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What Is the Difference Between a Clarinet and Bassoon?

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  • Written By: David Bishop
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 31 March 2014
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The clarinet and bassoon are musical instruments belonging to the woodwind family. Both instruments produce sound when a person blows air into a hollow tube. A musician can shape the air into notes by manipulating a series of keys placed along the outside of the instrument. While there are some physical similarities between the two, the instruments are significantly different in the quality of sound produced and the manner in which they are utilized in music composition.

Both of these woodwind instruments use a device known as a reed in the design of their mouthpieces. The clarinet features a single reed held in place by a clasp. The bassoon uses a double reed inserted into a narrow tube running into the main part of the instrument. The shape of the mouth, or embouchure, needed to produce musical notes is significantly different between the clarinet and bassoon reeds. The clarinet’s mouthpiece is closer to that used by a saxophone, while the bassoon utilizes the same reed as an oboe.

Along with the difference in mouthpieces, the clarinet and bassoon vary in size and weight. The clarinet is light enough to be held by a musician throughout a concert or recording session, while a bassoonist usually uses a neck strap to support the heavier weight. While both instruments may have a similar black coloring, they are traditionally made from different kinds of hardwoods. Most clarinets for professional musicians are produced from African hardwoods. Bassoons are typically constructed from maple.

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The sounds produced by the clarinet and bassoon are very different, despite both instruments' classification in the woodwind family. The clarinet, with a few rare exceptions, is a transposing instrument, which means most clarinet models use a pitch other than C and must use a transposed score of music when playing a concert. Most professional musicians bring two clarinets to a concert, because the pitch they need to play can vary from one selection to the next. The bassoon always uses the same pitch as a concert piano and is, thus, known as a non-transposing instrument.

While they may share the same row of seating in the orchestra, the clarinet and bassoon differ in the way they are used by musical composers. The clarinet is generally a much more popular instrument with students and has found its way into more mainstream genres such as jazz. The bassoon is less popular, and aspiring students may find it difficult to find instruction in certain techniques. The bassoon is largely relegated to classical compositions and is rarely heard outside of an orchestra setting.

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