, arrest, trial, beating and crucifixion.  Emotion flows from start to finish, covering the entire spectrum from raw rage to the comfort of the lullaby "Es ist Vollbracht" in which Bach uses the hushed-voiced viola da gamba to symbolize comfort for the mourners.

Several weeks before our first rehearsal our music director Rossen Milanov sent detailed instructions for the continuo players (harpsichord/organ, cello, string bass, viola da gamba and bassoon).  The work is rather lengthy, so it was helpful to know in advance which arias and choruses I'd be playing.  The instructions included a link to a reference recording for stylistic guidance. 

The stylistic guidance helped with preparation.  It seems that there are varying opinions on the rules of Baroque performance practice.  We bassoonists enjoy the challenge of attempting to play the Bach cello suites, but for many of us, our experience in performing Baroque music, especially in an orchestral setting, is quite limited compared to the other periods of music history.  (This is unfortunate, because the library of Baroque music is so vast and rich.)

Our reference recording featured period instruments.  The Baroque bassoon, of course, sounds very different from the modern German bassoon.  The Baroque bassoon has a much lighter and more discreet sound, never overpowering any other instrument or voice.  It sounds more like a French basson than a German bassoon.  (Click here for a comparison of German and French bassoons.)  I tried to find a reed that I thought sounded more like a Baroque bassoon than usual.  That was not easy.

On top of that challenge, I was positioned in a new spot on stage, in front of the soloists, not far from the conductor's podium.  I was so close to the front of the stage that I could actually see audience members clearly, which is not normal for me.  The cello, organ, harpsichord and string bass were positioned far across the stage from the bassoon, and the size of the orchestra was very small.  As a result, at times I felt way too loud (and wished I had a Baroque bassoon!).

(squeezing the reed, trying not to be loud)

The experience of being present in the midst of a live performance of such a great work of musical art was absolutely indescribable, far surpassing my expectations.  Listening to recordings of this work is one thing, but hearing it performed live is a whole new experience. I felt as though I'd been transported to another world, an ancient world of emotional outpouring which culminates in immense ethereal beauty.  There were a couple of times when I nearly missed my entrances due to being caught up in the moment.  The vocal soloists Nicholas Phan, tenor; Dashon Burton, bass-baritone; Hannah De Priest, soprano; Paul Max Tipton, bass-baritone; Thomas Cooley, tenor; and Benjamin P. Wenzelberg, countertenor sounded magnificent, each singing with a total commitment to bringing the text to life.  The Columbus Symphony Chorus, prepared with great care and expertise by its director Ronald J. Jenkins, met the considerable choral challenges aptly.

Our viola da gamba player Rebecca Reed played as though transported from Bach's time--I am quite sure that she played the viola da gamba solos exactly the way Bach would have wanted them, with delicate perfection, finesse and grace.  I don't think I was alone in being transfixed (and comforted, as Bach intended) by her heavenly playing. 

Any orchestral program has the potential to affect its audiences, but the music of J.S. Bach is uniquely empowered to reach its listeners with great impact.  Bach is considered by many to be the greatest composer of all time.  Take it from Claude Debussy, who described Bach as "a benevolent god to which all musicians shall offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity".  Or in the words of Albert Einstein: "This is what I have to say about Bach - listen, play, love, revere - and keep your trap shut."  Indeed, Bach's music has been analyzed, studied, dissected and described since it was written, but the bottom line is that its effect on the listener is beyond words.

The audience members left the concert hall transformed, as many expressed profusely to orchestra members on the way out.  At the conclusion of the Saturday night concert, people were not just applauding - they were cheering.  I don't know how many tickets were sold, but I do know that those who bought tickets received therapy they didn't even know they needed.  I know that their souls were stirred, soothed, inspired and transported to that other world - the world in which mundane concerns are laid aside, and life's true meaning emerges.  


Friday, April 8, 2022

Playing the bassoon in an orchestra

If you are a student or amateur musician who is playing in an orchestra and no one has advised you on the unofficial "rules" of orchestral playing, then this post is for you.  I had the opportunity to hear an amateur orchestra rehearse recently and it struck me that the bassoonists and other woodwind players could have used a few pointers to enhance their orchestral playing experience.

During the rehearsal I heard the conductor (who was apparently inexperienced) instruct the wind players to go with what they heard from the piano soloist instead of watching his baton.  That piece of advice contradicts my experience in the halls I've played in.  In fact, if the winds go with what they hear from a soloist in front of the orchestra, those wind players will end up lagging behind due to the distance between the soloist in the front of the stage and the position of the wind section.  Light travels faster than sound, so the visual guides (such as watching the conductor's baton or the movement of the string bows) are actually FAR more reliable than the aural guides, in situations where the winds or bassoons are on their own, trying to play with a soloist.  However, when the entire orchestra is playing OR if players beside or in back of the musician are playing---then the sound IS reliable.  For example, a bassoonist can listen reliably to brass or percussion player situated behind the bassoons or clarinet players beside the bassoons.  But it is not helpful to use the sound of a musician (or a section, like the first violins) located in front of you at a great distance, because your ears are hearing a delayed sound.  You'll be lagging behind!

This was probably the most difficult orchestral lesson I had to learn when I began playing principal bassoon in the Columbus Symphony.  While I was a student at Eastman I was fortunate to have the experience of playing second bassoon in the Rochester Philharmonic.  That was much easier because I was following the principal bassoonist, and the delay described above was his problem, not mine.  I wasn't even aware of the issue!  But once I began playing principal in Columbus I was constantly being told that I was behind until one day I asked for advice from a percussionist.  He told me to go with the conductor's baton.  Since then, I've been fairly conscientious about playing right on top of the conductor's beat, and the problem has been greatly alleviated.

If you want your ensemble playing to be as precise as possible, then have your eye on the baton either directly or peripherally whenever you are playing an exposed passage.  Again, if the entire orchestra is blasting away, that's when you can just relax and trust your ears.  The rest of the time, keep your eye on the baton either directly or peripherally.

Pay attention to your rhythmic accuracy.  Subdivide.  Watch out for coming off of ties (many musicians hold the tie too long due to failure to subdivide).  Don't play dotted eighth and sixteenth figures like triplets (again, subdivide).  Be aware of the very human tendency to rush.  (Practicing with a metronome really does help with that!)

Listen closely at all times to the other players so that you're able to match the style, volume, note lengths and articulations.  Good orchestral players are good listeners, as though they're playing chamber music.

Whenever you have a passage which has already been played by another musician before you, it's your job to match whatever that other musician did (even if it was distasteful).  I learned that from conductor David Effron at Eastman and that concept has been confirmed by many conductors since then.

These days many musicians practice with tuners.  Your orchestral playing will be enhanced by this, especially if you practice with a sound drone instead of a meter to develop a solid habit of listening for intonation.  For bassoonists especially, it's wise to check in occasionally with the visual tuner (instead of the tuning drone) just to be sure.

When playing a chord in a wind section, do not use vibrato. (Tuning is challenging enough without introducing vibrato into the mix!)  Chords in a wind section are best  tuned from the bottom up, which usually means that the wind section uses the second bassoon pitch as its reference . When playing passages with oboes or flutes (especially flutes), use vibrato as they do.  No vibrato is used when clarinets and bassoons are playing exposed passages together, since clarinets do not use vibrato.  The same is true for playing with horns.  Generally, vibrato enhances projection and is often used liberally for bassoon solos.  But in any passage where your goal is to be discreet or innocuous, it's probably best to leave out the vibrato.

The bassoon is the chameleon of the orchestra, having the ability to blend with any other instrument quite well, using our various tools of vibrato or lack thereof, dynamics and articulation.  It is also the quietest instrument.  When a bassoonist has a unison solo with another instrument (such as the horn), I have found that it's best to defer to the other instrument rather than attempt to assert my own sound.  That results in a better blend.  That also helps with matching the intonation, because if you're playing too loudly, it becomes much more difficult to hear the pitch of the other player(s).

Learn the music before the first rehearsal so that you know where your entrances are and where you'll be exposed.  That includes listening to recordings and studying scores so that you'll know how your part fits into the orchestral texture.  Don't be afraid to mark you parts with helpful information.  The first time you make a mistake, such as playing a wrong accidental, should be the last.  Mark it with a pencil to ensure that it won't happen again.  Learn to anticipate where you might be likely to play a wrong note, and mark it in advance.

Finally, there are a couple of etiquette rules.  Be very, very careful when walking near instruments on stage.  I usually go out of my way to avoid walking anywhere near an unattended instrument (whether it's in an instrument stand or laying on a chair).  Also, try to resist the urge to turn to look at other players while they're playing (or after they finish).  When considering approaching other wind players about ensemble or intonation issues, be aware of the benefit of choosing one's words very carefully!  Whenever a musician seated near you (especially beside you) is playing a solo or exposed passage which does not include you, it’s your job to FREEZE!  The last thing you want to do is distract another musician when they’re in the hot seat.  (With any luck, your woodwind neighbors in the orchestra will return the favor when it’s your turn to solo.) 

Once you've prepared as thoroughly as you possibly can, you've earned the right to just show up and enjoy the experience!   Listen to the music as it unfolds and play your part with total commitment.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

tools needed for bassoon reedmaking (using GSP cane)

These days many bassoonists forgo the burden of purchasing and maintaining a gouger, a profiler and a shaper, especially since there are several reliable sources of processed cane.  Although I profile and shape my own cane, I prefer to teach students to make reeds using cane which is already gouged, shaped and profiled (also known as GSP cane).  To make reeds using GSP cane, the following tools and supplies are required (according to my specific method of forming and finishing blanks):

GSP cane (Barton Cane is a popular source)
forming mandrel (the mandrel used for forming the tube)
holding mandrel (the mandrel used for holding the reed for wrapping or finishing)
double hollow ground knife
flat file 
rat tale file
#22 brass wire
#3 cotton crochet thread
Duco cement (or beeswax if you prefer a nontoxic alternative)
scoring tool or hacksaw blade
cutting block
broom handle
sanding block (can be made by gluing sandpaper onto a wooden block)
parallel pliers
pruners (the cheap kind, such as from the dollar section at Target)
tip cutter (the tip may be cut using a cutting block and a knife, but the results are often disappointing)
long brass forming mandrel tips from Christlieb Products.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Rhythmic fingering on bassoon--a K. David Van Hoesen concept

Rhythmic (or rhythmical) fingering is a concept I rarely hear about these days, yet during my student years at the Eastman School of Music I heard about it plenty from my teacher, K. David Van Hoesen.  He believed that rhythmic fingering was an important (yet often ignored) aspect of bassoon playing.  When he first brought it up in one of my lessons, he admitted that it could be very difficult to teach.  Then he mentioned that one of his students who was particularly sharp (not in pitch, but in brainpower!) had picked up on it instantly.  I wanted to be like that student, so I've been applying the rhythmic fingering concept since that very day.

Imagine playing a series of notes all slurred.  Your fingers move from the note you're on to the next note at the precise moment of changing notes.  Next, remove the slur and play each note staccato.  Unless you've been trained to use rhythmic fingering, you will likely notice that your fingers move early, in anticipation of the next note rather then waiting until the precise moment of changing notes.  Of course if you use rhythmic fingering, then your fingers will move exactly the same way they moved when you were slurring.

Why does this matter?

As K.David Van Hoesen used to say, many difficult passages can be smoothed out with a rhythmic approach to fingering.  It certainly reinforces rhythm when tongue and fingers are synchronized.  Besides, it's awfully hard to imagine a valid argument in favor of haphazard movement of the fingers.  How can that possibly lead to clarity and rhythmic accuracy?
 "Obviously in slurred passages the tongue and fingers must be coordinated, but in separated note passages (tongued passages) the same coordination between tongue and fingers should be present, but often isn't."  - K. David Van Hoesen
Finger/tongue coordination is a consciously developed habit. When fingerings and tonguing are both rhythmically conceived, they will always coincide.  If my students have trouble with tongue/finger coordination in a tongued passage, I instruct them to play the passage all slurred, thereby establishing rhythmic fingering.  Once the passage is rock solid all slurred, then the articulation is added.  This method works amazingly well.