The Oboe Compared to the Bassoon

by Emma Rensch
The oboe and bassoon are essential orchestral components.

The oboe and bassoon are essential orchestral components. Images

The oboe and bassoon are both in the woodwind family and use reeds to create sound. Musicians have used reeds in instruments since before Christ, when Egyptians first pressed straws together inside pipes. The reed progressed through many European cultures until in the 14th century, musicians developed the double reed that exists in many contemporary instruments. Despite sharing a similar lineage, the oboe and bassoon are distinct instruments.

Historical Distinctions

The oboe was developed by a family named Hotteterre in France during the reign of King Louis XVI. The Hotteterre family originally called it the houtois. The oboe consisted of three pieces and has been modified throughout the centuries. The bassoon was invented by Alfranio Canon of Ferrara in the beginning of the 16th century. Like the oboe, the bassoon underwent changes throughout the centuries due to the contributions of multiple European cultures. The contemporary model was developed in 18th century Germany by Heckel.

Physical Characteristics

The contemporary oboe measures almost 2 feet long. It is a hollow instrument that makes a wider bell shape toward the end. Both the oboe and the bassoon incorporate a double reed. The bassoon is 3 feet 3 1/2 inches long and is made from rosewood or ebonite. While a bassoon shares many physical characteristics with the oboe, such as its hollowness and belled shape, it is considered the tenor of the oboes and is larger and longer so that it can produce a deeper sound.

Playing Techniques

Fingering on the oboe and bassoon is similar. Both produce sound as the musician alters the length of the instrument and changes the way air moves through it. Woodwinds are tuned as the player widens or shortens the gap between sections, and fingerings alter the passage of air, resulting in different tones and notes in both the oboe and bassoon.

Playing Qualities

The oboe has been popular among composers for the last three centuries. The sound is described as "reedy" and the oboe is good for playing staccato pieces, which incorporate short, fast notes. The sound is higher than the bassoon. The bassoon plays in the key of C and features a range that is slightly more than three octaves. The sound is rich and dark. The deepness of its tone is comparable to the trombone of an orchestra's brass section and the cello of a string section. The bassoon is used commonly in opera and musicals, as well as movie and television soundtracks. It is often featured as a solo instrument during orchestral concerts.


  • "Oboe Art and Method"; Martin Schuring; 2009
  • "Primary Handbook for Bassoon"; Richard Polonchak; 2000
  • "Unstoppable Confidence"; Kent Sayre; 2008

Photo Credits

  • Images