Little finger whisper key

french whisper key

The little finger whisper key, or french whisper key; should become a standard key on the bassoon. It adds an extra option besides the whisper key lock and reduces fatigue in the repeated transition from low note thumb position to the flick key thumb position. The first example  comes from Robert Rønnes book “12 Virtouso Studies” in the first study “Warming Up” This passage is a good example of the low register to middle register thumb shift. The left thumb need to shift from the low C key across to the whisper key. However  with the little finger whisper key, you can hold down the whisper key for the entire measure. This allows the left thumb to stay in the low register position and play low C as it comes. By using the french whisper key there is the option of quickly removing it, unlike the whisper key lock. It can be added or removed during a fast passage without a reach or shifting.


The next example comes from Simon Kovar’s “24 Daily Exercises” and is a more common issue on the bassoon, the shift from the whisper key to flick keys. The usual technique is to leave the whisper key slightly early in order to get to the flick key in time. With a french whisper key a passage like this takes minimal energy with greater accuracy.



Skywalker Ranch


This last week I had a chance to record a session a Skywalker Ranch with the San Francisco Wind Ensemble. We even had the opportunity to work with Leslie Ann, the very talented recording engineer of Skywalker sound. In total we recorded:

Ida Gotkovsky: Poeme du Feu

David Maslanka: In Memoriam

Boris Kozhevnikov: Symphony 3

Darrol Barry: Prevailing Winds

Besides having fun at Skywalker, this gig was very different for me in that it was with a wind ensemble. I haven’t played with a wind ensemble since high school and I wasn’t very aware of my own bassoon sound at that time. Wind ensembles have saxophones, euphoniums, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet and multiple clarinets doubling each part. So in this situation the bassoon section is at a loss; with an entire sax family and clarinet family the bassoon is barely audible. Not to mention that any dynamics I performed hardly made a dent in the overall sound of that passage. The bassoons place in a concert band a very limited and unflattering. Much of the bassoon part is rhythmic background, if it is a moving line then it is doubled by saxophones or euphoniums. I think I will stick to orchestras from now on!


Contraforte Reed Dimensions

Contraforte Reed

This isn’t an IDRS journal but I think it is still an appropriate place to post reed dimensions. I have only had a few months with the contraforte so far I have come to two styles of reed. One wider and one narrower, the wider shape is a real robust contraforte sound and the narrow shape is a simpler contrabassoon sound.

The wide shape is using the Reiger contraforte shape (23.25mm wide) and formed on a Reiger contraforte mandrel.

160mm cane

35mm blade (collar to tip)

45mm tube (collar to end)

5mm from first wire to second wire

The narrow reed is shaped on a Reiger K1 contrabassoon shape, it’s important to use a fold-over shaper for this since I still use 160mm cane. 160mm cane will not fit into a contrabassoon straight shaper which is meant to hold 150mm cane, but on a fold over shaper the tube continues further. Using this extra tube length also allows the reed to be formed on a contraforte mandrel. Besides using a different shape all of the dimensions are the same.

160mm cane

35mm blade (collar to tip)

45mm tube (collar to end)

5mm from first wire to second wire

contraforte reed

The narrow reed is essential to making the CF work in every situation. This style produces a simple, dryer sound, requiring less air, and achieves an easy pianissimo response.

the wide reed is now available on




Leitzinger Bocal

I get a big kick out of experimenting with my setup and trying different options. Leitzinger bocals have been around for a few years now, and I have only heard good things about them. I play a Fox 601 which has the benefit of being very flexible, the bocal that I use completely changes the instrument.

I’m very spoiled in that I live in San Francisco and pretty close to Forrests Music. I picked up a few Leitzinger bocals to play test for the week and I decided to try different platings and different alloys. When I try bocals, two bocals of the same model and size sound so different.  I don’t usually try different platings because I can’t tell if the difference is between the platings or just different bocals. I ended up with a N ML 1

Leitzinger Bocal

Contraforte Stand


contraforte stand
contraforte stand

After a long search,  I have finally found an instrument stand for the contraforte. This was a find off of eBay and it was made by Aureum. This seems to be a generic low-woodwind stand that can adjust to fit many different instruments, it certainly fits contrabassoon on top of contraforte. The top of the stand is completely adjustable in height, width, and angle that it hold the contra. My only complaint would be that the peg cup at the bottom of the stand is too small, but I might remove it and add a different one.

I am unable to find out where this stand can be bought. It’s a company in Korea and I don’t think that they have any U.S. distributors. I have seen a few of these pop up on eBay though!

contraforte stand


Reed Thread
Reed Thread

Probably the least important part of reed making is reed thread. This is the most visual and artistic aspect of the process but serves little purpose. There are a few shapes that require wrapping to seal properly (Hertzberg) but outside of that, good shaping and Duco cement will suffice. Threads are available at double reed supply stores. I have been looking for other sources of reed thread (for cheaper) but have come up short. I know people who prefer cotton thread, and for those people “Aunt Lydia’s” thread is availabe at many stores. I don’t personally like how Duco cement works with cotton. Nylon size FF thread or 138 can be found at many online retailers. I have been using OMEGA thread. Its a nice nylon thread but its thicker than FF so maybe it isn’t usable for oboe/english horn. It comes in 90 different colors and its very cheap. This is great for bassoon and contra reeds and it doesn’t take as much thread to create a turban. I have a friend who buys all of her thread off of the thread exchange. They sell larger spools and in many colors. And of course all of the double reed supply stores have thread. Most of my thread is from RDG Forrests and Charles

Home-made reed case



I made myself a reed case last week! I remembered seeing a post from David Wells about making a reed case a few months ago. I wasn’t looking for something cheap, because I kind of like the fancy reed cases. There are currently no reed case that fit contaforte reeds and most players have just been using jewelry boxes.

So I was happy to find this little tupperware in the container store for a few dollars. And then I picked up some foam at Michaels (like the kind for kindergarden crafts)

I used two layer glued together with Duco cement for the reed holders, glued that to the base and glued it into the acrylic container. I also poked holes in the lid so that the reeds can dry out between uses.