Anatomy of the Bassoon

The bassoon is closely related to the dulcian, an early double reed instrument with a metal crook and a tube design that doubles back on itself, and the bombarde shawm, a seven hole double reed instrument from the Middle Ages.

Bassoons come apart into six pieces, counting the reed as a separate piece. There is a reed, the bocal or crook, wing joint, boot joint, bass joint and bell. These pieces must be fitted together precisely for proper playing to be possible.

Many bassoons are made of maple or plastic, with a small ring of metal or ivory on the bell.

To be the best you can be at playing the bassoon, you should know all of the usual names of the parts of the bassoon and what function they perform. You should also know how individual bassoon parts can be removed and replaced, how bassoon parts should be serviced and maintained and what to do if you think a part of your student bassoon is damaged or broken.

Let's learn about the anatomy of a typical bassoon from end to end. If you'd like to jump ahead, use the anatomy chart above to click a part you'd like to read about first.



The bell amplifies and directs the sound waves out from the bassoon.

The bell is the final stage in the bassoon's length and is where the sound waves emerge from the instrument.

Depending on the design of the bassoon, you will often find one or more tone holes on the bell joint operated by keys.

Depending on the playing situation, the bell joint can be replaced by bells of differing styles and lengths to allow the production of certain notes or to produce a specific tone.

Be very careful when carrying the bassoon out of the case or holding it at rest to be sure the bell does not bump against something and become damaged.

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The bocal is a curved metal tube that connects the reed to the bassoon's wing joint.

There are numerous varieties of crook to suit the style of any player. The pitch of the bassoon can be changed by replacing the crook with one that has a different length. The longer the crook, the lower the pitch of the bassoon.

The bocal fits neatly into a socket atop the wing joint and the reed attaches to the other end.

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The crutch is a hand rest to help the player stabilize the right hand while playing.

The crutch is located on the side of the boot joint and looks something like a comma. A thumb screw allows the player to adjust the crutch to suit the size of the hand.

While playing, the curve of the right hand fits naturally around the crutch and provides excellent stability for the right hand while working the keys.

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The boot joint is the bassoon's fourth section connecting the long joint to the wing joint.

The boot joint is where the conical tube inside the bassoon doubles back on itself to head up again to the bell. Because of this fold, the bassoon can fit over eight feet of tube into an instrument that is just over 4 feet in length.

There are several important tone holes found on the boot joint, which are accessed through a network of keys and rods.

The boot joint anchors the straps that are used to hold the bassoon. These straps include a seat strap which is placed under the player on his/her seat before sitting and neck or shoulder straps.

While uncommon, some players also use a spike similar to the one found on a cello to support the bassoon from below. If so, the spike is attached to the boot joint and extends to the floor.

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Padded keys cover and uncover tone holes to change the pitch of the bassoon.

Bassoon keys are small round metal rings with felt pads and covers or levers that are mounted on metal rods. They alternatively cover and uncover the tone holes in the sides of the bassoon when combinations of fingerings are made. They change the flow of air through the bassoon and thereby raise or lower the pitch.

There are five main finger holes on the front of the bassoon with a sixth that is played with a key. In addition, there are at least 17 other keys on the front and/or back of the bassoon.

"Flicking" is a style of playing the keys where the player briefly presses the high A, C and D keys with the left thumb at the beginning of certain notes. This eliminates cracking, or brief multiphonics that can happen if this technique is not used.

The whisper key performs a similar function for the lower notes on the bassoon. When pressed with the left hand thumb, the whisper key helps prevent the note from cracking. However, it only takes effect between the G below middle C and below in the scale.

Though made of metal, the bassoon's keys are surprisingly easy to bend by accident, so great care should be made to keep the keys in pristine shape. Remember, even the slightest knock could render the bassoon unplayable.

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The bass joint is the bassoon's fifth section that connects boot joint to bell.

The bass joint has strategically-placed holes and a delicate framework of keys and rods that access them, allowing the player to play certain notes on the scale.

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The reed vibrates to produce the initial sound wave in the bassoon.

The bassoon reed is a highly personalized part of the instrument that is often handmade by more experienced players. It is made of a length of arundo donax cane that is shaped, folded over, bound, shaped again, then cut to create a double reed shape with a small cavity inside.

The player uses a combination of air pressure, lip pressure, mouth cavity and more to vibrate the reed and create a sound wave that travels through the crook and into the bassoon.

Reeds are made of organic material and come under a lot of stress as they are played. Inspect your bassoon reed for signs of warping, cracked or splitting and discard any worn out reeds before they affect your tone.

After every playing session, dry the reed with a soft cloth. Never store your reed loose in your case: it will inevitably be lost or damaged.

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Covered in springy cork or string, the tenons keep the bassoon's sections fitting tightly together.

The bassoon has cork- or string-covered tenons that protrude from the end of each section and are shaped perfectly to fit firmly into the next section.

Having to use too much or too little force to assemble the bassoon is a sign that your corks might need replacing soon. Corks respond quickly to atmospheric change and also compress gradually over time. Eventually, replacement of the cork is the only option to maintain a proper air seal.

When you finish each playing session, be sure the bassoon is dry before storing. Pay particular attention to the tenons, which can swell with moisture or even general humidity and make the joints difficult to separate. A thorough swabbing is the first step, followed by another round of drying with a soft, absorbent instrument cloth.

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The wing joint is the bassoon's third section that connects crook to boot joint.

The crook feeds the sound wave into the wing joint, which then sends it into the boot joint. There is a small socket on the top of the wing joint into which the crook is fitted before playing begins.

On the wing joint are found several important tone holes and a system of keys and rods to play them.

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