Sunday, October 5, 2014

To Bassoon or Not To Bassoon?

Sam plays the flute. I think I've been pretty open about that. Well, recently he came home from school saying that his advanced band at school (in which, in case I've been unclear, he plays the flute) doesn't have a bassoon player and they need a bassoon player and, hey, maybe he could be the bassoon player.

Cue me going to the internet to look up what a bassoon looks like.


That looks...complicated.

So now Alex and I have to make a decision as to whether we should let Sam play the bassoon in his band. We do not agree. One of us is right and Alex is wrong.

However. On the tiny, tiny chance that maybe I'm wrong, I'm going to let all y'all weigh in on this. Per usual in internet he says/she says, I'm not going to tell you which one of us thinks what.


1. Regardless, Sam will continue to take flute lessons.

2. Regardless, Sam will play the flute in jazz band.

3. Sam has agreed to practice both instruments.

4. We can rent the bassoon for $40 a year so only have to pay for reeds and instruction books.

5. Sam's music teacher is very happy with the idea that Sam might play bassoon in advanced band.

6. Sam has aspirations of being a professional musician and hopes to play in a band or symphony for a living, thus making his parents extremely proud and also condemning them to years upon years of sitting quietly in stuffy concert halls listening to classical music. And the occasional jazz concert.


Sam plays the flute. He has invested 3+ years in flute playing. He takes flute lessons that we pay for AND drive him to and from every week. We recently bought him a fancy-ass flute. He is very proud of being a flute player. Sam should continue to play the motherfucking flute.


If we let Sam learn to play the bassoon, we will be expanding his ability to enjoy playing music and, hey, learning a new skill is never a bad thing, right? Furthermore, if there are ten million flutists in every band and zero to one bassoonists, mayhap we are making him more marketable and likely to attain gainful musical employment by letting him learn the bassoon. We should just let Sam play the stupid bassoon already.


Will we be diluting his musicianship by letting him play a second instrument before he has mastered the first?

If we let him learn the bassoon, how long before he insists we purchase a bassoon for him?

How loud is a bassoon and how miserable will it make our lives at home when he is practicing, particularly in the early days when he is not very good?

If Sam helps out his band by taking up the bassoon, how grateful will his music teacher be and how many A's will she give him?

If it turns out that Alex is right and I am wrong, will I have to divorce him or the internet?



  1. I vote for the bassoon. There are certainly serious musicians who play multiple instruments. And he already know how to read music. If music is his thing, and it sure seems like it is, jump In with both feet.
    Plus "bassoon" reminds me of "baboon" and makes me smile.

  2. I played the flute. Many, many people do. It is difficult to find a good bassoon player. I say, go for it. It's nice to be able to play more than one instrument. If Sam at some point auditions for all-state band or any such honor band or plays professionally, playing a bassoon (and playing it well) will give him a lot more opportunity. I know two band teachers whose kids both play the bassoon! The other played an oboe. I know why -- the bassoons are in demand. My son has autism and plays the trombone, for what it's worth. Good luck!

  3. He didn't know he had a gift for the flute until he tried it, maybe he also has the same or bigger gift for the bassoon but he will never know if you don't let him try. I say good for him for wanting to learn more than one instrument and you should let him try the bassoon! I am right and I am on the team of which ever one of you agree with me.....I think it is Jean!

  4. Bassoon!! For all the reasons that the people above me have mentioned. It can only open doors for him. One of my close friends in high school played both alto saxophone and bassoon. He was excellent at both. When it comes to all region and all state auditions, he would be 1 of roughly a bazillion flutes auditioning, but he would be 1 of a handful of bassoons. It's a difficult instrument, but his band director clearly feels like he can handle it. #TeamBassoon

  5. First.....baaahaaahaaahaaa!!!!!

    Second and on a more serious note......still laughing. In an endearing and heartfelt way. :)

    Just so we are clear....I will always, ALWAYS side with you. In the off chance that my comments do not side with you....feel free to ignore.

    On to my most humble opinion...coming from a family where 2 spawn have chosen to pursue their musical aspirations...quantity "may" be a plus as opposed to quality in the early years. I can't believe I just wrote that but....exposure can be a positive. Good noise-cancelling earphones are a positive as well. Because bassoon??? I...I....I'm sorry.

    Oh and I love, LOVE the flute! I tried to play the flute and had to give it up because I got dizzy. How pathetic am I?!?!? No need to answer.

    So just...GO SAM!!! :D

  6. Bassoon! I really don't think anything more needs to be said on the matter...

  7. Oh, gosh, I am afraid I am siding *very* strongly with someone. Sam is looking at being a professional musician, and you are considering limiting how many instruments he can play? Leaving aside the fact that learning another instrument will deepen his musical understanding, and also the fact that bassoon is apparently a good choice in terms of marketability (both good and important points), why do you think he will only master one or two instruments? What if he is given and seizes the chance to love and excel at multiple? Or, what if he learns that he likes flute but didn't know what love was until he met the bassoon? Why is he locked into flute as his primary instrument?

    It sounds a bit like maybe there is some concern that he'll get lazy with flute and never master it, just being sort of a dilletant. Fair enough. If you google re: letting your kid play multiple instruments, you'll find a discussion amongst violin parents who say they recommend a contract regarding continued training on the first instrument (for instance, consensus seems to be that the contract should stipulate achieving a certain level of proficiency). Resisting a kid's desire to dump a frustrating instrument for a new one is one thing; this is not that thing.

    Tl;dr= if you are raising a professional musician, be glad and impressed that he wants to be "multilingual." It will serve him well professionally, and it will enrich his artistic capacity.

    (Really hoping you're not divorcing all of us now.)

  8. My daughter plays three instruments. Many professional musicians play more than one. It'll be ok.

  9. bassoon- I played the flute and there were a million at auditions, always. He's committed to learning the flute and if he wants to learn bassoon, it sounds like he will be equally committed. And what a cool feeling to be appreciated by your fellow musicians for helping out the group, in a safe risk taking environment. The band kids were always such a great group and I have such great memories from band. Good luck!

  10. Favorite parts:

    1. "I think I’ve been pretty open about that."
    2. "One of us is right and Alex is wrong."

    I think it's pretty standard for musical people to play multiple instruments, and mastering one before starting the next seems not only unnecessary but like a bad idea---like saying you can't start learning to bake cookies until you have mastered cakes. It wouldn't be diluting his musicianship, it would be expanding/broadening/increasing his mastery of it. It's likely it'll also give you valuable information about whether his interest is MUSIC or FLUTE. It seems similar to languages: some people are interested in LANGUAGES and some are interested in RUSSIAN, and it's very valuable to find out early on which it is.

    What I'd do is what I'm doing about Rob's cello: we'll rent it until some point when it will be clear to us that (1) he has talent and/or (2) he has sufficient interest. If that point doesn't come, we won't buy it. I guess the rough figure I have in mind is 6 months: if he's still practicing without being nagged, and he still wants to play it, that's when we'll buy. If, though, he needs to be nagged and doesn't seem interested OR talented, that's when I'll start pressuring him to give it up and/or try something else and/or knuckle down because this costs MONEY, child.

  11. I'm a woodwinds person, teach elem band, and taught HS earlier in my career. So, I get the teacher's POV where I want a bassoon player (oh how the addition of a bassoon warms and improves the sound of the group), and I'll do what I can to encourage a talented a kid who show interest ($40/year, what a steal, but I'd draw the line at handing out A's). I also get the POV of the player. Clarinet is my major instrument. Learned baritone sax, because they needed one in jazz band. Added bass clarinet, because I could go do district band on it (too many clarinets around). Leaned flute, because one was needed for a jazz band song. And I LOVED it. I have no idea how my parents felt; I should ask mom I'm some time. Clarinet remained my main instrument, and I eventually went to districts, regionals and states on it. Mostly, I think they were grateful that their awkward nerd daughter found a home in a class of over 800 kids, where it was tough to create a niche.

    As for diluting musicianship (which I don't think will happen, it'll probably open new horizons for him, as he gets to play plays bass lines and melodies, understanding music on a new level) you could email this man: He's a good friend of mine. Originally clarinet, he picked up basson (so he could go to district orchestra). He's one who still plays a mean clarinet, but he fell is love with basson... Which may be not what you'd like to see happen, I get that. But, he's someone who could answer questions about what you could expect. He's a super-nice person, very smart and I'm sure he'd welcome your email. Tell him I gave you his name if you like.

    PS - basson isn't too generally loud, just very different from what you've been hearing. :)

  12. Ugh typos! Sorry. I blame iPad and early morning.

  13. Let him play the bassoon if he wants to for all the reasons that other people said. Make it clear from the get-go that you will be renting a bassoon for the foreseeable future as bassoons are very expensive. He is still going to play the flute in jazz band. He wants to continue lessons. And if he decides in the future that bassoon is his instrument of choice, that is ok. He is too young to be locked into an instrument especially if he is considering playing professionally.

  14. AJ played euphonium for 6 years when the band director asked if he'd switch to tuba because she really needed a good tuba and had too many euphoniums. (I know, not wildly different instruments, so not exactly the same as your case, but bear with me.) Turns out he is absolutely rocking the tuba and now the director has an awesome tuba player. Team Bassoon here, especially since I know Sam will be great about practicing both instruments.

  15. One thing that nobody has mentioned so far is that the bassoon is a "scholarship instrument". There are tons of flute players. Tons of saxophone players. Tons of trumpet players - etc, etc, etc.

    However there are certain instruments are in demand that university programs need so that hand out scholarships pretty freely, such as ...Bassoon. Also if you follow this path, you may want to try the harp

  16. What does Sam want to do?

  17. what they all said, absolutely. At about Sam's age (14) i'd been an avid and decently talented flute player for 3 years (after 6 on piano). The band director talked me into bassoon for similar reasons. I think (not sure) that there are similar fingerings, the big change for me was reed instrument, and, one reason I did not keep it up: my now fat but then petite (apparently, or at least short) fingers could not handle the "stretch" to some of the keys. So I did not love the bassoon, and did not stick with it long (always a possibility, and not a disaster, some things don't work out, and I've kept up my first love, the flute, for almost 50 years). Another reason band director wanted bassoon: he needed bassoon in orchestra as well! If Sam ends up loving bassoon, many more doors may open, as noted above by your other wise commentators. If he doesn't love it, you're out $40. and he will have gained in musical experience (priceless of course!).

  18. Bassoon for certain, just keep in mind: bagpipes are next.

  19. I played multiple instruments as a child - and the obvious right choice here is BASSOON! All the way BASSOON! Do not even look back and thing about this twice. Rent the instrument, because you want to have a way out, but by all means - start him on the BASSOON. The instrument may sound awful, but learning it may give Sam a ton of confidence - and that's a good thing. And if he stinks at it, he's still got the flute.

    Learning another instrument can enhance his playing of the first, because he'll be sitting in band/orchestra thinking about the music in a new way. Also, I occasionally played my second instrument in a piece where the band was desperate for one, but not always. This might be how it works for Sam, too. If the band REALLY needs him on bassoon, he can play that, and then he can go back to flute for other songs.

    The biggest argument against bassoon is one that is not mentioned. Transporting that thing is a LOT harder than the flute.

    And WTF? A flute in jazz band?

    Cheers! And no, you do not need to divorce Alex or the internet after this. You're going to need him around to help haul kids to and from lessons!

  20. I'm in agreement with the 'go bassoon' camp. My son (also 14) started piano, then alto sax. He's in marching band and many of the kids have a 2nd instrument- i.e. they started with one and because of a need in jazz or marching they picked up a second. Or just because they wanted to. I think it's great and since it's all music it can only make a kid a better and more rounded musician. Also, if he decides to teach someday (whether school or private lessons or?) the more instruments that he has experience on, the better.

  21. All my friends who have pursued degrees in music play multiple instruments so learning the bassoon wouldn't seem like a bad idea to me

  22. All my musician friends could play multiple musical instruments, especially within the same family, so I think that switching around in the woodwinds isn't that bad. It's sort of weird to switch to a reed instrument after playing the flute (based off of my brief experiments with my sister's saxophone) but it is also so much easier to pick up a second woodwind once you are relatively decent at the first. And I think that being able to do things with multiple instruments lets you play a lot more with the ideas of the music and overall improves your ability to do things.

  23. Go for the additional instrument. My husband plays guitar, piano, and played trumbone in the school band.

  24. I agree with the others - go bassoon, and any other instrument he might want to pick up in the future. It will enrich his flute expertise and his expertise in any instrument he wants to play. All those new neural pathways he will develop learning a new instrument and then meshing that knowledge with what he knows of the flute - go brain!

  25. Hi there! I agree with all of the comments above that support Sam trying the bassoon. It definitely adds to his overall repertoire. And, continuing with flute [which he loves] shows dedication and versatility; both great qualities.
    In middle & high school, I played flute. Like Sam, I also chimed in briefly on the bassoon, for the good of the wind ensemble, and frankly because I was easily distracted. It wasn't easy, and I only played bassoon for a semester or two.
    I DID pick up tenor sax in high school, for three reasons:
    1. The keys & notes are identical to those on flute.
    2. I would never have made jazz band on flute.
    3. I had a crush a boy who played alto sax, and we dated during my junior year. He's now a successful pediatrician.
    [OK, that's irrelevant.]
    Another thought: This doesn't seem like a binary choice. Perhaps Sam could ask the teacher whether he can continue with both instruments in advanced band, at least while he is getting up to tempo on the bassoon?
    And finally, I can't recall a post that's garnered so many interesting comments, and with an overwhelming majority for one option. As I read them, anyway.
    Will you eventually tell us whether you or Alex is pro bassoon? I'm guessing, you.

  26. Also, and not to put any pressure on Sam, he will love Juilliard or Oberlin. Juilliard gets my vote:
    1. It offers great performance opportunities [see website]
    2. It's in New York!
    3. Their website design is much better. :)

  27. Flute and bassoon are both woodwinds, right? I took flute lessons when I was in school, as I've said. Maybe it will help him expand his music. As long as he wants to play both, I say ok.

  28. I vote for letting him play both IF HE WANTS TO. My girl plays the flute as well and when her little sister came home with a clarinet and handed it to her to teach her how to play it, I was blown away when big sister said, "Okay, give me a few minutes to figure it out first," then came back like thirty seconds later to show little sister how to play Hot Crossed Buns. Apparently reeds are very similar (to those who, ya know, have a clue, unlike me) and she was able to cross over pretty quickly.

    I also agree that playing the less popular instrument is a bonus going forward, but more than anything, I really just love:

    We do not agree. One of us is right and Alex is wrong.


  29. OK...we have experienced this with our daughter. She now plays 4 different band instruments (in 9th grade) because she is passionate about music and loves learning it and also wants to pursue music as a career (either as a teacher or as performer).

    I vote bassoon as well and make the following points:
    *she is very marketable in her high school band and can give the director many options for what he wants her to play in any given band
    *that said, her new director (now that she's in high school) didn't know we had bought her a very expensive clarinet and he wanted her to play the tenor sax in band (bc she's playing that in marching band). Cue: fit from me. Lesson learned...make sure the band directors in the future know what instruments your kiddo plays!!
    *she has been a favorite for being willing to play different instruments...bc band directors have favorite pieces of music that can only be done if they have lots of different instruments to use!!
    *last note...there are a number of musical instruments that have the same fingering. Not sure if the flute/bassoon qualify. But he may make the transition pretty smoothly and could even switch out to others without too much trouble.
    Good Luck!!

  30. better not sign my nameOctober 6, 2014 at 9:23 AM

    I hear the $40, meh, but so many years of flute lessons, and the driving and the time and the new instrument. So, I thought I would just play devil's advocate and ask how many running shoes you have been through pursuing your passion? How many concert tickets has Alex chased down as an audience member enjoying his passion? And I also want to mention that from reading here for awhile, it seems to me that Sam is an awesome big brother in what sometimes turns out to be very difficult circumstances. Doesn't seem all bad to spend a bit of $ and time letting him search for his passion. Please don't hurt me. I write from the heart.

  31. I meant to add that we rented the euphonium for 3 years vs. buying it just in case he wanted to switch to tuba. He assured us he didn't want to switch to tuba. We finally bought the damn euphonium and now he's playing the tuba. Luckily, the school has a beat-up tuba that they let us keep at home for practicing.

  32. I vote for the bassoon. Of course.

    Looking forward to reading the follow up post on this topic (with pictures of Alex's reaction to the internet weigh-in)

  33. A few thoughts. First off, you will be miserable as he is learning to play the bassoon. Now that that is out of the way... I loved band in school. I was in band from 5th grade through my first year of college and I'm all about fostering the love of music/instruments in our youth. I had a very close friend in high school who played the flute, and was very good at it. But, there was another girl who was also very good at it and they were always in competition for 1st chair, with the other girl generally winning out. Around junior year, we needed a bassoon player, so, my friend took up the bassoon, and became an exceptional bassoon player. She went to college for music and, well, 14 years after high school she is still in college for music, but she's going for her doctorate!

    So, I say let him try. He may be great at it, he may not. If your high school has a marching band, he could play flute during marching season and then bassoon during concert season. If he truly wants to do music then learning a second instrument will be beneficial. Maybe make him earn some money/contribute towards the cost of the extra instrument/lessons/etc.? And also tell him if his flute playing slips, then perhaps he will have to choose and commit to just one instrument?

    I think the teacher will be thrilled for someone who wants to play the bassoon, as it isn't a "cool" instrument and in my mind is reserved for someone who is definitely dedicated to music.

  34. The bassoon is AWESOME and lest you doubt it, listen to the opening solo instrument here: This is my favorite piece of music in the world.

    He should do what he loves to do, obviously. But consider also that there are few bassoon players in the world and if he ever wants to play professionally, or in college, or even in middle and high school honors orchestras, the competition for bassoon seats is So. Much. Less. than for flute seats. He'll get way more gigs as a bassoonist than he ever would on flute, plus he can always be the guy that plays both and that's hella impressive. Two cents.

  35. I am following this discussion with great interest because my daughter just started her second year on clarinet. She really wanted to switch to saxophone this year, but we convinced her that another year on clarinet to really master it, would make it easier to switch next year. (Note that neither of us plays an instrument, so I have no idea if that's actually true.) My understanding is that a lot of people start on flute or clarinet, then "graduate" to another instrument. I am all for kids playing as many instruments as possible, but I think if you have him playing two, there's going to have to be an establishment of priorities because I'm guessing practice will take up a lot of time.

  36. Sam should go for it! Playing the bassoon will open up a lot more opportunities for him. No offense to flutists, but flute players are a dime a dozen. It's always hard to find a bassoonist.

  37. I play piano, viola, flute, violin, and a little bass. I also teach piano and encourage all my students to do more than one instrument. I understand the concern because they are both woodwinds but the way they are played is so different I don't think it will do anything but broaden his musical ability and marketability.
    I say BOTH!!

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