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What’s more important in a bassoon, sweetness of tone or lots of projection?

June 12th, 2018

Double Reed Ltd. poll results: 82% of bassoonists prefer sweetness of tone in their bassoon than lots of projection

Double Reed Ltd. poll results: 82% of bassoonists prefer sweetness of tone in their bassoon than lots of projection

Article Author: Oliver Ludlow, In-House-Bassoon Specialist and Director at Double Reed Ltd. 

What’s more important in a bassoon, sweetness of tone or lots of projection?

We recently posed this question to bassoonists in a week-long poll on the Double Reed Ltd. Facebook page. The results came out today as a landslide in favour of sweetness of tone - out of 363 votes, 82% were in favour of a sweet tone. In fact, only 65 bassoonists voted in favour of projection.

The trade-off

Despite the obvious preference for a quality sound, bassoonists frequently report that they struggle to be heard in modern orchestras, which have steadily grown in size over the years. There is often a trade-off between competing with other instruments to be heard and maintaining that sweet, rich tone that bassoons are renowned for.

Our poll results in favour of a sweet tone are revealing, but some of the most interesting insights can be drawn from the subsequent discussion that took place, as bassoonists weighed in on the debate about whether the ‘Projection Versus Sweetness’ trade-off really exists, how significant it is, in what circumstances are bassoonists affected, and whether it can be compensated for by the individual player.

Here is a selection of some of the most useful and thought-provoking comments:

In favour of a sweet tone

“Tone has to be more important than projection. A poor tone with powerful projection is just nastiness that can be heard further away from the bassoon. I strive for both so that the beauty can be heard by the audience in the back of the auditorium.” 

Richard Murray, Bassoonist

“I would not only choose for best sound but also for best musicality - a bigger sound often comes at the cost of something- and try to combine that with a sound that is as big as possible (but not at the cost of being able to play pppp) … sound and musicality are first, projection third."

Erwin Reebout, Bassoonist

"Sweetness may be the wrong word for what I hope for... but quality and flexibility of the tone colours certainly. What’s the point projecting just any sound?"

Sean Massey, Bassoonist

"My Püchner is exceptionally quiet, but it has THE most beautiful tone."

Helen Homes, Bassoonist

In favour of projection

“In the bassoon itself, projection. I find it much easier to change the reeds to increase the sweetness rather than changing them for projection without destroying the tone.”

Ben Adelberg, Bassoonist

“…Projection however is extremely important, I can say that from my own experience: I used to play a Fox bassoon and it was a lovely instrument but I could not use it in ensembles and orchestras because the sound was so tiny. Once I started playing Heckel I felt I was really part of the ensembles and orchestras I played in; I could compete with the brass section without any effort.”

Erwin Reebout, Bassoonist

Why not both?

‪“A player ideally should have both projection and sweetness of tone… this can be accomplished by honing one's set-up so that any weakness in the instrument is compensated for by the reed, the embouchure, etc. For one player, a "loud" bassoon, coupled with a sweet-sounding reed will accomplish this, for another player, a sweet-sounding instrument with a reed which has great projection will be just right. We really need to have both qualities in our playing.”

David Crispin, Bassoonist

“We need both sweetness and projection. I've spent a lot of time learning to open up and blow, combined with making a reed a bit differently to allow for more projection. I feel pretty confident with those right now. I'd go for more sweetness at this moment in trying to balance the two.”

K.C. Chai, Bassoonist

It depends on where you are playing

“It depends on your primary performance opportunity. Recitals and chamber music may be situations where projection is not so important. But in a symphony orchestra, it's crucial.”

Ryan M Hare, Bassoonist

Choose the right instrument

“Both - there are some gorgeous instruments that have good amounts of both.” 

Phil Pike, Bassoonist

Whatever your preference as a bassoonist, it is important that you get the right advice when choosing your instrument – contact us to discuss our bassoons and we will help you determine which instrument will help you project more, produce a sweeter tone, or strike that perfect balance of projection and sweetness combined.

Take a look at the bassoons we’ve got in stock here, or if you need to change your reed to help you achieve the sound you need, take a look at our reed selection here.

We are running similar bassoon related polls and discussions on our Facebook and Twitter pages every week – don’t forget to vote!