Bassoon vs. Oboe – (What’s The Difference?)

The bassoon and oboe are both members of the woodwind family of instruments. However, the bassoon is considerably larger than the oboe, some would say that it is a touch more difficult to play the bassoon properly in comparison to the oboe too.

On this page, we are going to pit bassoon vs oboe. That way you will be able to see the differences and similarities that these two instruments have.

Both Are Woodwind Instruments

Let’s start with a nice and simple similarity.

Both the bassoon and oboe are woodwind instruments. No. This does not mean that they are made of wood. 

Without getting too much into the technicalities of instrument classifications, the best way you can look at woodwind instruments is that in order to make them work they need to have a reed (a small piece of wood at the mouthpiece).

It is the vibration of the reed that will resonate sound throughout the instrument. There is an exception to this rule in terms of flutes, but we don’t talk about that here since we want to focus on both the bassoon and oboe.

Basically, both of these instruments use the vibrations of a reed when you blow into the mouthpiece. This is different to a trumpet (a brass instrument), for instance. With a trumpet, you would have to modulate the vibration of your lips.

The Reed

Let’s stick with the reed for a second, because there is a huge difference between these two instruments in terms of where that reed is placed.

With an oboe, the reed is going to be placed into the instrument’s mouthpiece. With a bassoon, there will be a small attachment known as a local. This is essentially a thin metal tube that connects to the bassoon. That is where the reed will be placed.

In practice, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference. We are merely pointing out the different ways that you will be blowing air into the instrument. 

Size and Shape

This is where we start to get into the differences between the two. Both the oboe and the bassoon look completely different on the look front.

The bassoon is long. Over 4-feet long, in fact. There is a U-shape bend at the bottom of the instrument.

You blow in one end through the mouthpiece, the air will travel down one side of the bassoon, hit the u-shape bend, and come out through the soundhole on the opposite side (this will be a bit higher than the mouthpiece).

While you could probably hold one of these standing up, it probably isn’t going to be recommended for long periods of time, particularly if you are new to the instrument. 

The oboe is much shorter. In fact, it is just 26-inches long. It is a straight instrument. You can play this standing up. 

The Sound

More differences for you.

Bassoon

The bassoon is known for having the largest range out of all of the woodwind instruments. It can cover over 3 octaves. It is available in bass clef or tenor clef (you want bass clef if you are new to the instrument.

We suppose that the best way to describe the bassoon’s sound is having a ‘darker’ sound. Not like a base, but a very mellow feeling.

You get the feeling that the bassoon would fit best in the background as opposed to being a center stage instrument.

Although, it is going to do a pretty good job providing that background sound and will probably be the most prominent instrument in the mix. Of course, in the right hands, the bassoon can also make a fantastic focal instrument too.

Oboe

The oboe sounds completely different. The range is a little bit lower than that of the bassoon, but not by much.

The sound is much higher in pitch. Some people have described the sound as similar to singing. This would almost certainly be one of the focal instruments in a piece.

You wouldn’t be able to avoid that. The oboe has a sound that is going to stand out against any other instrument. 

While the bassoon could work well for solo pieces, we really do feel that the oboe would work even better.

So, if you want an instrument that you can really play for fun and get really expressive with the music that you play without having a backing band, then this may actually be the route to go down. 

The Price

Bassoons are far more expensive than oboes.

If you are buying a halfway decent oboe for a beginner, then expect to be paying around $2,500.

If you are buying the same sort of quality for a bassoon, then you will be spending around $4,500.

Both of these instruments can be rented fairly easily. If you are having music lessons, then we have no doubt that there will be some way that your instructor can you point in the direction of places you can rent the instruments. Some may even offer the service themselves.

Is Oboe or Bassoon Easier to Play?

This is a tricky question to answer. It seems everybody has their own opinion about which instrument is going to be easier to play. A lot of this will probably be rooted in the fact that they learned one instrument first, or often do not understand the other.

We think the best way to look at it is as such:

  • The oboe is easier to learn fingering patterns
  • It is easier to make a sound with the bassoon

In the early days, you really will find it easier to get a sound to come out of the bassoon. It probably won’t be a very good sound, but it is certainly going to sound musical.

With the oboe, you really need to have a lot more control over your breathing in order to make something fairly decent sounding. That being said, it would only take a day or so of practice to be able to make a decent sound with the oboe.

There isn’t much in it. It isn’t like you will be spending weeks and weeks on end trying to learn how to control your breathing for that first note.

In terms of fingering patterns, then the oboe is a clear winner on the ‘ease of learning’ level.

Some people have compared learning the oboe fingering patterns as being similar to learning the flute. Yes. It is going to be a bit more difficult than learning the flute, but learning how to finger the oboe properly should be easier to learn than with the bassoon.

The thing with the bassoon is that it is meant to cover three octaves. Once you start getting up into that third octave, learning the correct fingering becomes difficult.

We have seen comments from people that have been learning the bassoon for years that still find the correct fingering for the third octave difficult. While simple fingering patterns should be a bit easier to decipher, they are still going to be quite tricky on the bassoon.

Now, both of these instruments are known for being some of the most complicated woodwind instruments to learn. You are not going to be having an easy ride with either of them, and each will take years and years of practice to master.

However, if we had to say one instrument was easier to learn than the other, then we would go with the oboe. Once you have the breathing down, it is going to be an easier ride for you in comparison to picking up a bassoon. 

Should a Beginner Learn a Bassoon or Oboe First?

As we said, the bassoon and the oboe are going to be immensely difficult instruments to learn. You can’t really learn one and then learn the other right after. Not if you want to actually master the instrument.

Outside of air regulation and music theory, there are very few transferable skills between the instruments. This means that you cannot learn the oboe and expect to find that it is easier to learn the bassoon because of your knowledge.

It doesn’t work like that. You would be starting from scratch on the bassoon.

This means that, instead, we suggest that you learn the instrument that interests you the most. You probably already have an idea about what sort of instrument you are interested in.

If you are not, then head to a site like YouTube and listen to the way in which the instrument sounds. They are both incredibly different from one another, although they both tend to be used in the same sort of music genres e.g. classical, or very orchestra-focused pieces.

You can jump to the other instrument at some point if you really want. However, it doesn’t matter which one you start with.

Switching between the bassoon and oboe would be the same as switching between a bassoon and a guitar.

You will have to learn everything outside of actual music theory e.g. scales and the like. However, you would still need to learn from scratch how to do those scales on your instrument. 

Leave a Comment