Topic: high register advice

I'd like some general advice about high register playing (above Bb).  What needs to be done to the reed, embouchure, breath support.  At what level do people talk about needing a special bocal.  I'm just looking over the Harbison wind quintet, and the first movement looks stratospheric to me.  Any special books or etudes to help with fingering, slurring, in this extreme range?

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Re: high register advice

The Harbison opening is high by any standards. I think a large proportion of players will use a high note bocal for it. You will need an exceptional reed for this piece because you need to play passagework up and around high C-E, so it's not just like one single high note you need to deal with - but then you need to play bass/fundamental parts because it is a woodwind quintet after all.

This is one of those situations where I will unfortunately say the best advice is "take a private lesson" with a high level player that can help evaluate what you're currently doing and work to improve it. Scale practice in the extreme register is a must, of course.

Luckily most of it's pretty slurred, so there's that boon at least.

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: high register advice

In addition to Trent's observations, consider these: as much as possible use the standard fingerings for high passages (some players invent them or never truly learned them). Note that there are MANY fingering possibilities. Base your choices on fingerings with the best pitch and best response. Consult Cooper/Toplansky for the widest choice.

Learn the highest passages one octave lower to be secure with the pitches of each note. During the struggle for high notes it is easy to be satisfied with just "getting" the note. Those high pitches are the home playground of your other woodwind colleagues - they'll notice if you are not accurate.

Clean your bocal, the bocal vent and the high A, high C, high D vents on the wing joint. Use a SOFT pipe cleaner to clear vents on the wing joint.

If you haven't played very many notes above high B-flat, learn to gradually go a half-step higher by playing loudly at first. Avoid biting the reed (it has to vibrate - don't close it up) but be aware of your tongue position and how you "aim" the air into the reed.

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

Re: high register advice

Trent and Chris both make excellent points. I love playing high notes, the big thing is practice. The more familiar you are with the fingerings and voicing of the notes, the easier they become. The using of standard fingerings is important, in the beginning, but sometimes you need to change a fingering for a high note because of the proceeding note and if it is slurred or tongued. I am working on a concerto now that I use 3 or 4 different fingerings for high e. Sometimes changing the original fingering IS better for the situation or you.

Focused air stream really helps, like blowing through a coffee straw, also feeling the response of the reed on your teeth, through your lips, without biting. ( that sounds like scratching your head with your left foot).

Avoid making your reed tubes too small, that actually seems to kill the high range for me. A firmer reed helps (heavier at the back of the blade), as long as it doesn't wreck finesse and supple control. Reed shape can help, I use the Thunemann shape for French concertos and works with a dominant high register. Rieger made me an excellent version of my old Walt shape that I use for regular stuff in the orchestra and a second (Walt2), wider version for Buffet French bassoon reeds and full bodied German reeds.

Embouchure...
I actually play, lips pretty close to, even touching the wire, which I think also helps with high range, many of those high harmonics are close to the first wire. (I have also found that extreme highs start to creep toward the middle of the reed, but nobody ever writes for those notes. I actually found a lot of those fingerings and posted them on YouTube under bassoon high notes, http://youtu.be/DudNC-nkr7Y).

Bocals can also help, I only use my Allgood if I can switch away from it, I have to change too many fingerings for intonation to use it very often, although it is also great for very loud playing and I can use it to play up to the C (C6), an octave above the Rite without my teeth. Some Fox Bocals work well for high notes. I am actually quite happy with my silver plated Wolf Grundmann bocal. It is not quite as supple as my Heckel c1 but it easily makes up for it with its finesse in the high range. I can pop out a high Bb5 with the Grundmann. I think Trent might be able to help with Bocals. I never found the bocal hole near the reed helped more than a high bocal or good reed. I think that's because most of the Bocals I've tried with the hole were either bad or bad for high notes in the first place.

Some bassoons are terrible for high notes. I love my horn, never want to change it, but high notes are not one of its fortes. I have a much better high range on practically everybody else's horn. If that's the case there is still a way, there are so many variables.

A low tech trick is to drill a hole between the first and second wire on the reed. I heard about it from David Wells and I think Bernard Garfield used to do it. It loses too much air for me, but I might have have made the hole too big. I never took the time to try different drill bit sizes to see what was the smallest size that wouldn't hiss badly but work for highs. I would guess something smaller than a bocal button hole. I would only use it for notes above G5 anyway.

I'm sure I am forgetting something, practice and familiarity are key and having fun with it can motivate you to do more. My high note journey started when I was a high school kid having to play Shostakovich 8, it was a long and difficult week, the concert went well, but I never wanted to stress like that over high notes again.

Best of luck!!!!

Steve

Principal bassoonist, Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia, A Coruña, Spain. Bassoonist, bassoon dad, bassoon husband, bassoon uncle, bassoon brother and bassoon son.

Re: high register advice

Daily scale and arpeggio work up to high E or even F is critical.  Finding a reed/bocal combination that allows picking off high notes is another thought (I have a Polisi high note bocal that Bill Polisi gave me when I took a few lessons from him...I can pick off high F or G without putting teeth on the reed...even with a softer reed...unfortunately, it's not good for much else, but never fails to impress students LOL).  I agree with using standard fingerings as much as possible.  Good luck

Frank Watson

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Re: high register advice

I If you are looking for study books, start with the Allard scale book, the French school of playing has the best tradition for high note finesse. (The high range IS easier, though no less complicated for fingerings than German system. Actually, I find French bassoon more technically challenging than German, amazing players!) There are studies by Bitsch, Bozza, some bits of Giampieri that all seem to challenge the upper range. Kristian Oma Ronnes has some very fun etudes that go way up to the stratosphere. I have a student that really likes these and it has really helped his high range
http://www.musikkforlagene.no/en/Produc … DIES-op-33
I find these quite fun and challenging. There are a few than need special solutions to be able to perform them, but they are well worth the time.
Last, practice music with high notes. Concertos by Jolivet, Tomasi, Vaubourgoin, etc. Boutry, Interferences or Bernaud, Hallucinations. I am hoping to perform Bernauds concerto in the near future, it's full of high notes.
http://abernaud.free.fr/Alain_Bernaud/M … ernaud.pdf
Yes, there are many other works and etudes out there for high notes, but this is a good start.

Principal bassoonist, Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia, A Coruña, Spain. Bassoonist, bassoon dad, bassoon husband, bassoon uncle, bassoon brother and bassoon son.