“The main benefit to the tenoroon and mini bassoon is that people who want to play the bassoon can start younger,” says Catherine Millar, Head of Woodwind for Berkshire Maestros. “This means we don’t lose players to the other instruments quite so readily. If an 8 year old sees an instrument and gets told he has to wait 3 years to play it, he is likely to go elsewhere.” Catherine started 3 eager 8 year olds on bassoon and tenoroon. Fast forward 6 years and Madeline Millar (13), Harry Davidson (14) and Charlotte Wyatt (14) all achieved Distinction at Grade 8, with Madeline and Harry going on to do Diplomas. That’s an impressive achievement for musicians barely into their teens and while talent, hard work and good teaching must be the key, starting early has definitely helped.
This is the viewpoint from two of the UK’s leading double reed educators. Paul Harris, Senior Manager, Havering Music School, and Catherine Millar, Head of Woodwind, Berkshire Maestros, have many years of successful mini bassoon teaching between them.
“Madeline and Harry were both beyond Grade 5 when they joined the Under 11 national Children’s Orchestra. This is very rare on the bassoon. Fiona, Madeline, Harry and Charlotte became the complete bassoon section of the National Children’s Orchestra. “I’m not sure if a whole section has come from one teacher before in a national orchestra, but I know I was very proud of them. Ten years ago Under 11 NCO struggled to find one or two Grade 4 bassoonists now they have four and a waiting list and several are Grade 8+…” says Catherine.
“Younger students need a quick win, easily achieved with a junior instrument,” says Paul, “Easy sound production on first lesson meets a need for instant gratification in today’s climate. We need to be aware of the potential risks of giving a smaller or younger student an oversize instrument, the physical body problems that can result from doing this. Children ‘GET’ size appropriate instruments… (It has happened in the string world forever!)
In teaching mini bassoon for over 15 years there have been NO damaged instruments. The young students have an innate sense of the quality and value of the instrument and treat it with respect and care. When younger students question a point of technique, I often say it’s something they will need to do when they get their full size instrument and they accept this. Younger students do learn at a slower pace but that’s fine. The gain is starting years ahead and developing excellent foundations for the future.
I have very successfully used an older student to mentor a group of 8 new beginners, aged 6. When one of them got to the age of 11, he asked if they could help start off a new beginner group. It had become an expectation on their part to replicate their experience for the next cohort.
The transition from junior oboe and mini bassoon to bassoon or oboe is a complete no brainer- the students have no fear and fully understand the new instrument is just the same but larger. No problems.
I normally do the transfer at the end of term so that the pupils can get used to the new instrument in their own time. Leaving them with both instruments over this period makes the transfer even less traumatic, as they ‘wean’ themselves away from the smaller instrument as they feel more confident. Teenagers who start the full size instrument often wish wish they’d had the opportunity of starting earlier. Many of them learnt something else first and, whilst they understand they had a good grounding in music, they realise they could be further ahead if they’d had a mini instrument.
Independent schools, in my experience, will fund reduce fees for minority instruments to fill gaps in their music departments- several of my pupils have gained heavily reduced fees at secondary level.”
Paul Harris, FTCL, Senior Manager, Havering Music School, UK.
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