Bassoon: History & Facts

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  • 0:01 History
  • 1:10 Facts
  • 2:06 Music
  • 3:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

While not as famous as a clarinet or a tuba, the bassoon has had the greatest amount of sheer staying power in the modern orchestra, becoming important during the Renaissance and remaining relevant throughout the past centuries.


The bassoon is a woodwind instrument that uses a double-reed to make sound. The instrument is four feet long, housing a tube that, if straightened, would reach eight feet, making it one of the most easily-recognized instruments in the modern orchestra. The bassoon evolved out of an earlier Renaissance instrument known as a dulcian, which itself had been around since the 1500s. However, the bassoon did not come into its own as an instrument separate from the dulcian family until members of the Hotteterre family began to tweak with designs to create the bassoon as it is known today.

The original dulcian had two keys and eight finger holes, and was constructed of one solid piece of wood. But today it has 17 keys and multiple pieces of wood used in the assembly. Following the tweaks of the Hotteterres, the bassoon had even further demands placed upon it. Some of these remain unresolved, leading to not only a desire for some intrepid individuals to rework the instrument to make it easier to play, but also speak to the difficulty involved with playing the instrument in the first place.


There are many important and/or unusual facts concerning the bassoon. Some of the more surprising facts that deserve special mention will be discussed.

  • The instrument is so large that it requires some way of holding it beyond both hands of the musician. When used in a marching band, this support is a strap over the shoulder of the musician. When used while seated, a spike is sometimes used to support the weight of the instrument.
  • An early name for the bassoon in Italian, the fagotto, was given due to the instrument's resemblance of a fasces, the bundle of sticks that represented the power of the ancient Roman state.
  • The reeds used to play a bassoon are more than 2 inches long and an inch wide, making them bigger than the reeds of other instruments.
  • Unlike many other instruments, which may have only a few valves or pistons, the bassoon requires the use of every finger, including thumbs, to be played properly.


While the earliest designs for the bassoon appeared during the Renaissance as an outgrowth of the dulcian, the most famous pieces for the bassoon begin slightly later. Also, it's important to note that these pieces are those that exemplify the abilities of the bassoon. Obviously, the instrument was a crucial part in many orchestras, and thus played a smaller role in other works.

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