In doing research for my interview with Paul Hanson, I came across his old website, jazzbassoon.com. Though he now has a new website (paulhansonmusic.com), I found some of that content very informative, and worth a reposting. So please enjoy the following musings from Paul. And as an added treat, a live recording of Paul playing Wayne Shorter's Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum in a duo with guitarist Steve Erquiaga.
Paul Hanson on Bassoon Technique:
I believe in a good classical foundation for the bassoon. Without being overly obvious-if a bassoon student does not have certain traditional skills on the instrument that student will have too hard a time taking on the difficulty of jazz and other improvised music forms. The important point is that without studying long tones, etudes, excerpts and the like the bassoonist won't have the experience with the instrument necessary to tackle improvisation.
That being said-there is nothing wrong with learning improvised styles and classical styles simultaneously. In fact-I believe that improvising is great for one's ear and memorization. It's also good to be able to play what you hear or can sing-this goes for any style. I've seen so many really great classical musicians who can't make up a tune or a musical line on their own; they are definitely talented enough but were never trained to think of music as something they can create.
The best way to develop technique-whether it be with the fingers or with the air column-is slow and steady. A lot of what applies to a physical workout applies to bassoon practice. Use a metronome; start slow. For long tones-use a tuner. Get it solid and don't move on until you can play the whole exercise at one tempo correctly. If you are working on short exercises-like the kind in my book-set goals of how many times you can play something correctly before speeding up the metronome. This is a focusing technique that adds another layer of skill to the exercise.
For the upper registers of the bassoon it is very important to go slow and solid; it's so easy to make mistakes with the fingers that will keep you from getting something accomplished out of your practice. Try to be relaxed and focused in everything you do. You don't want to be intimidated up there by the thought that 'this is an area that is hard to play in'. It may be hard-but find a way to make it not hard. Go slow. Think of how a Tai Chi master practices his moves ritualistically slowly. Because of slow practice-his self-defense technique is flawless when sped up in real time. I look at practice as almost a spiritual art; I will never master the instrument and that is fine with me because the joy of working on the instrument is the practice of life itself. We never stop learning-the point isn't to finish. The point is always to be going forward with relaxation and a sense of wonderment at all the possibilities 12 notes and 3 1/2 octaves offers you. How many ways can they be connected and sound great?
When practicing-be sure you don't get too stiff. Relax. When standing up-think about using a balance hanger for your neckstrap. Otherwise the weight of the bassoon really screws up your left hand by making you do too much to play the instrument. Carpal tunnel is all too common in bassoon players.
Playing Techniques for Electric Bassoonists
My most common use of any amplification is when I perform with DAVKA-but this should not be confused with being an 'electric' bassoonist. We use microphones common to those you'd see anywhere like a jazz club or wedding band-the amplification is basically a reinforcement of our acoustic sound. I set the mic where I want it and play into it. This group is very acoustic-we're really not hard at all to amplify with microphones. We don't hear what is our amplified sound because it comes out in front of us-we can hear what we are doing acoustically.
The second most common use of amplification is when I use a pickup. Usually-I'm either playing in a group like the Paul Dresher Ensemble where I use headphones to hear everything-or I'm playing louder jazz or fusion where I have a monitor or an amplifier. Whenever-and I mean whenever-the sound of the band is at a point where you can't hear yourself-you have to be loud enough so you can hear yourself and the audience can hear you. This goes for plain microphones or electric pick-up mics like the Telex and the FRAP (Flat Response Audio Pickup). The volume of jazz music is set by the drumset most of the time. If you want to play groove-oriented music it is necessary to use drums; and the sound of drums will cancel an acoustic bassoon right away. So-you have to hear yourself PLAYING QUIETLY over the loud band; have the soundman turn you up or turn yourself up. Or make everyone else turn down so you can hear yourself PLAYING QUIETLY. Why playing quietly? Because-that way you have some HEADROOM to get louder. Which will allow you not have to play quadruple forte all the time. Having the level set so you can hear yourself playing quietly will do wonders for your sound as you don't have to over-project. Great jazz vocalists will often put their lower lip right on the microphone as they are singing in an intimate, warm tone. The reason they get that big, intimate, warm tone without screaming is that the mic is picking up everything and the vocalist is singing with a quiet tone. When bassoonists use the new microphone technology-that microphone is almost part of the instrument. This can be used to your advantage. This is why amplification is so powerful. Sometimes you may want to be so quiet you don't want the microphone on. If you are using a pickup mic-you should have a Volume Pedal so when it gets really soft you can back off your sound by putting your heel into the down side of the Volume Pedal. This limits the amount of amplification you have going to your amplifier or the sound man.