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What Is the Difference between a Bassoon and Oboe?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing

The bassoon and oboe are both double reed woodwind instruments, but they have several significant differences that distinguish them from one another. A few of the differences that are immediately apparent when looking at the two instruments include their size, shape, and placement of the mouthpiece. The bassoon and oboe also have different sounds, with the bassoon playing in a much lower register than the oboe. Although student versions of both instruments are often constructed of durable resin plastic, higher quality models for experienced musicians are made of differing types of wood. The keying systems are also very different between the two instruments, along with the way that they are held.

When examined side by side, several differences between the bassoon and oboe are immediately apparent. The general appearance of each instrument is distinctive. The bassoon is much larger than the oboe, and it's made of approximately 7 to 8 feet (appx. 2.13 to 2.44 meters) of tubing that's bent in an uneven U-shape. The shorter, narrower side is where the hooked mouthpiece is attached about halfway up the length of the instrument; the other end is much wider and extends beyond the mouthpiece. The oboe is constructed of a single, straight length of tubing that flares out in a slight bell shape at the bottom, and it has a mouthpiece and reed attached at the top.

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Both the bassoon and oboe produce sound when the musician blows air into the double reed, causing vibrations that resonate inside the tubing. Each instrument has a specific sound and range. The bassoon is able to play in a very low register, with the lowest sound out of the woodwind family of instruments except for the larger contrabassoon. The oboe is able to play higher notes and its sound has been compared to that of a duck, with a very clear tone that is easy to distinguish among the other instruments in the orchestra. Both instruments are noted for their expressiveness.

Student versions of both instruments are usually made out of resin plastic because it is durable. A higher quality instrument is usually chosen by more experienced musicians. The bassoon and oboe are usually made of differing types of wood. The bassoon is often made of maple, although it can be constructed from other types of wood with a medium level of hardness. The oboe is most often made of a wood known as African Blackwood, or grenadilla.

Each instrument has a different keying system. The keys are used along with fingers to cover the holes in the tubing of the instrument to produce specific notes. The bassoon has fewer keys, while the oboe has a relatively large number with approximately 45 complex pieces of keywork.

The bassoon and oboe are each held differently as well. Due to its size, the bassoon is held to the side of the musician, often with added support such as a chair or neck strap. The musician is usually able to hold the oboe in front of of his or her body since it is much smaller.

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Discussion Comments


At the behest of my band director, I switched from clarinet to oboe. It wasn't too bad, and I didn't mind the double reed too much. Turned out what he wanted was a bassoon player, and thought the oboe was a good transition instrument. The only problem was that I never got comfortable on the bassoon. I think I was always a little afraid of it, if that makes any sense.

In any case, playing the clarinet and oboe got me a band scholarship, so I can't complain. It paid for my college education, so I definitely encourage other musicians to try the unusual instruments. You never know who might need a bassoon player!


I'm taking issue with part of this article. A double or contrabassoon does have the U-shaped tubing, but the standard bassoon is straight and is about four or five feet long. My friend's daughter plays bassoon in her school's concert band, so I've seen her bassoon up close.

I've seen contrabassoons too, and they are very impressive-looking instruments. They also require a lot of air to play.

The main similarity between an oboe and a bassoon, in fact, is that they are both double reed instruments and so have that slightly squashed tone, unlike a clarinet, which has a round, sweeter tone.

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