Teaching Flicking (Bassoon)

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Home Forums Pedagogy Teaching – General: Solutions, Question, Tips Teaching Flicking (Bassoon)

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    Wai Kit Leung

    My student of five months is having some troubke with flicking, and I am looking for a plan B so that he doesn’t give up and quit playing. Which of these two is the less bad?

    1. hold down the keys instead
    2. skip flicking altogether

    Wai Kit Leung


    Oh definitely holding the keys down. Younger students can get away with not flicking, but as they mature and use more consistent breath support they’ll start cracking notes all the time unless they use the vent keys. I was self taught until college, and my fingering chart was… lacking, and I never used the vent keys. My teacher in college had me hold the keys down, and now I alternate between flicking and venting depending on context. (My A is incredibly sharp when vented.)

    I know people who don’t use the keys at all, but I have never been able to get flicked notes to respond properly 100% of the time without. Sure, it’s a pain, but in the long term it will be far more beneficial to have learned to flick.

    David A. Wells

    Yes, definitely holding them down. Then they become part of the regular fingering, and won’t be a complete surprise later on when the student is ready to try flicking again.

    Kent Moore

    I have found that students have an easier time holding down the flick key rather than hitting it quickly where they might hit the wrong key or hit the right key but at the wrong time. So I recommend they hold the key down when they are first learning and then once they are comfortable with this they can do it by releasing the key if they find the results are better.

    Neville Forsythe

    It seems most are in agreement – at least in the formative stages, students are better to develop the attitude that they are using “register keys” to facilitate octaves, eliminate split notes and croaks etc.

    “Flicking” as a term and concept came from a time when it was almost accepted that bassoons cracked notes and generally played rather coarsely – you could see the apprehension in visiting conductors’ faces as they began rehearsing some orchestras.

    The practice was not unique to bassoons either – horns, oboes, often other woodwinds, trombones in community orchestras were often self taught and played to fill a vacancy. We had to work hard at establishing a quality approach to intonation, tone, ensemble etc but as time went by standards lifted and players more often got to study at a tertiary level. And groups like IDRS lifted performance practices enormously – and still do.

    I would introduce “flicking’ at later levels of advanced technique insisting that zero “splits” must be guaranteed. Rapid passage work keeps the reed vibrating in the upper harmonics so the movement can be reduced at speed. However in exposed and held notes if in doubt use the register keys.

    As a guide – on “standard layouts

    the first register key is used for A and can be used on most bassoons for Bb too.
    the second register key is used for Bb B & C and high B C
    the third where fitted is for high C# D D# (high notes require held venting – no flicking)

    At senior levels, more sophisticated reed preparation and profiling, alongside an intimate knowledge of your instrument, may give confidence in reducing the use of register keys in many situations, but quality must be the over-riding determinant.


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