A bassoon is rarely the first instrument learnt by a child - its sheer size and weight generally means that they cannot cope until they are older. This can be a problem, as by then, a keen musically-minded child will have started another instrument, and if progressing well, may have no desire to change. No wonder the bassoonist is considered a rare breed!To address this problem, the 'mini-bassoon' or 'quart bassoon' was developed. Sounding a fifth higher than the bassoon, the mini-bassoon is substantially shorter. The key system is very similar to that of a full size instrument, although less complex, and the fingering is the same for most notes. The player reads from music in the bass clef, as would a 'normal' bassoonist, and can even use the same reeds, although special smaller reeds are available and often preferable. There is also a slightly larger instrument that only sounds a fourth higher than normal, and this can be a good crossover model between the smaller bassoon and the adult model. Both smaller models cost in the region of three thousand pounds.
Unfortunately, it's not all good news. The smaller instruments are not as reliably efficient as their larger counterparts - their intonation can be very wild and the sound is often quite unlike that of the adult instrument. Furthermore, the change from one instrument to the other can be quite challenging. The smaller bassoons have no 'crook' or 'whisper' key - something which is a fundamental part of a full-size bassoon. A small percentage of the fingering is different, and the change can be difficult for a child who has become accustomed to playing the small bassoon.
However, it is undeniable that many children successfully make the change, and the number of young players is on the increase, probably largely due to being able to start at a younger (and more impressionable!) age. Small bassoons can be used in ensembles providing a transposed part is available, or someone is available to transpose the part for the student. As music is such a sociable animal, it is perhaps this fact more than any other that has helped the mini-bassoon and its counterparts to become permanent fixtures on the music Scene.