Writing for the Bassoon and Contra Bassoon


  • Is in the key of C
  • Written in both the Bass and Tenor Clef
  • It has a small dynamic range
  • (It’s not too loud, but can go quite quietly)
  • F# is a loud note
  • They do use mutes occasionally, but prefer not to.
  • Bb is the lowest note in its range
  • Top E is the highest note in its range
  • If you do use the top notes, you have to slur towards them, you cannot just play high notes. Occasionally you can change crook to make the upper register clearer.
  • Bassoonists like well-shaped phrases
  • When playing the top notes, work your way up to them, and start low
  • The sound of the bassoon is very rich at low range
  • It is important to specify which fingering system you are writing for if you use fingerings or multiphonics. The most common system is the Heckle system.
  • French fingering is different
  • Overblowing produces harmonics in the lower register
  • In the middle register use lots of staccato
  • Bassoonists can double tongue – this is a bit like tremolo for strings, but is very difficult and lots of bassoonists don’t know how to do it. Don’t go to quick, the middle register is the only time this works.
  • Flutter tonguing can be done in the middle register, but is difficult. It is important to leave time before and after flutter tonguing for the bassoonist to change their embouchure.
  • Bassoonists can’t sing and play at the same time
  • Can bend notes in the middle and higher registers. They can bend up to quartertones. Bends should go downwards, not upwards.
  • Trills can be written in as normal
  • Enharmonic trills (same note trills) can be played (but not to quickly)
  • Multiphonics can be used
  • Other instruments have to be very quite in bassoon solo passages
  • Bassoons and flutes go very well together
  • The sound in the upper register is thin


  • Is in the key of C
  • Notes sound an octave lower than written
  • Is the lowest sounding instrument in the orchestra
  • Lower than double bass or tuba
  • No Glissando’s
  • No multiphonics
  • Lowest note is Bb
  • Can play notes quietly
  • Requires more time to breathe
  • Prefer to use the lower register
  • Can produce loud notes, but not sustain them
  • The middle register is quite bright in tone
  • The higher register (notes written above middle C) is where the instrument sounds worst
  • It can’t play loudly in the upper register
  • Double tonguing doesn’t work
  • Harmonics can’t be produced
  • Good for legato and staccato
  • There is no high note crook
  • Do not write circular breathing passages – at all. This is very dangerous for the performer.
  • When playing lower notes you have to breathe more often
  • Chromatic slurs can go quite fast in the lower register

One Response to Writing for the Bassoon and Contra Bassoon

  1. thomasstone1 says:

    for some reason, WordPress isn’t formatting the tittles properly. I’m not sure if this is a general problem, just a problem with my Browser.

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