Topic: Reversing Tight Embochure on Bassoon

I don't exactly know if this is the right forum to post this but:

I have been having trouble with having a tightening embochure. Mostly in slower, lyrical music, and stuff with longer sustained notes in the tenor register ^. I was wondering about excercises I could do to stop biting, as I understand how much of a problem this is for my playing. My teacher Alan has done the Maxym pencil excercise, which helps temporarily after I take the pencils out.



Bassoonist, Contrabassoonist, Composer.

Ask not what your reed can do for you, but what you can do for your reed.

Re: Reversing Tight Embochure on Bassoon

I would first ask what is the underlying cause of your tightening?  In the passages you describe it can be very normal for your facial muscles to fatigue in such a way that you compensate by biting to maintain the pressure on the reed in order to make pitch.  If it is not a fatigue issue, and more psychological (nerves, etc.) I'm afraid I won't be much help to you.

If it IS fatigue, find the root cause of the fatigue.  Are you practicing long tones in the problematic registers (with a tuner or backing drones) in order to strengthen your facial muscles?  If so are you doing it in such a way that increases real endurance and not just short term colors?  I'll let our resident M.D. chime in on proper ways to do that.  If you do have appropriately strong facial muscles might you be working too hard by playing on reeds that are too heavy or too open?  Maybe a lighter reed is a possible solution.  If you have a very heavy bocal you might also be working too hard.  Maybe it's time for a lighter bocal.  Maybe a combination of the two or even quite the opposite: heavier reeds or bocals that provide their own support in those registers.  My last guess would be if your instrument is leaky or has something inhibiting the airflow (debris in the tone holes or something) that causes you to work too hard.

Of course, what you describe is exactly the range that is taxing to us all.  I certainly have the same problems you're experiencing from time to time (Tchaikovsky, you bastard!).

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: Reversing Tight Embochure on Bassoon

I had a problem with biting because I played a single reed instrument before and because I didn't want to use my own breath support to play my instrument, I basically cheated the process and it resulted in a lesser sound. Advice:
1. Grab a tuner and use a pressure-less embouchure. Your mouth is there just to fit the shape of the reed to seal air. There should be no real pressure. If you play this way you should be dredfully flat, possibly even on a different note. Increase pressure with your diaphragm until you get in tune. Hold the note that way and understand how much pressure is necessary.
2. Do exercise 1 over and over, and I've noticed that when I don't do the excercise, I go back to my old habits and funny enough, to fix this, put a piece of tape on your cheek. No, this does not do anything to your playing, but habits are connected to muscle memory. You do something wrong so many times that you body thinks you should bite when a reed shaped object is in your mouth. By putting tape on your cheek (close to your lips) or some other odd feeling thing around your mouth, your body thinks its a whole new situation though in reality, you're just playing bassoon again) its an odd thing, but for me it works.


Re: Reversing Tight Embochure on Bassoon

Hunter, Are you also going sharp as your embouchure tightens? crw

Christopher Weait,
Principal bassoon, Toronto Symphony (1968 - 1985)
IDRS Honorary Member; Emeritus professor Ohio State University

Re: Reversing Tight Embochure on Bassoon

Hi, Hunter,

Can you describe what you called the "Maxym pencil exercise?" It sounds interesting, much like the magic wallet trick!

I studied with him, but he never did this with me. We certainly worked on my embouchure, in fact, it was the very first thing he worked on with me. First he asked me if I played saxophone. I was playing it a little bit, and I stuttered out "umm, er, ahem, yes." He stated that he needed to work on my embouchure and that my saxophone playing was detrimental to my bassoon playing. Needless to say, that brought a quick end to my saxophoning!

Harry Searing
Bassoon, Contrabassoon, Heckelphone
Faculty: Manhattan School of Music Precollege Division (NY), Montclair State University (NJ) &  CUNY (NY)
President, LRQ Publishing - featuring the bassoon music of Francisco Mignone


Re: Reversing Tight Embochure on Bassoon

Greetings Hunter

There are several posts in this Teaching forum on embouchure, strange noises, intonation problems which have a range of suggestions for managing the embouchure - you may find it worthwhile to browse these as many of the posts are about inter-related problems. These range from too tight (sharpness, fatigue) to too loose (air escaping, strange sounds), and other situations such as tone development, reed management etc. There are some good exercises and strategies for exploring these facets of bassoon playing.


Neville Forsythe
Christchurch New Zealand
Bassoonist / Teacher / Conductor