The bassoon is the lowest of the woodwinds, unless you count the contrabassoon and similarly extra-low versions of instruments. Elementary school music teachers like to refer to it as "the clown of the orchestra." (At least mine did, and she seemed to have plenty of supporting materials...) In line with this definition, one of the best places to go looking for a bassoon sound is in cartoons, most notably classic Looney Tunes - the bassoon gets a lot more melody lines there than it does in standard musical literature. It's also prominently featured in the literature of P.D.Q. Bach/Professor Peter Schickele. (there are two very nice bassoon quartets featured on Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion) While the bassoon is one of the easiest instruments with which to get a good laugh just by walking out on stage (this is even more effective if one also walks out barefoot), it also has a lovely sound when played correctly.

When fully assembled, the bassoon makes an awfully good chin rest for anyone around five and a half feet tall. From a distance, it looks like a big stick of wood and a slightly shorter one with a curvy wire sticking out of the shorter piece. The curvy "wire" is called the bocal. It's actually a tube, and a double reed goes on the end of it. On the end of the reed goes the player. Unless the player for some reason really wishes for neck problems from trying to support the thing like a saxophone, he or she sits on a strap attached to the bottom part of the bassoon. Bassoons have tons and tons of keys; the left thumb alone is usually responsible for at least nine. As terrifying as that sounds, professionals who need extra voodoo to do neat-o trills pay lots and lots to get even more keys. Unassembled and in a case, it will fit into an overhead luggage compartment on an airplane... sort of. (By the way, trying to pass a bassoon through customs will not get you arrested in most countries, but it has been known to get one heck of a funny look.) If you are just learning to play the bassoon, it's a very good idea to take precautions to avoid conking the oboe player or other musician sitting to your left across the top of the head every time you stand up. (failure to do so has resulted in the untimely deaths of many a bassoonist!)