We’re putting the spotlight on MusicProfessor bassoon instructor Leslie Massenburg, and she gave us some great bassoon tips for beginners, plus what she thinks of how MusicProfessor has grown!
MusicProfessor bassoon instructor, Leslie Massenburg.
1. How long have you been playing the bassoon and why did you choose to become a bassoonist?
Haha, it’s actually kind of a horrible story. I started playing the bassoon in 7th grade, but I started out band in 6th grad playing the flute. I really liked the flute, but I honestly thought the flute was boring. So, my band director convinced me to play the bassoon. He said if I became a bassoon player people would pay me to go to college. My parents were bankers so I thought they’d be proud of my financial decision. It’s horrible because it’s not like “I loved the bassoon”; I don’t even think I knew what the bassoon was at the time. But I said I would switch as long as my band director let me play flute for a contest at our local amusement park in 7th grade. I think it worked out!
2. What is your preferred brand of reeds to play on? If you make your own reeds, what is one thing that you consider to be essential in the reed-making process?
I make my own reeds. I honestly don’t think there is a brand that students should play on. I think they should buy good handmade reeds from a person who makes reeds, mainly because a reed you buy from a store or mass “handmade reed” suppliers are usually awful because no one tests them. Then you spend up all of your time learning to play the reed instead of learning to play the instrument. If you buy reeds from a person, they can fine tune the reed to your unique playing setup. Everyone has a different size set of lungs and inner vocal cavity and lip pressure and so on. It’s important to have someone who can adjust for these things in the reed.
Behind the scenes: Leslie Massenburg filming MusicProfessor bassoon lessons in Los Angeles, 2013.
3. In your opinion, what is one of the key traits that marks an outstanding bassoon player?
Attention to detail. The bassoon is really easy to play but it’s very hard to play well. The difference is all in the details, things like flicking and using air support. Beginning musicians can develop these skills over time with patience and detailed practice. However, most beginners find this difficult because at first it’s more exciting to learn notes. The problem is they’ll have to come back and learn these details if they don’t do it at beginning. It’s better to stop fix note cracks and such when you start learning the instrument; you have to do it anyway to progress. Another thing that helps is singing. The bassoon is one of the most similar instruments to the voice. If students can sing their songs and match pitch, they’ll be much more likely to play in tune.
4. What is one of the most challenging issues that you’ve faced as a musician and how did you, or how are you working to, overcome it?
One of the things I think every musician, including myself, struggles with is knowing what to do when you have nothing to do. I’ve found it helps to always have a goal that you’re working on, like “I want to have a faster tongue” or “ I want to have better high register technique”. If you have specific goals you can be creative and come up with practice methods to keep yourself in shape.
5. Not all our readers may know this, but your videos are the ones that started it all! What is it like to have seen the MusicProfessor family grow so much over the past couple of years?
It’s a great idea, especially for bassoon players who might not have teachers in all the parts of the world. It’s been fun to get to see MusicProfessor unfold and be successful and actually work because I think it’s a very useful and needed tool. It’s good watching people recognize how far it’s come. The most surprising thing to me is when you look at a video it seems so simple, like you would just set up a camera and a white sheet and go. But the amount of knowledge, work, and time that goes into the video lessons is really impressive. I didn’t know there was so much on the production and editing side; like microphone placement - inches make a difference. It makes such a difference in the quality of the lessons. I would never in my lifetime understand everything that goes into the videos.
MusicProfessor’s notes on the design of a sound baffle used in filming. A sound baffle is a device used to absorb unwanted noise in the air, so the videos have a nice clear sound.