We can count ourselves lucky,
that all of the bassoon factories we asked about this have cooperated in this important element of our current bassoon-playing culture.
Each of the manufacturers has weighed up its own decisions in the hunt for a bassoon that children can play, and produced an instrument on that basis. We have just translated the texts they contributed and adapted them to how we would normally speak. Their tales often seem contradictory to each other, because of the choices they have made, but each line of reasoning can be followed and the information is clear.
We respect every opinion and, because we have been able to show all of these contributions at the same time, we have left them as they are, seeing no real need to add any further comments.
Nowadays there are many different options available for learning to play the bassoon as a child. This was not always the case. I was 16 years old when I started to learn to play the instrument. There was a rule in those days that you had to be at least 12 before you could start learning the bassoon. This was the sort of rule that everyone just repeats parrot-fashion, without thinking too much about it. One would say that your hands were not big enough, so you couldn’t handle the keys, while another said that your lungs had to mature first of all and someone else would even raise the spectre of emphysema (a lung condition where the lungs get stretched and the alveoli break down, possibly due to excessive pressure).
A lot has changed over the past few decades. Bassoons have become more manageable and you don’t hear so much about lung problems any more. This also has something to do with the better state of repair of bassoons (offering less resistance) and – let’s not forget – with the much improved reeds that are also available for amateurs nowadays. Modern reeds let you get rid of your breath more easily, so that the pressure in your lungs doesn’t rise so far. So – there’s really no reason for not starting to play the bassoon at quite a tender age. In these articles, we’ve assembled a lot of information about bassoons for children, or indeed for adults with small hands.
But … what do you do if you have really large hands?
Most people with large hands also have a large body. If you have a long torso and long arms, the only way you can only play the bassoon is with bent wrists and scrunched-up shoulders.
This is not good for breathing and also leads to incorrect muscular tension in the hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, neck and even the embouchure.
For small children, we can bend the bocal downwards, but in this case we actually have to make sure it ends up a bit higher than normal.
The standard model of bocal is very traditional, just like the design of the bassoon itself. In the Netherlands and Germany, they actually call a bocal an “S”, reflecting its shape. The shape of the bocal and the proportions of the bassoon have remained virtually unchanged for a couple of centuries.
And these proportions were fixed at a time when the average player was just 5' 3" (1.60 m) tall! Average heights nowadays have increased throughout the world by about 6 inches (or 15 cm) and, in our affluent western society, by over 8 inches (20 cm), with some exceptions of well over a foot taller.
Average male heights over the course of time.