Bassoons are usually made of maple, rosewood, ebonite, or plastic. Today, bassoons are played in bands, orchestras, woodwind quintets, and other small ensembles.
The bassoon sound is made by blowing into a double reed. The double reed is made with two pieces of cane that are tied together and put in a tube. When air is blown into the double reed, the two pieces of cane vibrate against each other. Many of the fingerings on the bassoon are quite complicated.
Double Reed instruments have existed since ancient times. The origin of the bassoon itself dates back at least 500 years, where there was in use a one-pice instrument with a double reed made of cane. One name for this instrument was the dulcian, which came from the Latin word meaning "soft and sweet." The English version was call the curtal.
During the reign of Louis the XIV (1643-1715), French instrument makers cosntructed a new curtal made of four separate pieces similar to today's bassoon. Its use rapidly spread throughout western Europe. Throughout the 1700's keys were added so that more notes could be played.
In the 1820's Carl Almenräder redesigned the bassoon, and through a partnership with Adam Heckel, developed the German bassoon. It is this bassoon, with minor changes and improvements, that is played today in the United States, most of Europe, and elsewhere around the world. A French bassoon also continues to exist, and is played mostly in France and some parts of Canada.
Before you play: Hold the butt joint with one hand with the double bore opening upward. Attach the smallwing joint to the butt joint. Gently twist the section of the bassoon together. If you have any difficulty, use some cork grease. Adjust the small wing joint so that the concave part matches the shape of the larger opening in the butt. Insert the long joint intot he larger opening in the butt. After putting the butt of hte bassoon on the floor, insert the bell. Hold down the B-flat key pad with a thumb to align the bridge key. Insert the thumb rest and line it up vertically with the bassoon, the larger part towards the bell. Adjust the height and tighten the screw. Hold the bocal near the cork and push it in. Line up the vent hole with the pad of the whisper key. Attach the neck or seat strap. Put the reed onto the bocal.
Tuning & Playing: To lower the pitch of the bassoon, lengthen the instrument by pulling the bocal out slightly. To raise the pitch, push the bocal in. The pitch can also be adjusted through careful selection of a reed. A stiffer, shorter reed will play sharper than a longer reed.
Cleaning: Moisture left in the bassoon will cause pads to deteriorate and wood to rot. Take the instrument apart, putting each piece in the case before beginning to swab. Shake the moisture out of the bocal from both ends and blow through it from the large end to force water out. Swab the inside of the bocal and the bassoon with appropriate swabs and brushes.
Blow moisture out of the reed and place it in a reed case so that it can dry out. The insed of the reed should be cleaned weekly with a wet pipe cleaner. Run lukewarm or cold water through the reed for a quick cleaning. Under each key is a pad that seals the tone hole when the key closes. If pads stick, they are dirty. To clean the pads, place a clean cloth (or dollar bill) under the pad, close the key, and pull the cloth through.
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