Topic: Contra Reeds?

Due to a rather emergency situation, I've been forced to work on a freshly made contra reed and have no coached experience doing so. I'm doing alright in the low register, but my middle register (particularly from D up to B or C) either speaks very poorly (ie muffled) or not at all. Overall, the reed is a bit flat and muffled. Any pointers on where to scrape?

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Re: Contra Reeds?

My mistake....the reed is playing very sharp and muffled, not flat and muffled.

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Re: Contra Reeds?

For me this is really difficult to diagnose unless I know some other things about the reed.  The things I'd need to know are too many for you to list or for me to really accurately decrypt on a forum.  If I played it and looked at it I might have an idea, but contra reeds can vary more than regular bassoon reeds, so there's no quick fix.

I'd suggest finding someone in your area that might have some more contra experience than you and sit down with that reed to work out some of the issues.  If you post your location someone on the board might find you and be able to help you out.

Maybe one of the top contra dogs on the forum ("yeah dawg") could give you some generic pointers, but I don't feel comfortable doing so, even though I'm extremely happy with my contra reeds.

~Trent

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: Contra Reeds?

Avoid thinking of a contrabassoon reed like a large bassoon reed.  That's a typical mistake.  In short, keep the tip stronger and don't let the back stay too thick. 
The tip of a contra reed needs to be stronger than would be appropriate on a bassoon reed.  A weak tip produces tuning problems for many notes and can result in the muffled tone you describe.  Similarly, if the back is too heavy it won't vibrate.  Take off enough lumber from the back so that the low end plays readily.  Getting all of the reed contributing should clear up the sound and let the instrument sound at its correct pitch level more readily. 
The contra is probably the most untaught instrument in the orchestra.  The finest bassoon teachers rarely understand the instrument.  To make matters worse, contra players rarely have the opportunity to enjoy each other's company.  We tend to learn the instrument individually rather than being schooled in it. 
Chip Owen

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Re: Contra Reeds?

I heartily agree with your second paragraph Chip.

I certainly learned contra just by playing it - growled away for three months at home before unleashing myself on the local amateur orchestras. I've enjoyed the company of contra players quite frequently socially but it's playing together that's rare. In 10 or so years of contra playing I've only played with other contras about 5  times - sadly the only time I've played the Rite of Spring another one couldn't be found.

I've come across many bassoonists who have been asked to play contra, in most cases by people who should know better,  with no time to learn to play the thing. (one tiny 18 year old girl was handed a rented contra on Friday evening, never having even seen one before & was expected to play with her youth orchestra in Royal Featival Hall in London the following day! And she had to get it there herslf on public transport) This applies also to all the 'fringe' instruments - cor anglais, bass & Eb clarinets, basset horn, piccolo, bass flute...... No wonder these instruments can get a bad reputaion.

Those in the know have an uphill struggle with some conductors - what sort of MD would say that it's not worth getting a contra in for Shotakovich 5??

I seem to have gone off topic here................ Reeds? - why didn't I take up the flute?

Ian

Last edited by Ian W (2006-09-05 06:29:09)

Re: Contra Reeds?

the contra is a quality instrument - i was fortunate to have been made to play it since year11 - for 3 years therefore in my local youth music centre - playing in the youth orchestra and youth band - i have largely had o earn it myself, my teacher being a bassoon player, and only occasional contra player. It really can teach you so much which aplies to the bassoon - you learn to hear so much more lower pitches, learn to count far too many bars rest etc Plus playing the lowest notes in the orchestra or band is just so sexy - it sounds amazing when you are playing a bottom Bb!!!

I think with related instrument, you must approach them as if they are different instruments - practice them, and not just play them only when required.

I love it!!

regards

Nick

Nick Macorison
London based freelance bassoonist and enthusiast.

Dont ask me about reeds.....

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Re: Contra Reeds?

looking to buy a bassoon case for my daughter's new instrument - the array is mind boggling for me the cheque writing non bassoonist! Particularly taken by the wiseman and the marcus bonna cases  - they seem bomb proof which is vital for a young teem travelling abroad lots. Also what is the advice on bassoons in aircraft holds re temperature and humidity changes? Does any one know if either case is available in the uk - or other ideas?

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