Oboe vs Bassoon: Similarities And Differences

The oboe and bassoon are two instruments in the woodwind family that share many of the same similarities. So, whether you’re an aspiring musician trying to decide between the two instruments or you’re just simply curious, the oboe vs bassoon comparison is an interesting one. 

While there are some similarities between the two instruments, there are also a number of differences that are worth keeping in mind. 

Oboe vs Bassoon Similarities And Differences

This guide will take an in-depth look at some of the most important areas to consider when comparing the oboe and the bassoon. We’ll also look to answer some of the frequently asked questions related to the two instruments.  

History

Before taking a closer look at some of the key areas of comparison, it’s worth explaining the history behind the two instruments. 

The oboe is thought to have originated from the antiquity era, with the instrument most likely developed in Louis XIV’s court in 1657.

Most of the oboe’s transformation happened during the 1800s, with the final instrument that’s used today created in 1906. 

The bassoon dates back to the 16th century, and was known by a number of different names, including the “fagot”.

The instrument was originally a double reed fastened to a single piece of wood, but during the 17th century, the one-piece instrument evolved into a four-piece instrument. 

Over the 18th and 19th centuries, the bassoon continued to evolve and saw many refinements. 

Appearance & Size 

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between the two instruments is their size. The oboe is relatively small at just 26 inches, whereas the bassoon is almost four and a half feet long. 

In terms of their appearance, both instruments come equipped with a conical bore. However, the considerably longer body of the bassoon requires a U-turn within its tubing. 

Furthermore, the oboe reed is placed directly into the instrument, whereas the bassoon reed is placed onto a bocal. 

Sound

The oboe is always found in the key of C, and the range of the instrument spans almost three entire octaves. Its timbre is commonly described as colorful, with the ability to pierce through the sounds of an entire ensemble. 

With a piercing upper octave and a darker lower octave, this treble clef instrument is an extremely expressive one. 

The bassoon is also found in the key of C, and has a large range that spans over three octaves.

The instrument provides a full tone in the lowest octave, a light and mellow one in the middle octave, and the upper octave is typically a bit more tense and closed off. 

Reeds

Both the oboe and the bassoon use a double reed that consists of two pieces of cane vibrating against one another. Despite this similarity, there are some differences to make a note of. 

For example, the reed is placed directly into the oboe, whereas the bassoon’s reed is placed on a bocal. This is a fine metal tube that’s found inside the instrument. 

The reeds for both instruments are sold individually, and there are a wide number of different types available. Most store-bought or machine-made reeds are classified as either medium, medium-soft, or medium-hard. 

These ratings may seem a little confusing, but they’re merely used to help players find the best-suited reed for their individual needs. 

Maintenance

Looking after these two instruments can be complicated at times since they’re both delicate and precise by nature. Therefore, it requires someone with a lot of knowledge about the instrument to correctly adjust and fix them. 

With this in mind, if anything ever goes wrong with your oboe or bassoon, you’ll need to find and take your instrument to a specialist if you want the very best results.

You could try your local music store, but it’s a possibility that they may not possess the expertise to carry out the maintenance. 

Both oboes and bassoons are expensive instruments, so it isn’t advisable to leave them in the hands of someone who doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing. 

If the instrument isn’t taken care of, or is adjusted incorrectly, there’s every chance that you’ll be hit with an expensive repair bill.

Learning The Instrument

Oboe vs Bassoon Similarities And Differencess

When it comes to learning to play the two instruments, the oboe and the bassoon are two of the hardest to perfect. Both require a considerable amount of resilience and dedicated practice, so it’s highly recommended that you find a private instructor. 

Having this consistent guidance and support from an expert can help beginners to overcome many of the challenges associated with learning to play a double reed instrument. 

Both instruments also have the challenge of tuning and embouchure. The embouchure takes time to solidify, while the tuning is incredibly difficult considering you can’t simply push in or pull out.

The tuning of all double reed instruments is done by either tightening or loosening the embouchure to adjust airflow. You’ll have to do this on a regular basis, so a good ear is essential. 

Expert Availability 

As touched on above, learning from an expert tutor is invaluable for all developing players. However, unlike other common instruments such as the clarinet and trumpet, it’s much harder to find an expert on the oboe or bassoon. 

Therefore, finding a suitable instructor in your local area is incredibly unlikely, so there’s every chance that you’ll have to travel a considerable distance to work with an expert. 

Furthermore, there are less oboe players and bassoonists required in ensembles. As a result, this reduces experts who are available to teach. 

Role In Ensemble 

In terms of their role in ensemble, the mellow tone of the bassoon is perfect for blending with many different sections. The instrument can match euphoniums and trombones, with its versatility also being able to take on some of the more challenging technical sections. 

On the other hand, the colorful and expressive tone of the oboe makes it an incredibly popular choice for solos. Its tone is distinctive and can be heard easily, so it’s the perfect instrument for lyrical sections. 

The oboe can also be used in challenging upper woodwind sections, although it’s worth noting that its range can limit use. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is The Oboe Harder To Play Than The Bassoon? 

The bassoon is a harder instrument to play due to its larger size, complex fingering system, and lack of control in the higher range.

However, it’s worth noting that the oboe’s small reed makes the embouchure much more difficult than the bassoon. All things considered, both instruments are challenging to learn and perfect. 

What Is Bigger Than A Bassoon?

The contrabassoon is the largest instrument in the woodwind family. It’s played like a bassoon and made up of the same materials, but it’s twice the size of a traditional bassoon. 

Is An Oboe Bigger Than A Clarinet?

As mentioned previously, the typical oboe is 26 inches, whereas a clarinet measures a little bigger, around 27.5 inches. 

David Williams
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