Endangered Instrument: Bassoon

The 2017 soundfestival saw the beginning of a five-year focus on 'endangered instruments and shone a spotlight on the bassoon. 

An often overlooked but incredibly versatile instrument the festival showcased the bassoon in performances and workshops featuring prominent bassoonists including Pascal Gallois, Peter Whelan, Lesley Wilson and Laurence Perkins who presented new works for bassoon from composers including Benedict Mason, Gemma McGregor, Pete Stollery, Sonia Allori, Janet Beat and more.

About the bassoon

Woodwind Instruments

The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family, which plays in the tenor and bass ranges.

Woodwind instruments are all made of tubes. Some have shorter tubes, like the flute, oboe or clarinet. Others such as the bassoon have longer tubes.

The longer the tube, the longer it takes for the sound wave to travel along it. This makes the notes sound lower. If the tube shorter the air travels less far and the sound is higher.

The bassoon

The bassoon is the lowest instrument of the woodwind family of instruments which includes, from the highest sounding instruments to the lowest, the piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon and contrabassoon. 

The bassoon is made of four tubes of wood which are attached together.

The low sound of the bassoon is made by blowing air into the bassoon, sending a sound wave around the tube. The lowest note is played with all the holes along the side closed, which is when the column is at its longest. The column is shortened by opening up holes successively, starting from the open end at the top.

To blow into a bassoon you use a double reed. This is how the air flowing through the tube is controlled.

Reeds are made of springy cane and can vibrate on their own. When a reed is attached to the instrument and someone blows into the reed, the pressure increases which makes the reed open more, letting more air into the bassoon and creating more noise. When the pressure falls, the reed tends to close and to let less air in.


You can make your own double reed out of a plastic drinking straw. Cut a V shaped point on the end of the straw as shown in the picture below. Put the cut end in your mouth, squeeze slightly with your lips and blow. You’re probably making a sound like a beginner oboist! You can "tune" it by cutting pieces off the other end which will make it sound higher!