Sixth Bassoon Lesson, Part 1


Use of flick or speaker keys. By Terry B. Ewell. BDP#193.

<Intro Music: “Home Sweet Home” from A Tune a Day, lesson 29 number 6.>

Hello, I am Terry Ewell. I welcome you to this continuation of the series on beginning bassoon lessons.  I started the series in 2008 (See BDP 25-27; 30-37). This series is based upon an article that I wrote in the year 2000.

I am sorry it has taken me so long to get back to the series. You have probably noticed that I have been busy making a number of other videos.

So, let’s get started!

The art of “flicking” is one of the most difficult things for young bassoonists to do. Given the difficulty, I think that it is important the students understand the reason for doing this. I always take the approach that Norman Herzberg did when he introduced flicking to me. I am going to give this to you now.

The purpose of the flick keys, or speaker keys, can be demonstrated on the pitch A3 above open F.

<Demonstration of tonguing A3 without the flick key down or a half hole>

You will notice that the start of each note is not very good. Sometimes there is a little extra “kk” or extra noise that is part of that. However, if I hold down the A speaker, the A flick key, that will be cleaned up.

<Demonstration of tonguing A3 with the flick key down >


Every note is quite solid now and plays well.

There are several other notes that can be improved with flicking. Although I introduce the notes in later lessons, let’s go ahead and group them altogether now. So we introduce Bb3, B3, C4, and occasionally I flick D4.


Please note that some of the student instruments do not have a D key.

No D Key

I mention here that I use a numbering system or octave designations for  the pitches that is developed by the Acoustical Society of America. This system is now standard throughout America and in many American universities.

Although some bassoonists (mainly in Europe) hold down the speaker or flick keys for the full duration of the note, I like many other Americans release the keys once the note starts. Thus we give the word “flicking” for it because we depress and release the key. The key must be down, however, at the start of the note.

There are two situations that require the flick keys. The first is when you articulation one of the notes that needs to be flicked.

Rubank lesson 6, number 3 provides an example of this.

<Example: Rubank lesson 6, #3>

Rubank 6/3

The second instance when we need to use the flick key is when we slur to one of those special notes with the interval of a third or more.

The exercise in Lesson 6 number 6 from A Tune A Day helps students to master the flicking technique during octave skips. So let’s break this apart in two ways. First let’s practice the release of the whisper key on the beat, the flick of the octave on the beat, and the release on the beat. Let me demonstrate first how this is done on the A octave.

<Example: A2-A3>

A2-A3 Rhythmic Flicking

This is an easy way to first learn how to do that. So let me play number 6 for you now.

<Example: A Tune A Day, Lesson 15, number 6, with rhythmic flicking>

A Tune a Day 15/6

Now you may have noticed that I used the D key for to flick for C4. Normally you use the C key, but I do find in certain occasions that using the D key raises the pitch of C4 slightly. That is a flat note on my instrument. So I find that helps to bring up the pitch.

Now let’s do the exercise again but this time I will flick more rapidly.

<Example: A Tune A Day, Lesson 15, number 6, with rhythmic flicking>

The down slur portion is in many ways just as difficult if not more difficult than the upward slurs of an octave. The way to effectively slur downward is to keep the embouchure—the lower jaw forward—so that the teeth are parallel. As you slur down you will need to move the jaw slightly downward and perhaps even forward. Getting the “hang of that” is not easy. Also I find that in the last slur from G3 to G2 it is helpful to open the first finger here and put it down. Open it all the way for G3 and put it down for G2.

Well, using the flick keys is really going to help the clarity of your notes. Careful work on this will greatly help your bassoon playing.

<Closing Music: “Home Sweet Home” from A Tune a Day, lesson 29 number 6.>

Copyright (c) 2016 By Terry B. Ewell. All rights reserved.