Keywork choices on a bassoon.

I have a lot of bells and whistles on my bassoon. Of course, my bassoon came with a lot of “extra” goodies that are not common on a lot of instruments. Over the years of getting to know my own instrument, carefully researching keys and playing many different bassoons while working for Midwest Musical Imports, I added a few things, although with the bassoon there are more options than any other wind instrument for key customization. Below are some of my keywork choices, things that I wouldn’t mind having, and my rationale for these decisions.

Exposition: Rollers.

I’ve decided that mostly I’m not a fan of rollers. They standard four (low E♭-D♭ pair and F-A♭ pair) are impossible to avoid, and useful, and since those fingers do little else and are weak to move side to side in that way, the rollers are good. Most other rollers simply add size to the key, add a “hump” to go over with your finger, and as a result actually slow you down. Think about it: if your thumb has the extra large low E key with the rollers on either side, and rollers on the B♭ and F♯ keys, your thumb has to go over those rollers and move farther to get from the center of one key to the center of the next. Fox is probably the worst offender of this, having the really inefficient combination of right thumb keys on the Renard Artist line of instruments, with a really too big pancake key, and rollers that don’t help on the B♭ and F♯. Same goes with rollers on the left thumb keys. They make the area less easy to navigate. I would like to see more companies come up with something better for the whisper key to C♯ area on the left thumb. More square, closer together, and better travel would be better than adding rollers. Puchner does rollers well though, the keys stay small and the rollers are recessed so you don’t notice them. The Moosmann “E” series of right thumb rollers is also a good solution for the same reasons. Pretty much nobody else does it very well though. The exception in Fox is what Barry Trent has on his bassoon. I can’t find any pictures, and the options aren’t in Fox’s official catalog though, so you’ll have to do some digging or find Barry at a conference to ask him about his keys.

Development: Very high notes.

High E is necessary. I don’t personally like to off-set the E♭ and high E keys. I don’t think the position of an E key in between the first and second finger, just so you don’t have to slide a finger for Ravel’s piano concerto excerpt (high C♯-E) is worth it. You should be able to make that index finger movement without any gliss. Besides, this is standard issue now. High F however, is not, and for professional bassoons in the 21st century it should be. We play up there, get over it. I have a touch for high F above the E♭ key, for the middle finger of the left hand. This is an idiomatic place to go from high E to F, but not very good for E♭-F, so I would consider adding a second touch for the F key above the index finger. (since my first draft of this article I have since added that second touch for high F to my instrument) That’s the normal placement for it on most bassoons that offer high F, but that’s more awkward to do high E-F than the second finger is. The rod and mechanism is already all there, so adding a second touch isn’t that big of a deal. The double high E is pretty common, but again, I don’t think there’s any real good reason to have the E key in that off-set position anyway, so I leave it off.

High F♯ keys are a thing. I think it’s silly. While we get F frequently enough, I have never seen an F♯ in the literature. The harmonic fingering is easy to play and not that difficult to get to though, and I think adding another hole to the wing joint beyond the F is starting to play with fire. I’m sure someone will show me a half dozen examples of high F♯ in pieces of music, but is that worth adding an extra hole in your wing joint and the additional metal? I don’t think so.

Recapitulation: Trill keys.

I have three additional trill mechanisms on my bassoon beyond the standard keywork configuration. D-E♭, A♭-B♭, and a low C♯-D♯ helper.

I find the A♭-B♭ invaluable, as there are many instances where you need to do this trill in both octaves, and the usual trill fingerings are either cumbersome or bad sounding or both. The Mozart concerto and the Barktok Concerto for Orchestra are two examples that come to mind where this key comes in very handy.

I’m less sold on the invaluable nature of the D-E♭ trill, especially in the left hand. That doesn’t seem useful, but in the right hand above the index finger you can use it for the D-E♭ but also for C-D much faster than your left hand third finger can go. Usually this is accompanied by an off-set C♯ trill key, which is nice for when you use it for the intended purpose, but also gives you a really good G4-A♭4 trill.

The extra tab on the low C♯ rod that lets you trill from C♯ to D♯ is kind of a no-brainer. It’s a simple thing to add on, and it makes a normally impossible trill possible. It doesn’t get in the way of anything else. Mark Ortwein sells a little detachable piece you can add to any existing keywork. There are a few other systems to provide this trill, most of which require extensive key modification and may limit other things you can do with those keys, and all cost a great deal to install.


Years ago I wrote a blog post for Midwest Musical Imports regarding purchasing options for keywork on a bassoon. It’s still valid reading, although hardly complete, as the catalog of keywork choices on a bassoon is rather astounding.

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