Dr. Kirsten Nelson

Return to Tips for Bassoon


by Dr. Kirsten Nelson
SFA Assistant Professor of Music
Bassoon & Theory
SFA School of Music
[email protected]


The bassoon, due to the nature of its construction and playing condition, can have many intonation problems.  Sharpness is the most common problem; however, from middle c up to the f immediately above it has a tendency to be flat.

To change the overall pitch of the instrument, change the bocal.  Bocals range from 0 to 4 in length with 0 being the shortest and 4 being the longest.  2 is the standard length bocal.

Sharpness -- Causes and Solutions:

1. Biting, even jaws, excessive tension in lips, smiling -- all poor embouchure formations.  Review the correct embouchure and emphasize lowering the jaw, relaxing the lips and throat muscles (form the vowel "oh"), and lower the back of the tongue as if having your throat examined.

2. Reed that is too hard -- soften the reed or try another one.  Hard reeds often cause the embouchure problems listed in #1.

3. Bocal that is too short -- use a longer one (larger number).  Pulling out the bocal or the joints DOES NOT WORK.  You cannot pull them out far enough to make a difference in the pitch.  Also, pulling the joints loose creates breaks in the bore which can cause response problems.

4. Tension in the face and head muscles (raised eyebrows, for example) or shoulders, and twisting the body to the side.  Each of these things can cause the pitch to go sharp even if the embouchure is correct.  Face straight ahead and work on relaxing the tense muscles.

Flatness -- Causes and Solutions:

1. Embouchure too loose or slack, lower lip rolled out, air in cheeks or between lips and teeth.  Review the correct embouchure and emphasize keeping the lower lip parallel to the teeth and directly under the reed while keeping air out of the cheeks and lips.  Shaping the vowel "ay" or "ee" in the throat can also raise the pitch.

2. Weak air stream -- blow.

3. Reed that is too soft -- harden the reed or try another one.

4. Bocal that is too long -- use a shorter one (smaller number).

Some notes may require alternate fingerings or the use of additional keys to improve intonation.


The Texas School Music Project is a source for ideas and information concerning pedagogical practices in the music classroom or rehearsal hall.
The TSMP is a service provided to all music specialists by the faculty of the School of Music at Stephen F. Austin State University.

For questions about this site contact [email protected].

Copyright © 2002-2019, The School of Music at Stephen F. Austin State University