The contrabassoon is considerably larger than the bassoon. The structure of both instruments is similar in some ways, however, the contrabassoon has a joint which is bent several times and laid side by side. In addition, all the instrument parts are firmly connected to each other by wooden or metal bows and cannot be disassembled into individual parts, like a traditional bassoon. Among other reasons, this is because the key mechanism is distributed over the entire instrument body of the contrabassoon.
Only the bell is removable. By changing the bell, the musician can choose between C1, B♭0 or A0 as the deepest tone. In addition, there are two variants of the A-bow in the contrabassoon. Indeed, the earlier model with an A-bow and bell protruded upwards allows a better sound emission, but obstructs the musician’s view of the conductor. Today, the standard construction is characterised by the fact that the bell with the attached B-bow is pulled far down and almost reaches to the right hand.
The S-bocal of the contrabassoon, which is slightly larger than the bassoon’s, is finally inserted into the big bocal with slide. This is the piece that connects the S-bocal and first joint. The double reed is then attached to the S-bocal, which usually consists of giant reed (Arundo donax), a reed grass.
Due to its size and weight, the contrabassoon is now only usually played while sitting. As with the bassoon, the sound is generated by the double reed. Here, the air blown into the double reed causes motion in the two reeds. As a result, the air column in the instrument, which is significantly longer in the contrabassoon than in the bassoon, begins to oscillate. Through the individual tone holes that are covered with the help of keys when playing, the length of the oscillating air column can be regulated and thus the pitch can be varied. The fingering of the contrabassoon corresponds to that of the bassoon.
The contrabassoon sounds one octave lower than the bassoon and has a dark, rich-sound and sustained tone. The tones increase in clearness and hardness. The contrabassoon is particularly suitable for serious and sombre passages because of these characteristics.