A professional bassoonist told me that I shouldn't write below a bassoon's low F because those low notes are too difficult to play in tune. However, the piece I'm writing is very much dependent on a bassoon playing in that range.

I could switch to a contrabassoon if I have to, but I'd rather not. Should I be concerned about this?

  • 1
    I would just find a better informed bassoonist than your "professional". If there are serious intonation problems with an instrument, it is usually because the reed and/or bocal aren't correctly adjusted. This advice is as nonsensical as saying "don't write for violins using the G string, because it's a bit harder to reach with the left hand than the other three."
    – user19146
    Feb 4 '17 at 2:42

Never heard of this. But you should be able to find evidence for this being true or not true.

If I were you I would be taking a look at orchestral scores and solo bassoon pieces. If what you have been told is true then it should be well known and composers will have mostly avoided using notes in that range. If, on the other hand, it's not the case then you should find plenty of examples of those notes being used.

  • That was a great idea! I did some YouTube research, listening to pieces that feature bassoon by Vivaldi, Mozart, Hindemith, and Berio. All of them were beautiful, so hey, bonus. There were low notes - not many, but enough to hear them being played in tune. Then I watched a bassoon teacher giving a lesson on playing low notes. Sure enough, she often played them sharp. So I guess it can be a problem, but not an insurmountable one. Thanks for the answer! Feb 4 '17 at 20:03

The bassoon has some wonderful solos written in the lowest registers. A leak in the boot joint of a bassoon would destroy the intonation in its low register.

  • Good to know, zeldan! If my bassoonist complains about the low notes, I'll ask her/him about the boot joint. Apr 23 '17 at 15:55

Tessitura is not all. It's not as much how low your notes go but what you do with them. There is a difference between having a moving bass line jump to the dominant below occasionally and asking for a sustained pedal point.

  • This is a really good point. In my YouTube research, I noticed many examples of what you described: a moving bass line briefly dropping down to the dominant. The ones I listened to were all in tune. I think I'll be OK with what I've written. Thanks for the answer! Feb 4 '17 at 20:09

My take on this, amateur bassoon and contrabassoon player.

I believe the comment should be taken into context. It might be that in a beginners wind band the low notes tend to be sharp. This is a common situation with the bassoon with beginners. The low D is often a difficult note, not quite sounding like the others. With training these problems can be overcome totally. A sufficiently trained bassoon player can, and will, play all notes in tune.

The theoretical background is that the bassoon is one big compromise. Basically it is too narrow for its length and the tone holes are too small. (The saxophone is in that respect much less of a compromise) In order to compensate, as most all tone holes influence the tuning of just about every other note, they are placed at the best compromise. The effect is that almost all notes are slightly out of tune, you compensate for this with air and pressure on the reed (among other things). This is a skill taking time and effort to learn.

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