Topic: Throat, mouth cavity, lip pressure, air stream, hand position

Hello!


I'm a long time lurker but this is my first post. First off I'd like to thank everyone for making this forum such a great resource. I hope in time I can contribute just as much as a lot of you here.
I'm a senior in high school at the moment and am off to college next year. I've been frustrated this past year with my bassoon playing. At one of my college auditions I was told I had a lot of bad habits but the professor was very vague. I asked him to elaborate and he gave me one example of something but I was still very confused overall.

My tuning and tone are my weakest points. I want to go over the basics to see if I have things straight.

This is how I understand things, along with some questions:

Throat-  Needs to be relaxed and open. Like you are saying "Ahhh". Should this feel "natural", as in not much variation in how you are as you go about your life between how you are when you play bassoon?


Mouth cavity- Open, teeth apart. Tongue down. How open should this be? As much as you need to to sound open and play in tune? What about as you move up and down the register? I've been told that you keep the same embouchure for every note as you use for low Bb with a variation in air speed to keep well in tune.


Lip pressure- Your lips are shaped the same way you would say "one" on the "wuh" part. Or like a draw string bag. Point is, corners in and equal pressure around the reed. With more lip touching the reed, you get a warmer sound. How tight is this supposed to be? Obviously with different reeds this may need to change but should I strive for reeds that allow my lip pressure to be relaxed?

Air stream- You should play using your air. When you go from low Bb to high C use air and not too many or any embouchure changes. What is the ratio of mouth cavity openess to lip pressure to throat to air stream?

Hand position- How much weight should be put on left hand? I have big thighs so when I play, the bassoon does not rest against the chair but my thigh. I think this may put more weight on my left hand.
Seat strap needs to be close to the front of the chair. My pinky also locks on my right hand making it extremely difficult and painful to play fast passages using Ab and low F. Has anybody had this and fixed it?


I'd like to hear how y'all deal with intonation issues. Do you blow flat notes up or "lip up"? When you "lip up" is it just a pinching of the reed or the throat? A combination of multiple things?
Sharp notes?

A lot of my low register is pefectly in tune, but when I get to around C in the staff and up, that's when the struggle begins. It is sooo annoying. I'm beginning to get discouraged from practicing because of all the confusion, I can't stand playing this out of tune. I know I need to keep pressing on though, so I do.




I'd like to know if I have any misunderstandings. I'd also like to hear different ways of looking at things. Thank you for your time. Anything is greatly appreciated!




~mike

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Re: Throat, mouth cavity, lip pressure, air stream, hand position

Hi Mike:

What kind of bassoon are you playing?  Have you had anyone try your bassoon to see if there are problems.  Have you tried other bassoons and bocals too.  I have seen many cases with frustrated students only to show them that I can't play their instrument in tune either.  It puts a big smile on their face to know it is not their fault.  I let them try mine and they are encouraged again.  Also if you can try different reeds or get someone to try your reed, perhaps something is wrong with it.

On your other points I will just answer briefly for now.  What you say is basically good I think.  True depending on the reed you can keep pretty much the same embouchure for a couple octaves.  I'd say from low F to 2 octaves above you can use approximately the same embouchure if the reed is good and if the scale on your bassoon is good.  If not you need to make minor adjustments.  For the lowest register you probably need to use less reed in your mouth to get the notes low enough.  For the upper register, you probably need to use more reed in your mouth and as you get higher your lips become firmer and roll in.  Again a lot depends on the reed too.

I hope others will chime in.  Kent

Dr. Kent Moore
Principal Lecturer In Bassoon and Theory
Northern Arizona University

Re: Throat, mouth cavity, lip pressure, air stream, hand position

My teacher mentioned my use of throat and breath support in relation to tuning also when I entered college.  He told me to try putting my lips beyond the second wire, and just blowing through the notes, all the way from low Bb to as high as the bassoon goes.  This technique is to show how much the bassoon requires air and throat control to aid in tuning.  It sounds really bad and is pretty loud, but it is an excellent practice.  It may be difficult at first, depending on your reed, but if you keep working at it you should be able to play all the notes on the bassoon doing this.

Also, for throat control, I can use some vocal training...  if you feel in your mouth behind the teeth, there is a hard palate.  Just behind that, you can feel that it gets soft into what I call the soft palate.  This is a basic vocal technique:  You raise your soft palate so that you feel like there's a cathedral dome in the back of you mouth.  You should feel like you're yawning.  This will help you open up your throat area.  There a lot of techniques from vocal training that would be an excellent help for bassoonists.  I'd encourage every bassoonist to get some kind of vocal training.

For bassoon position, I used to rest it on my thigh as well, but my F sharp key kept getting caught on my pants.  I would reccommend not resting on your thigh if you can.

Hope this helps.  Tanner

Tanner Holst
University Bassoonist
Utah

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Re: Throat, mouth cavity, lip pressure, air stream, hand position

Hello Mike - I have copied your message and added observations marked by a #.



My tuning and tone are my weakest points. I want to go over the basics to see if I have things straight.

This is how I understand things, along with some questions:

Throat-  Needs to be relaxed and open. Like you are saying "Ahhh". Should this feel "natural", as in not much variation in how you are as you go about your life between how you are when you play bassoon?

#agreed



Mouth cavity- Open, teeth apart. Tongue down. How open should this be? As much as you need to to sound open and play in tune? What about as you move up and down the register? I've been told that you keep the same embouchure for every note as you use for low Bb with a variation in air speed to keep well in tune.

#I would use the interior soft surfaces of the mouth to "compress" the air - aw --oooh -- eu -- eeu to match the air pressure with the changing scale. THe higher the tongue and lower the soft palate the more air pressure.
The greater the "yawn" the lower the air pressure.




Lip pressure- Your lips are shaped the same way you would say "one" on the "wuh" part. Or like a draw string bag. Point is, corners in and equal pressure around the reed. With more lip touching the reed, you get a warmer sound. How tight is this supposed to be? Obviously with different reeds this may need to change but should I strive for reeds that allow my lip pressure to be relaxed?

#Generally so - but above C (first leger line above bass clef) you will probably need to apply a measure of actual lip pressure (best I find in the "draw-string" formation).




Air stream- You should play using your air. When you go from low Bb to high C use air and not too many or any embouchure changes. What is the ratio of mouth cavity openess to lip pressure to throat to air stream?

#at low Bb widest cavity - "aw" lowest lip pressure     around low G - open F - more "ooo" little lip pressure    G-C more "eu" light lip pressure   D - highest range modulate more to eeeu  - placement of lip critcial and some firmness of lip pressure but not so as to stifle the notes.




Hand position- How much weight should be put on left hand? I have big thighs so when I play, the bassoon does not rest against the chair but my thigh. I think this may put more weight on my left hand.
Seat strap needs to be close to the front of the chair.


My pinky also locks on my right hand making it extremely difficult and painful to play fast passages using Ab and low F. Has anybody had this and fixed it?

#when you say "locks up" does it a seem to be a form of stiffness reducing speedy movement or is it (as I am recently experiencing) a physical "locking" of the joint when it is curled into the palm?
I ask this because to date my playing hasn't been affected as I don't curl my pinky under far enough to cause the painful "lock-up". If its the latter you experience you may possibly be curling the finger too much - perhaps the hand is too far over the keys? Good playing posture has the hand totally relaxed without contraction of the fingers into tight curves. Keep finger contact as flat as is consistent with maintaining relaxed natural finger curvature.
I would be interested in comments from Bill Dawson Moderator of the Health & Wellness Topic of this Forum.



# I would never rest bassoon on chair anyway. You can use both seat strap and a neckstrap "bandolier fashion" to take all weight off hands.  Or neckstrap with balance extension but that does affect weight around neck.





I'd like to hear how y'all deal with intonation issues. Do you blow flat notes up or "lip up"? When you "lip up" is it just a pinching of the reed or the throat? A combination of multiple things?
Sharp notes?

#Where possible avoid "lipping" up - you'll just tire your embouchure in no time flat!
Use the oral air "compression" as described above.




A lot of my low register is pefectly in tune, but when I get to around C in the staff and up, that's when the struggle begins. It is sooo annoying. I'm beginning to get discouraged from practicing because of all the confusion, I can't stand playing this out of tune. I know I need to keep pressing on though, so I do.

# Keep practising but observe and analyse to find the variety of combined "factors" that suit each individual note. They will be similar over adjacent notes but vary hugely over the wider range. It is like "shadow" whistling" a very slow chromatic scale as you play - you only get to "whistle" a range of about 2 octaves.
My theory is that every note needs a cavity volume similar to a marimba's graduated pipes  - but that possibly certain notes will be enhanced by more than one "harmonic" - try Mongolian overtone singing and you'll get what I mean. A played G on the bassoon may resonate to a "whistled" oral G or D or octave G or B D F and finally two octave G. i.e. the harmonic series of the played note. A C may respond to C G C E G Bb C and so on.

# Some will stand out others make no noticeable effect. You need to explore and find which do enhance the "focus" or resonance for every note. It requires patience and concentration. Long notes mf --> ff---> pp over 12 slow beats. Compare adjacent notes and "teach" the bad ones by playing good ones from around about the not-so-good.

Good luck - you have most of it sorted quite well.  Neville

Neville Forsythe
Christchurch New Zealand
Bassoonist / Teacher / Conductor