Quiet Fingerings on the Bassoon

Having talked about my quiet fingering for the start of Figaro on the previous page, I thought I might as well divulge all the quiet fingerings that I use. All instruments and players are different but these fingerings work for me. You might have to find alternatives.

Low B flat and B natural: use a mute if you need to. I was told by a very well known international soloist that he plays the quiet low B at the end of the first movement of Tchaik 5 by fingering low C, taking the reed almost completely out of the mouth and lipping it down a semi-tone. Talk about a high risk strategy!

Low C: if your bassoon has the extra touch on its low C key, move your thumb round and close the B flat key or, if you haven’t, wedge the B flat key on the bell joint closed with an old reed or a small wedge of cork which can be useful for one or two other funny fingerings. I often half-close the B natural key (careful not to do this too much). This can be useful for diminuendos.

Low C sharp: close the B natural key. this has a strong effect. Alternatively, half close the B natural key as above.

Low D: close the B flat key either with your thumb or, if your instrument has that extra touch on the C natural key, use a wedge as described above. This has a strong effect.

Low E flat: again close the B flat key. This has a moderate effect and produces a nice warm sound but is a bit awkward to use in fast passages.

Low E: Not much to suggest here but try it with and without the C sharp key and also the B flat key.

Low F: try lowering the E plate a tiny amount. But be careful. This can be useful in diminuendos. Another trick is to put the crook key on, close the B flat key and then half close the B natural key (and also the C and D keys)

Low F sharp: put the crook key lock on and then add the low D key and E flat key. This gives a very quiet note which also flattens the pitch. Or, try carefully closing the E plate a little.

Low G: half close the E plate or, for something a bit more extreme, close it completely.

Low A flat: try very carefully closing the F key a tiny amount.

A natural in the bass clef: close the thumb F sharp key (which also closes the F key). This has a big effect.

B flat in the bass clef: put the E plate half or fully down or add the F key (very useful for the beginning of Beethoven IV or Die Walkure). For a much greater effect, finger a bottom B flat but move the third finger of the right hand off the G key and on to the ‘front’ B flat key. This last fingering is extremely quiet but is rather inflexible in pitch so, if it’s a bit sharp or flat, you’re stuck.

A trick you can use to play B flat in the bass clef and also an octave above quietly is to set up the right hand third finger B flat key so that it opens the tone hole on the back of the instrument a little less than it is normally opened by the thumb key. You can do this by sticking a piece of cork on the under-side of the key. I keep my instrument set up like this since normally I never or hardly ever use this key. I believe it is only there as a relic of the French system, but I may be wrong about this.

B natural in the bass clef: Normal fingering plus E plate and low B flat and B natural keys. Same problems as with the similar B flat fingering.

C natural in the bass clef: crook key lock on and then add all the left thumb keys. Same problems as above. Or, very carefully lower the first two fingers of the right hand so as to partially restrict the air flow from them.

C sharp in the bass clef: not much to suggest here but try half or fully closing the B finger hole. Or try the same trick with the right hand fingers as with the C natural.

D natural in the bass clef: normal fingering and add right thumb B flat and A finger hole. Very quiet and very useful. Right thumb B flat and B finger hole is even quieter. (Try these for the Overture to Figaro).

E flat in the bass clef: my normal full fingering for this is: left hand fork fingering plus low E flat little finger key; right hand second finger A hole plus thumb B flat key. My quiet fingering substitutes the right hand first finger (B) for the second finger (A).

E natural in the bass clef: normal fingering plus right hand G key and E plate.

F natural in the bass clef: normal fingering plus right hand G key and E plate as with the E.

F sharp below middle C: add the low D + E flat keys. Strong effect.

G below middle C: add the E plate.

G sharp below middle C: not much to suggest here.

A below middle C: add the F sharp key.

B flat below middle C: close or half close the E plate or add the F key.

B natural below middle C: very carefully shade the A finger hole

Middle C: Very carefully shade the B and A finger holes.

Middle C sharp: rather than use the long (or full) C sharp (which includes the right hand A hole G key and F key) try the short fingering (i.e. nothing in the right hand but add the low D key as well as the C sharp key). Alternatively, try the C – D flat trill key (right index finger on most instruments) but the pitch of this is usually a bit suspect.

Tenor D: add the right thumb B flat key and the right hand second finger.

The notes from E flat upwards are mostly quite amenable to being played pp.

Good luck with these fingerings and if you have any additional suggestions please feel free to email me .