The bass clarinet and bassoon are valued members of the low woodwind family. They often play similar parts in bands and orchestras, and they appeal to the same type of player that can’t get enough of the pleasing sound of low winds.
However, there are many differences between the two instruments that should be noted.
If you are trying to decide whether to pick up the bass clarinet or bassoon, this article should help. No matter which instrument you choose in the end, you will be headed for a rewarding playing career.
Main Differences Between Bass Clarinet And Bassoon
Both bass clarinet and bassoon are woodwind instruments, but the bassoon is more difficult to learn and more expensive to purchase than the bass clarinet. The bassoon’s sound production and fingering resemble the oboe, compared to the bass clarinet being more similar to clarinet and saxophone.
1. Which One Is Easier To Learn?
It depends on your experience with other instruments. If you are coming from an oboe background, you will find the bassoon much easier because the mechanics of producing a sound with a double reed and the fingerings are closely related.
If you are coming from a saxophone or clarinet background, the bass clarinet will probably be easier for you, and I wrote a whole related article about the 7 key differences between clarinet and bass clarinet if you’re interested.
If you are a total beginner on woodwind instruments, the bass clarinet is probably easier since sound production is much less complex.
Do They Have Similar Fingerings?
The bassoon and bass clarinet have different fingerings. The bassoon’s fingerings are more similar to the flute and oboe than the bass clarinet.
However, you will quickly become accustomed to the fingerings on the instrument you choose as you learn basic scales.
Which Is Easier To Get A Good Sound Out Of?
The bass clarinet’s mechanics of sound production are much simpler than those of any double-reed instrument like the bassoon or oboe.
It is quite a bit easier to get an acceptable sound from a bass clarinet within a few months of learning to play, while with a bassoon it may take a few months before you can make a sound that doesn’t resemble a goose.
2. Differences In Sound
The bass clarinet has a dark, mellow, “round” sound. The bassoon has a distinctive nasal-type sound with a pleasing vibrato. Both instruments have attractive sound qualities.
Do They Play In Different Keys And Clefs?
Yes, the bassoon’s music is written in concert pitch (key of C) and in bass clef while the bass clarinet’s music is most often written in the key of B-flat and in treble clef.
In some cases such as the orchestral music of Wagner, the bass clarinet is notated in C bass clef which requires on-the-fly transposing!
What’s The Difference In The Range Of Notes They Can Play?
The bass clarinet in B-flat can play from Eb3 up to G6. The bassoon’s range is from Bb1 to Eb5.
This means that the bassoon’s range is pitched about an octave and a half lower than the bass clarinet.
Here are YouTube videos that demonstrate the sounds and range of the bassoon and bass clarinet:
Bass Clarinet (it’s a long video by the way):
3. How Are They Different In Size And How They’re Constructed?
It may surprise you to learn that the bassoon is eight feet long if you could straighten it! It is 53 inches tall when assembled properly. The bass clarinet is 40 inches tall when fully assembled.
Both instruments are typically made of wood. Bass clarinets and some cheaper student bassoons can also come in ABS plastic.
The woods used are different: bass clarinets are generally made of Grenadilla wood or African blackwood while bassoons are generally made of maple.
Are Both Instruments Easy To Assemble?
The bassoon and bass clarinet are roughly equivalent when it comes to putting them together:
- The bass clarinet comes in five pieces: the mouthpiece, neck, upper joint, lower joint, and bell.
- The bassoon comes in six pieces: the reed, crook, wing joint, boot joint, bass joint, and bell.
Both instruments must be put together with extreme care, or the delicate machinery of the keys could be damaged as well as the fragile wood construction.
4. How Much Does It Cost To Get Started Playing Either Instrument?
This is where the major difference between bassoon and bass clarinet lies. While a new, decent-quality intermediate bass clarinet can be found for about $3,000 to $5,000, an intermediate bassoon will cost about $6,000 to $10,000.
A professional bassoon can cost as much as $25,000, or the same as a good-quality used car!
Contrast this with the price of a professional bass clarinet like a Buffet Prestige which will cost about $12,000. Still expensive, but half the cost of a bassoon.
Are There Differences In How Much Lessons Cost?
There shouldn’t be a difference in cost. The cost depends on the experience and background of your teacher rather than on the instrument. Expect to pay more for a professional musician.
High school and middle school band directors, as well as experienced college students, are excellent sources of affordable lessons for all ages.
5. What Kinds Of Music Can You Play With Bass Clarinet And Bassoon?
Both instruments are incredibly versatile in their sound and style of playing. The bassoon is widely known as an orchestral instrument, though it has important parts in the wind band literature as well.
The bass clarinet is more of a bit player in the orchestra, though it is becoming more common in the literature.
Neither instrument is used very often in the jazz world, so if you are interested in playing jazz, you may want to pick up the saxophone instead.
Both bassoon and bass clarinet also lend themselves to solo playing and chamber music, like bassoon ensembles or clarinet choirs.
6. Which Is More Popular: Bass Clarinet Or Bassoon?
- It depends on the type of ensemble in which you want to play. If you are mainly interested in playing in orchestras and chamber music groups, you might gravitate toward the bassoon.
- If you are more interested in wind bands, you’ll probably choose the bass clarinet.
There are likely to be more bass clarinetists than bassoonists because instruction is easier to find for the bass clarinet.
Bassoons are so expensive, many schools cannot afford them and public school band and orchestra programs are one of the major sources of players.
7. Tips On How To Choose Between Bass Clarinet And Bassoon
- Your first consideration should probably be the price, unfortunately. If you are looking for an affordable instrument, going through a reputable dealer for a used instrument may be the way to go.
- Where you want to play is a major consideration. If you are more of an orchestra person, you will enjoy the bassoon. If you love wind bands, either instrument would be great but the bass clarinet is often in high demand.
Either the bass clarinet or bassoon will provide you with a lifetime of musical enrichment!
If you can afford the bassoon and are interested in playing in orchestral as well as wind band settings, you may gravitate toward the bassoon. This is especially true if you are coming from a flute or oboe background.
Beginners to all woodwind instruments may find it easier to play the bass clarinet.