Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Over the Break

While many of us are enjoying a Christmas or winter break, I'd like to talk about a different break.

A reader who is an adult beginner requested advice on successfully navigating slurs that bridge the register break on the bassoon. That would be any note from open F (F2) or below to any note above open F. This break occurs due to a lack of a true octave key on the bassoon.

Coordinating the movement of many fingers on both hands can make this difficult. Another issue is the half hole used when slurring to F#, G or G# -- also made necessary by the lack of a proper octave key or vent.

A few things to check if slurring to these notes is problematic.

  1. Reed tip opening needs to be sufficient (1 mm at least at widest point between blades) to accommodate the change in air speed from the primary octave to the overblown (second) octave.
  2. Reed needs to be strong enough to handle the change in airspeed without closing up. Softer reeds make this difficult.
  3. Embouchure should remain relaxed while increasing air speed. No biting!
  4. When removing fingers from the body of the bassoon, keep them as close as possible. Lift them straight off the bassoon just a few millimeters, not at an angle. This way, you have a greater chance of covering the tone holes completely when you return them. Use the mirror to check for excess motion.
  5. Half hole technique needs to be secure.
Regarding the half hole technique, opening different amounts for each of the three notes (F#, G, G#) helps. F# = 3/4 open, G = 1/2 open, G# 1/4 open.

To refine the half hole technique:
  1. Use a mirror to see what your index finger is doing. 
  2. Pretend the tip of your index finger is glued to the tone hole. It can be rotated down towards the E tone hole, but not lifted off because of the "glue". 
  3. Practice half holing with your finger and thumb on a pencil. Rotate the index finger without lifting it.
  4. Or practice by making the "OK" sign with your thumb and index finger. Rotate the index finger left and right without losing contact with the thumb. Keep the thumb steady and don't let it move.
The Weissenborn Method introduces slurs over the register break in a pedagogically solid sequence.

Note that Weissenborn starts with a G-F slur in the top exercise. It's easier to form the half hole G fingering and then remove fingers slur to F, than it is to start with open F and slur to G. After this action is mastered the student can then move on to the second exercise in which an F-G slur is added to the G-F slur.

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