A common issue that I have observed among many band directors at both middle and high school levels is their reluctance to purchase certain equipment for their bassoonists because of their uncertainty as to what would be the best fit for their students.
This includes incredibly vital pieces of equipment, such as:
– seat straps
– hand rests
– balance hangers
all of which play a fundamental role in their student’s success as a player. This article addresses bocals and hand rests.
For example, one of the most important, delicate and expensive pieces of the instrument is the bocal (or crook). It is the easiest way to immediately improve a bassoon’s tone quality, sound projection and intonation. There are such a wide variety of brands, materials, bends/angles, and lengths that it can be quite overwhelming to try to find the right one. I will go into much more detail at the TMEA clinic but for now I’d like to share a tip for selecting the best bocal for your student bassoonists.
The bassoon does not have a tuning slide, so the bocal length is one of the most important parts of the instrument that can affect the pitch center. Bocal lengths are numbered 00 to 4, with 00 being the shortest (and sharpest) and 4 being the longest (and flattest). Most reed styles will play in tune within the range of bocals of length 1-3 depending on the brand, and the proper length of bocal will allow a student to play fairly in tune with a slightly firm embouchure (no biting the reed) and solid air support.
Another example of beneficial equipment is a hand rest, or crutch (for the right hand). The purpose of the hand rest is to position on the fingers over the tone holes and/or keys in the most relaxed and natural way possible, hand rests exist for both the right and the left hand, though the right hand-rest is the most common. Whenever possible, purchase a crutch that has threads on the metal insert so that the student can adjust the distance it pushes his or her hand away from the instrument.
Dr. Nathan Koch is the Assistant Professor of Bassoon at Sam Houston State University. He has appeared as a workshop clinician and lecturer at Southern Methodist University, Sam Houston State University, and many area middle and high schools. He has also presented at the conventions of the Texas Bandmasters Association and the International Double Reed Society, most recently in Tokyo, Japan, with his double reed quartet, Quartex. Dr. Koch received his BM, summa cum laude, from Wichita State University under the guidance of Nicolasa Kuster and his MM and DMA from the University of Texas at Austin with Kristin Wolfe Jensen. You can learn more about Dr. Koch here.
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