Some Basic Bassoon Fingering Issues

Whisper Key | c sharp | e flat | Half Holes |
Alternate Fingerings
| Register Keys (Venting) | Resonance Key

Whisper Key: It is possible to also play any pitch which normally requires the whisper key, without that key. Because response is more difficult, and tone is slightly altered, this is only done to facilitate some kind of fingering problem involving the right thumb. (A very few bassoons actually have an alternate whisper key operated by the RH little finger to eliminate some of those problems.)

For example: Notes below F automatically have the whisper key because of a linkage to the low "E" key. When moving from a pitch with whisper key to a note below low "D" or to a higher note which needs one of the right thumb vent keys, the thumb must move too far to be able to smoothly connect the motion. In these cases you may either use the whisper key very briefly at the beginning of the first pitch, or occasionally eliminate the use of the whisper key. The same principle applies when moving in the opposite direction.

"c sharp": This pitch requires the simultaneous use of whisper," c sharp", and "low D" thumb keys. Since your thumb is already on the whisper key in this range, you need to develop the technique of rolling the thumb up to press down the "c sharp" and "D" keys, while maintaining the closed whisper key. There should be minimal, if any, wrist motion. Position of the thumb is critical. It should be close to "c sharp" when only pressing the whisper key. Acoustics dictate that the "D" pad must nearly close before the c sharp begins to open in order for the note to speak cleanly. There is because of a mechanical factor in that the "D" pad closes as the "c sharp" pad opens. I feel more action toward the low "D" key, with the tip of my thumb moving to the "c sharp" as a result of that action.

"e flat": The right hand is added as shown to stabilize tone and pitch. Adding to the difficulty is the left hand fork fingering. On a few bassoons using the right hand index finger instead of middle finger is more effective. (This is normally a "muted" or soft fingering.)

Half holes: These occur on "f sharp, g, a flat", and some notes above "f1". Failure to have the correct size opening will result in a multiphonic, at least on the attack. Too large a "half hole" may sharpen the pitch.

Alternate fingerings: I have given common alternate fingerings fingerings for "c sharp 1, f sharp 1, a flat 1, and a1". Reasons for their use are: pitch, dynamics, tone, or technique.

Virtually every note on the bassoon has alternate fingerings possible. See the IDRS website for reference.

Register keys (venting): The right hand thumb keys above the "c sharp" key are used as register keys in the upper two octaves of the instrument. In ascending order, these keys are known as: the high "a, c, and d" keys. Student model bassoons often do not have high "d" keys. When used for the pitches a - d1 (around "middle c") the following ideas may be applied:

  1. Always use the appropriate register key when slurring up to one of these pitches from below "f sharp" ("over the break")
  2. When slurring down from a pitch above "d1", these register keys may be helpful or necessary, depending on the interval.
  3. If these keys are not used when articulating pitches from "a - d1", the attacks are likely to "crack", which means we will hear a brief multiphonic. This seems to be most pronounced at the lower end of this range, and less of a problem on the "d1".

Using the register keys to clean up attacks has become a part of most bassoon-ists' technique. Learning this early will save huge amounts of frustration later on.
When tonguing a rapid stepwise passage in this range, negotiating the thumb keys can be very difficult. Some people master this, but there are "half way" measures which work well. This involves limiting the number of vent keys used. For example: the high "c" key can be used for all of "a, b flat, b, and c". Even the high d key can be used for all those notes if you need to connect with a "d". The trade off is slightly inferior pitch and response on some notes.

Resonance key: The left hand little finger key intended for low "E flat" is also known as the " resonance key". Because of mysterious (to me) acoustical reasons, opening this key enhances many notes on the bassoon. It is particularly needed in the high range, and is used on virtually every note above (and often including) "e1".