Choosing Bassoons for Schools-A Summary

by Chip Owen with Larry Festa

The purchase of a bassoon for use in a school can be a problem for many music teachers. It tends to be the least understood instrument in most programs and the offerings of the various makers can be baffling. Selecting a bassoon that best suits the needs of the program will save money and aggravation.

Before making suggestions for the needs of various school levels, let me mention several details that affect school instruments.

Plastic Body vs. Maple Body

The life span of a bassoon can be affected by the materials used in making a bassoon. The school environment is not gentle, and instruments should be selected with this in mind.

Bassoons are traditionally made of maple. Several makers also offer bassoons made of plastic. Plastic offers a special value for schools as it is more capable of withstanding the abuse and neglect that can destroy a maple bodied bassoon. The proper selection of the type of plastic used for a bassoon can yield an excellent instrument. A bad choice of plastic can discourage anyone from playing the bassoon.

The single biggest problem with plastic bassoons is weight. Plastics are heavier than maple. Among the various types of plastic, polypropylene comes closest to the weight of maple and can make excellent bassoons. If a maker uses a plastic that might also be used to replace grenadilla for clarinets or oboes, they will end up with a very heavy bassoon. The choice of plastic is different for bassoons than for other woodwinds.

Maple bodied bassoons demand better maintenance. Improper daily care and inadequate periodic servicing can drastically reduce the life span of a fine instrument. Any difference in tone quality is likely to be unnoticeable for most school level players.

Plateau Keys

A plateau on a bassoon is a covered key with a pad for the third finger of the left hand, replacing the traditional ring key. It allows small hands to more comfortably close a finger hole. Many adult bassoonists dislike this key because it is not like their ring key. Plateau keys are not for adults with full size hands. They exist for players with small hands, a common condition among young students. They are useful for younger players but are probably not needed by the time they are in high school.

High D Keys

Historically, high D keys are an extra key to the entry level basic instrument. However, they have evolved into a standard part of the modern bassoon. School bassoons are usually made without the high D, or with it available as an option. While a school bassoon at the beginning level will do quite well without this key, it is a desirable addition. Any private bassoon teacher will be glad to see it on their student’s instrument.

Grade School

Grade school music programs usually don’t need bassoons. Beginning bassoon at the fifth or sixth grade level may, in many cases, be a stretch. The children at this level often don’t have physical development adequate to contend with an instrument the size of a bassoon. This applies both to the hand size in particular and to their overall size in general. Models 51, 41

Middle/Junior High School

This is the where the teaching of bassoon usually begins. Beginning bassoon at the seventh and eighth grade is very realistic. Small hand size can be a problem for beginning bassoonists. The use of “short-reach” models such as the Renard model 51 can ease this problem. Several keys are relocated to more accessible positions allowing a small hand to better contend with the size of the instrument. The model 41 bassoon is built with normal key positions. The addition of the plateau key offers some flexibility in hand size. The model 222 offers a realistic option for budget conscious schools seeking a wooden bodied instrument to complement their plastic bassoons. Models 51, 41, 222

High School

A wider variety of instruments can be used at this level. Much of the choice depends on the budget of the school. Be sure to get a high D key. Plateau keys are no longer as necessary as they were for lower grade levels, though they may be a way of allowing a wider range of students to play the instrument.

High School, Small Music Program

This is a program where budget constraints can make a bassoon a significant stretch for the entire program. DO NOT get a model 51 for high school students. A model 41 or model 222 would be the more affordable models. The addition of the high D key would be appropriate for either of these models. The model IV would be a better plastic model with its finished body and ring key. A model III would provide a more pleasant appearance with its bands. A model 220 would probably supply every need at the high end for this program. Models 41, IV, 222 with D key and/or ring key, 220

High School, Large Music Program

This program has access to larger budgets and often extensive fundraising opportunities. Polypropylene bodied instruments such as the Model 41 or Model IV can form the foundation of their bassoon program. These are often supplemented by maple bodied instruments, in particular the Renard Model 220 or 240. In some cases, larger programs with extensive playing schedules choose to make a professional instrument available to their best player or players. Usually a Model II will be the best choice, but in some cases schools choose a Model 201 or 601. Models 220, 240, III, II, 201

Colleges and Universities

At this level the needs range from basic instruments for methods classes to fine professional instruments for performance majors.

College and University methods classes

Schools at this level have two separate needs. On one hand, they have students who need an instrument to perform in school ensembles. The choice for this purpose depends on the individual school. On the other hand, they need instruments for methods classes so that music education students can learn how to teach bassoon. The ideal methods class bassoon is the model 41. It is low in cost and maintenance and would be representative of what the students would later see as teachers. A model IV would be a good alternative if a ring key and high D key are demanded. Models 41, IV

Small College with small music department

This is frequently a small liberal arts college that sometimes has a church affiliation. The music department is often based around piano/organ and chorus, with instrumental programs supporting this focus. A model 220 or 240 would be the best all around choice and will serve every need adequately, while the Model IV will provide some budget relief and durability. Some programs have the resources, both financial and in performers, to make the purchase of a professional instrument (Model II, 201, or 601) a reasonable decision. Models IV, 220, 240, II, 201

University with good sized music department

This music department is large enough to have separate instructors for each instrument. It needs professional models for its bassoon majors, for which models 201 or 601 would be appropriate. A contrabassoon would be appropriate for this school. It also needs models of a more intermediate level for student bassoonists who are not bassoon majors. Models 220, 240, III, or IV would be appropriate. It also needs methods class bassoons as described above. Models 601, 201, 220, 240, III, IV, & Contrabassoon

Music Conservatories

Students are attending this school to become performers and need performance quality instruments. Models 201 and 601 are the most appropriate models. One or two contrabassoons are also needed. The opinions of the professor of bassoon are all important. Expect to have options added to these instruments. Models 601, 201, & Contrabassoon

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