Introduction for Teachers

Welcome to Music and the Bassoon, the first comprehensive bassoon method available online, free of charge. Music and the Bassoon offers over 360 arrangements of traditional melodies and classics, as well as original compositions and scales, organized into 50 pedagogically sequenced units for beginning through advanced bassoonists. Unlike any other method, Music and the Bassoon includes many video demonstrations of bassoon techniques and audio clips of many of the tunes so that students can see and hear how a beautiful sound is made on the instrument. Each unit contains a duet or canon, a sound clip of a performance of the full piece, as well as performances of individual parts so that students can play in harmony with the recordings. Also included are videos of lessons with middle school students, demonstrating approaches to addressing fundamental concepts of good bassoon playing.

My goal in creating Music and the Bassoon is to provide a means for students from the very beginning to develop excellent habits in terms of both musicianship and technique. The overriding principles in establishing good habits on an instrument are appropriate pacing in introducing new concepts and developing listening and problem solving skills. I systematically introduce new notes and concepts such as flicking, half-holing, and vibrato, with plenty of opportunity for reinforcement of skills in the musical examples. I have arranged many traditional melodies for this method, and hope that you will encourage students to sing the examples frequently to engage their intuitive sense of expression. I have also arranged many melodies from the classical repertoire and hope that students will listen to recordings of the original pieces to develop a sense of appropriate style. In addition to these appealing melodies, I have composed a number of examples that are designed to efficiently develop particular techniques. The chromatic scale and all major and minor scales are introduced at opportune spots, and students are encouraged to memorize them. A number of the items throughout are “play by ear” assignments where I provide a sound clip, without sheet music, of a common tune such as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and ask students to learn to play it by ear – an important musicianship skill that is often overlooked. In subsequent lessons, students might be asked to transpose a previously studied tune to a different key.

Of primary importance in all stages of music instruction is challenging students to listen, think and behave like professional musicians. Accomplished musicians have a comprehensive awareness as they play. In their inner ears is a concept of the ultimate performance – one that encompasses beauty of tone, musical line, style, intonation and rhythm. The physical habits that allow for that ultimate performance are all in service to the all-encompassing concept of sound. I have provided sound clips of numerous tunes from the book, including all of the tunes from the first four units. Encourage students to listen frequently to these examples in order to develop their concept of how they want to sound.

You can challenge students to recognize the refinement in good playing. “Do you hear a difference in the tone on the sound clip and the tone you just made? Can you describe that difference? Thinking back to the video that showed a good embouchure, what can you do to produce a more beautiful tone?” Such questioning tactics challenge students to listen more keenly, and to devise solutions to problems, and therefore to listen, think and behave like professional musicians.

Coaxing students to analyze their performance this way in lessons and rehearsals increases the likelihood that they will practice effectively on their own. Professional musicians and advanced students (and fortunate beginning students who are challenged to do so in lessons and rehearsals) approach practicing with a playful sense of experimentation. When a passage does not measure up to the concept of sound in their heads (and I reiterate the importance of having a strong concept of beautiful playing), they analyze the difference between their ideal concept and what they actually played. They then consider some physical changes that will achieve a performance more like the ideal one already in their heads. They try those changes and then analyze again. Of course the ideas about sound quality, phrasing and style might change on a given passage through this process as they reconsider aspects, and that’s part of the playful fun in practicing… and teaching… and learning.

Insist on quality of performance over quantity of material, and take the time to set-up students for success (playing with a good sound, rhythm, intonation and musical intent) every time. Do not move on to new material until the students have performed the current material with all of those elements. This insistence on quality of performance over quantity of material makes the goals much more complex than simply putting the right fingers down at the right time (the apparent goal of many young players that I hear). If the goal is to “get through” the material, students learn to play sloppily and heartlessly, and they never establish solid foundations upon which long lasting skills can be built. It is more time consuming at first to demand a good embouchure, hand position, posture and air support on every execution, but ultimately this approach is much more rewarding, and builds a strong foundation for future musical growth.

Each of the 50 units in Music and the Bassoon contains 6 to 10 musical examples. A new note is introduced every unit or two, starting in the lower mid-range and gradually expanding outward. Units may be used as weekly assignments, but only if such pacing of the material allows individual students to prepare the content to a high level. More likely, in order to set attainable goals of polish and musical beauty, specific musical examples should often be reassigned for subsequent lessons. The more advanced units are designed for bassoonists who have been playing for several years. They can be challenging and rewarding to students throughout high school and early college. Reading the tenor clef, for instance, is introduced in Unit 39. Many of the advanced duets are arrangements of works by Beethoven, Mozart and Devienne, and would be enjoyable diversions for professional players.

Why is this method more productive than the traditional ones used by young bassoonists? There are, of course, the many video clips and sound clips that relate directly to the material students are studying, available online free of charge, allowing for unlimited access to visual and aural models. In addition, this method presents material in a logical sequence for gaining musicianship skills and bassoon technique. Many bassoonists begin with a method book through their band programs, but in some of the band methods I have seen, an awkwardly fingered note such as Eb is the first note introduced. The authors of such methods clearly did not have the bassoonists’ wellbeing at heart. Also, unlike any other bassoon method to date, Music and the Bassoon takes the player into advanced techniques, while utilizing appealing melodies and duets. Most bassoonists, after a year or two of study, are launched into one or more etude books that present little variety or musical interest. In Texas (and I am sure elsewhere too) students are often expected to play material well beyond the level at which they can perform with technical fluency and musical sophistication. High school freshmen are expected to prepare the same college level etudes as the seniors and to compete in the All-Region and All-State auditions. Young players’ musical development would be more likely to thrive if they delayed work on such challenging etudes, which often causes them to forego good habits and ignore artistic considerations as they trudge through the difficult material. Why not accelerate students’ development by allowing them to enjoy accessible melodies while more readily attaining a pleasing level of artistry and excellent habits on the instrument?

I have provided videos called “Getting Started” and “Preliminary Exercises,” which introduce concepts of posture, breathing, embouchure and articulation using just the reed or just the reed on the bocal. Beginning bassoonists should spend several sessions on these exercises (or similar ones led by you, the teacher) establishing solid habits before adding the challenges of holding the instrument and fingering notes. Initial activities involving holding and playing the bassoon should involve rote imitation, without reading sheet music. Although I do, for reference purposes, include sheet music for Units 1 through 4, I also provide sound clips for all of the examples in those units, so the emphasis can be on listening and imitating, without the distraction of music stands and note reading. Ideally, students will have frequent guidance from a teacher in the early stages of development (several lessons a week), and will not be expected to practice on their own until they can reasonably evaluate the quality of the sounds they are making (otherwise, who knows what horrible habits and noises they might be reinforcing during their “practice” time?).

The tunes in the early units emphasize legato playing, with most note changes under a slur, so that students develop a sense of connection of ideas and phrase motion through maintaining a constant air stream. Since establishing a concept of musical beauty necessitates beautiful note beginnings, I introduce tonguing at the beginning as well. Tonguing concepts are developed through repeated pitches articulated very smoothly, minimizing the role of the tongue, while maintaining the airstream through the articulation.

Although I have not specifically addressed rhythmic learning in this method, the rhythmic content of the examples progresses through the units from more basic to more complex. I am assuming that students will have some rhythmic background on an instrument they have studied prior to taking up the bassoon, and that they will receive rhythmic instruction from a music teacher when using this program.

I recommend that students switch to bassoon after achieving a good sound concept and dexterity on another instrument rather than starting bassoon from scratch. Let’s face it: bassoon is the most complicated woodwind instrument (I realize that statement is quite controversial and will surely invite flack from my woodwind colleagues). The bassoon has more pads and keys than any other woodwind instrument, which means there are more things that can get out of adjustment, and it has more places to put the fingers. The three and a half-octave range, the multiple keys for each thumb, and complex techniques such as half-holing and flicking require a superior level of intelligence and coordination (okay, I am biased, but really…), so someone who has proven success on another instrument has a better chance of mastering the challenges of the bassoon without frustration. Dealing with the double reed and its mercurial qualities also poses challenges that are better suited for the more mature and experienced music student.

As you work with Music and the Bassoon, please maintain a high artistic standard with your students in each musical example so that they establish excellent habits. It is that high standard, and the listening and problem solving skills behind that standard that a method itself cannot foster. Only the teachers, parents and students involved in the process of teaching, practicing and rehearsing can do that. Keep in mind that the purpose of playing music is to convey an idea or emotion, and unless something is conveyed, music has not been made. Investing extra time and effort establishing solid fundamental skills physically, attitudinally and aurally in the beginning stages will result in strong habits that will equip students to play more masterfully now and in the future. Music is one of the most meaningful and enjoyable human endeavors, and those of us who play an instrument are very fortunate to reap its benefits. Why not play beautifully from the start?

Enjoy Music and the Bassoon!

Kristin Wolfe Jensen