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Teaching approach - bassoon and contra bassoon and reed making

As a bassoon teacher my goal is to help you improve your abilities. That is why I enjoy teaching! I want that after a session with me you go away knowing you have learnt something new and that you can apply this, and that through my help you will have more confidence to demonstrate your abilities.

This journey is different for everyone. The number of lessons needed is different for everyone. Some come regularly and work on specific things. Others come once and take something away and then stay in touch by email.

But one word of advice - never let the fact that you have "no time" to practise interfere with coming for a consultation. The work we do IN the session itself is for you so that you can improve and apply these principles in your rehearsals and concerts. If the hour we spend is the only time you have had this month to play outside a rehearsal then so be it - we can still make progress and give you tools to improve.

Over the last three yeras I have had a steady stream of adult players come to me for consultation lessons - some for one or two and others who want to come regularly. This has been very rewarding as each person has been given an exact plan to improve aspects of their playing. As you can see below, the results have been very rewarding. If you would like to find out more then contact me via the contact page or www.thetutorpages.com/tutor/tom-hardy-bassoon-teacher-london

"Tom's infectious enthusiasm, his undoubted skill and the breadth of his contacts has been a huge help in reigniting confidence in my bassoon playing skills after a 30 year lesson-free environment. He can cope with any reed, pair of lungs or instrument, there's nothing too difficult nor any question too daft to ask." S.U.

"Tom’s approach is very friendly and “can do”. He is very practical, with many helpful ideas and know-how to enhance your set-up and improve any aspect of your playing. I always leave his lessons feeling encouraged and looking forward to another! Highly recommended." G.R.T.

"I have had a number of lessons with Tom over the last year and first met him whilst finishing my Masters. Tom is very knowledgable about different techniques and as others have noted he is great at diagnosing problem areas especially with breath control and support. His enthusiasm for the instrument and all that goes with it is catching and it has been great being introduced to other instruments, reed types, recordings etc! Tom is very encouraging and friendly and is an excellent teacher for all ages and levels." L.W.

CONSULTATION LESSONS take the form of an overall assessment of your instrument, reeds, playing position and comfort, sound production, breathing, embouchure, tonguing, finger position and technique and from this working out a plan of attack to help you improve those aspects you most want to change. Some improvements will be immediate and striking, others take some regular practise and "breaking old bad habits" can be entertaining.

“When I first came to see Tom I’d practically stopped playing the bassoon because of frustrations with tone and reeds amongst other things. I now have a corrected breathing technique, excellent reeds, a much better instrument and am back playing again". R.H.

"I've found my lessons with Tom to be really helpful for troubleshooting specific things in a focused way - in just a few sessions he has helped me to project my sound more effectively. Conductors saying they can't hear me are few and far between these days!" S.O.

"I have been learning with Tom for approximately a year. When I started, he immediately picked up on some problems with my tone caused by a lack of support, and we have been working on this since. It's very difficult to undo 15 years of bad habits, but through a combination of exercises, props and varying analogies, I have made measurable progress in the last twelve months and feel much more comfortable in my playing. My tone is now more consistent throughout the range of the instrument than it was previously, and has a richer quality to it." A.S.

"In a matter of minutes Tom Hardy had singled out the right crook for my setup from among many. He then specified the right scrape for this crook and this reed, and proved it with a few deft scrapes to my number two reed, which then instantly became my number one reed! Invaluable session!" H.R.

"I had reached a very low limit of staccatto speed. Tom took one look at what I was doing and not only showed me what was slowing it down, but followed that up with a written set of exercises for me in particular to keep me from falling back into bad habits. Extremely useful. I will go back regularly from now on." H.R.

I currently have a few places left for regular tuition for private pupils around my other teaching commitments. I am also keen to hear from anyone wanting consultation lessons on a less regular basis to address specific areas or to get help with reeds.

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I wrote some ideas about tonguing and double tonguing in an email for two good amateur bassoon players who asked me how I did it. That email has been forwarded on to others so I thought I would put this on my site now so I can amend it rather than have the original email wander off into cyberspace with a life of its own. None of these ideas are new and maybe lots of people know these things already. But in the interest of better bassoon playing I wanted to share this:

There are some more references and sources in the next item below this entry.

Tonguing thoughts:

1. The further the tongue has to move the less chance you have of going fast.

2. If there is jaw movement in producing a note then there is no way you will be able to tongue fast. Sometimes this jaw movement is related to a reed length and crook set up that is slightly too flat needing more embouchure tension than necessary. Try playing a C in the stave as normal, then relax and open the throat. If it goes horribly flat then add more air support and see if you can get it back to pitch WITHOUT biting. If so then use this new found "support" in the exercises below. If not (and it's still flat with an open throat and relaxed embouchure) then it's worth researching further how you are producing notes (i.e. are you having to bite to keep the bassoon in tune even WITH air support). This is easier to correct in a lesson situation than by me writing a long explanation, but it is crucial to fast tonguing as well as to a nice resonant open bassoon sound. If you need to play for five or six hours a day regularly there is no chance of doing this with a squeezing type of embouchure!

3. Double tonguing is not possible without sufficient air support to make the notes work with a kuh.

4. A responsive reed is also key as the kuh has to produce a note easily.

5. Most people form a short staccato by tah then put the tongue BACK on the reed. This is fine for slower staccato where the comic dry staccato is needed but for just "separated" notes in the classical repertoire this is too short and often ugly. The note is started with the AIR and the tongue is just the valve to let the air through. The tongue should only lightly touch the reed to start the note and the next movement will be to start the NEXT note (cutting out half the effort many make in putting the tongue back on to STOP the note!!).

6. Fast tonguing is done by thinking LEGATO and lots of air and minute movement of the tongue.

The less movement the better.

Faster Single Tonguing:

A.Stand in front of the mirror and practice starting notes forte. From bottom G up to tenor C is fine as below this and above this involves other problems. See if you can start these notes with NO jaw movement - set the embouchure first and have nothing move when you start the note Tah... Ping pong ball on top of an air stream. toothpaste squeezing out of a tube - whatever analogy gets you thinking about breath support all the way from the tummy up. The "diaphragm" can't PUSH - it's a muscle that you use to pull the air in FAST. It's the rib cage, tummy muscles etc. that are involved in KEEPING the support whilst you breathe out slowly. Once you have really found this you will increase your dynamic range a great deal. If you are really putting the air through in volume you will feel the whole instrument vibrate under your fingers. The embouchre doesn't need to be tight - just support around the reed.

B. Try starting notes with the air alone and no tongue. A kick from the diaphragm (read stomach muscles really but we are so used to talking about the diaphragm as doing the work!). It will usually sound like a sick cow but do a few minutes of easy scales slowly "ha ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaa".

It gives you an idea of how much support you need to make the note speak without the tongue.

C. With that SAME sensation of support now introduce the Tah very lightly. Once you find how little you have to move the tongue (and keep the JAW STILL) you will be able to tongue single note semi quavers up to around 120 bpm no problem. Adding moving the fingers for an upward scale will often show it's the co-ordination of the fingers and tongue at fault and not the speed of the tongue! You can overcome this by practicing a fast scale in PAIRS (half the tongue). You will probably develop your own exercises.

Double Tonguing.

A, B above apply here too. Then

E. Try starting notes with the KAH - with at least the same air support as above if not slightly MORE!!

F. Now move onto tah kah tah kah - you can practice this away from the bassoon anywhere you like! Just make sure you keep the mouth still, move the tongue a minute distance. No jaw up and down. Embouchure relaxed but firm and a HUGE amount of air support.

Rather than trying to double tongue continuously it's better to practice two semi quaver then quaver rhythms - the fifth Weisenborn Study in book two (with da da daah da da daah rhythm is great for this.

If tah kah is too aggressive then dah gah may give you a better idea - it is NOT a big TAAAH KAAAAH - it's a small movement with lots of air. Experiment with different vowels (tuu kuu etc) until you find one that has the minimum tongue and embouchure movement but starts the notes cleanly.

Note that in double tonguing the throat position is a little more closed than with single tonguing. This is needed to get kah to speak. But keep everything relaxed. And did I mention SUPPORT the sound? Air column is everything.

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Tonguing - other sources

I put up the above article on tonguing some time ago and see that this is one of the subjects that is a popular search in Google! I thought it time to start to compile other sources of help on tonguing and double tonguing on the bassoon as this is a hot subject.

www.morellibassoon.com/cybermasterclass.html has a detailed approach from one of the world's top bassoon players, Frank Morelli.

Also the two orchestral excerpt CDs on Summit(Classical) both offer fantastic (and different) advice. David McGill is the first bassoon from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (and previously from the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra) and presents Volume 1. He does not double tongue and so offers good advice on fast single tonguing and how to maintain this.

Chris Millard was the first bassoon in the Vanouver Symphony Orchestra for years (now in Toronto with the NAC Orchestra as well as presenting podcasts on Classical music that you can find on iTunes) presents Volume Two. He has great advice on double tonguing.

Volume 1 can be previewed on www.emusic.com and both are available from many CD sites. Just google for the best price! Emusic also has a good selection of Chris Millard's solo recordings.

Articles and areas of technique

From recent conversations with other teachers and players I have observed that we have all been "reinventing the wheel" when it comes to methods to help beginners and even advanced students to get the desired results. By this I mean that there is no real central pool of acquired knowledge. Part of this may be that if the knowledge was gained through so much hard work then a feeling "why should I share it generally" can create a reluctance. A sort of "trade secrets" view. But on further observation and enquiry I actually have found nearly all players of the bassoon ARE willing to share and very willingly! I am planning a series of articles in coordination with Double Reed News to find out the top ten things players tell their pupils on the top ten hot topics. It's only embryonic at the moment but I definitely feel that this magazine and the worldwide web is the place to get this knowledge out with the sole purpose of helping bassoon players all over the world to reach higher standards and create more music.

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The Tutor Pages

You can find other teaching tips and information about my teaching at: www.thetutorpages.com/tutor/tom-hardy-bassoon-teacher-london This is a very useful interactive resource for tutors in all subjects!

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The magic of recording a lesson

I have found that making a recording of my pupils and a separate recording of their tunes with me playing has helped speed progress. It also got unanimous positive feedback from the parents who can hear how the tunes are supposed to go!

With a small hard disk recorder I can capture the MP3s at a good quality and email them to parents to put on their ipods.

It spurs me on to get cracking on the bassoon DVD for intermediate players.

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The Mini Bassoon

There is no doubt about it - the Mini Bassoon and the Tenoroon have arrived for the younger generation.


Sadly this site is currently off line but should be back on soon (March 09)

But you can download information from their main site: www.howarth.uk.com/download.aspx

Read about these smaller instruments and how they are helping us train the future bassoonists of the world.