An Approach to Practicing for the Bassoon Student

by Trueman E. Allison III

Columbus, Ohio

This article suggests a practice strategy for bassoon students who possess the necessary playing maturity to begin working on the Julius Weissenborn, Practical Method for the Bassoon, Fifty Advanced Studies, or the W. Ferling, 48 Famous Studies for Bassoon, arranged from the oboe Studies (Op. 31) by James Thornton.

Teaching a student how to practice is essential for improvement and sustaining interest. No matter what the stage of development, practicing effectiveness is important. Effective practicing is wellbalanced, interesting, somewhat challenging, varied, and not a needlessly dull repetitious process. Practicing should be viewed as a "thinking" activity and as self-education. Teaching the student effective practicing is training him for a lifetime of learning. With effective practice, adequate control of the instrument will develop.

The following practice routine will develop digital technique and is flexible enough to incorporate an approach to other areas, such as expression, tone, intonation, and tonguing. This routine assumes that 1) a firm foundation has been laid as a beginner, 2) a daily routine is necessary because consistent and regular practicing is essential for progress, and 3) progress comes during practice sessions as well as between practice sessions. The practice routine can be modified as the student develops. The practice routine is:

Suggested Practice Routine

 Approximate Times   Practice Material
 5 Minutes  Warm-up
 10 Minutes  Projects Time
 25 Minutes  Practice of Scales and Arpeggios
 5 Minutes  Break
 25 Minutes  Practice of Related Etudes
 5 Minutes  Break
 25 Minutes  Practice of Recital Material or Performing Group Music
 5 Minutes  Warm-down
 While putting Instrument away   Reflection
 1 Hour 40 Minutes   TOTAL TIME

The first portion of the practice session is the Warm-up. The performer will derive much benefit by warming up a uniform way each time he plays. Warming up this way allows the performer to assess

the reed and instrument before practicing. In addition, the warm-up allows the musician's mind and body to reach a state where practicing will be effective. The warm-up should work out tension and introduce relaxation.

Warm-ups found to be particularly helpful are the Bassoon Warm-ups by Christopher Weait.[1] These warm-ups emphasize legato playing and use simple, altered scales to progressively improve range, technique and tone production, and can be used in whole or in part before each practice session. The warm-ups are built around low F so the sound of this resonant note can gradually be pulled up the range of the instrument. By the end of the warm-ups, one has progressed to the high E (students with limited range can leave these upper note groupings out without affecting the warm-ups) and downward to the low Bb .

During Projects Time the student should work on simple exercises the teacher has devised which are aimed at isolating basic concepts. The concepts in these exercises can be incorporated later into actual musical examples. Time spent doing these exercises should be viewed as long term development. For example, one may work on double tonguing or crescendo and dimenuendo using a tuner and playing long tones. Other such areas of work might be:

1. Vibrato study

2. High note finger patterns

3. Difficult finger patterns

4. Staccato vs. slurring studies

5. Flicking

6. Tonguing

The next two areas of concentration are related by key signature: The Practice of Scales and Arpeggios and The Practice of Related Etudes. It is suggested that the etude be in the same key as the scales and arpeggios. A different key can be chosen and studied in depth each week. The idea is that the student become fluent with the patterns of each key signature. Emphasis on scales by woodwind teachers is due to the irregularity of finger patterns in all woodwind instruments. Also, traditional Western Music is built on patterns of major and minor scales and arpeggios, and as such, musicians need to be able to recognize and perform these patterns fluently as they appear in the music.

For practicing scales and arpeggios, Enseignement complet du Basson, Books 1 and 2, by Ferdinand Oubradous[2] is recommended. These two books go through all the major and related minor scales, going around the circle of fifths and ending with studies in the chromatic scale. In each key there are scales in triplets and sixteenth notes in a two or three octave range. Also, there are scale studies in thirds and fourths and in the tonic and dominant seventh arpeggios. If the exercises go too high for the student, high note groupings may be omitted without affecting the study. The exercises can be done in a variety of articulations and tempi. In each key there is a long tone study at the beginning of each unit and a simple etude at the end.

During the practice routine, two short breaks are recommended in order to avoid "overuse syndrome."[3] A break gives the mind and body a chance to relax and rid itself of any developing tensions. It can be of benefit to approaching practicing in a constructive manner. During these rest periods there should be a physical change for the player, such as taking a short walk.

In order to select etudes, Christopher Weait has formulated a "Key Relationship of Bassoon Studies" chart, which appears in The Double Reed[4] in which he has listed etudes from nine standard sources.[5] In this chart, each major and related minor key is listed along with those etudes which appear in that particular key. The chart allows the teacher to easily tailor-make lessons for the individual student. The student need only have one of the books to benefit.

For the Practice of Recital Music or Performing Group Music, one should not attempt to practice too many different compositions at one time. Keep in mind there is only twenty-five minutes of practice time here. Perhaps just working on one orchestral excerpt or learning one movement from a four movement sonata would be enough for the week. The material in this portion of the routine should really be mastered, even if it means repeating it for a few weeks. The student should use a variety of practice strategies to learn difficult passages, so as not to lose interest in the piece. The teacher will need to discuss different methods of practicing difficult passages.

A very useful book for the Warm-down phase of the practice routine is Eight Bel Canto Songs for Solo Winds, by Harry I. Phillips.[6] These eight selections are quite easy technically but require very expressive playing. Each song has a limited range and is in an easy key. Composers include: Allessandro Scarlatti, Giovanni Battistia Pergolesi, and Benedetto Marcello. There is also a piano accompaniment which can be used to work on ensemble playing. These songs, particularly with the rich piano ac

companiment, encourage a warm tone, good phrasing, and a singing vibrato.

During the Reflection phase of the practice routine, the student should assess the session, that is, things accomplished and not accomplished. Plans should be made for the next practice session. The Reflection phase of practice should be done while putting the instrument away.

As the student develops and his needs change,

the teacher can reassess and modify the practice

routine. For example, the routine could be modified if the student were going to enter a competition or take an audition. It could further be modified as the student progressed. However, the suggested practice routine as a norm and point of departure will develop technical proficiency and expressive playing, if followed conscientiously. It will encourage the student to learn intelligent and effective practicing.

1. Christopher Weait. Bassoon Warm-ups. Published by the composer, 272 Longfellow Avenue, Worthington, Ohio 43085.

2. Ferdinand Oubradous. Enseignement Complet du Basson, Books 1 and 2. Published by Leduc in Paris.

3. Overuse problems are discussed in The Journal of Medical Problems of Performing Artists. Published by Hanley and Belfuse, Inc., Medical Publishers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

4. Christopher Weait. "Key Relationship of Bassoon Studies" Published in The Double Reed, Fall of 1989, p. 53.

5. Julius Weissenborn, Bassoon Studies for the Beginner, Op. 8, Vol. I - Carl Fischer, N.Y.

Julius Weissenborn, Practical Method for Bassoon, Fifty Advanced Studies - Carl Fischer, N.Y.

Ludwig Milde, 25 Studies in Scales and Chords - International, N.Y.

Ludwig Milde, Concert Studies, Op. 26, Vol. I - International, N.Y.

Ludwig Milde, Concert Studies, Op. 26, Vol. 11 - International, N.Y.

W. Ferling, 48 Famous Studies for Bassoon, arranged from Oboe Studies (Op. 31) by James Thornton - Southern Music Co., San Antonio.

Virginio Bianchi, Twelve Etudes for Bassoon - G. Schirmer, N.Y.

Eugene Jancourt, 26 Melodic Studies, Op. 15 - International, N.Y.

Marius Piard, 16 Characteristic Studies - International, N.Y.

6. Compiled and Edited by Harry I. Phillips. Eight Bel Canto Songs for Solo Winds. Published by Shawnee Press, Inc., in Pennsylvania.


The author of this article wishes to thank Christopher Weait who read the manuscript and presented many of the concepts found in the article.


Trueman E. Allison III is a member of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra where he plays bassoon and contrabassoon. He is also a faculty member of the Fort Hayes Metropolitan

Education Center, School for the Performing Arts. His teachers have included Christopher Weait, E. Sanford Berry and Louis Skinner.

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