Welcome to this presentation on how to practice Bolero and some insights into the music.

I want to discuss with you now the rhythmic precision required in Bolero. You must be familiar and I hope you have listened to this composition, I hope you understand that there is a percussion instrument—a drum—that is playing a rhythm throughout the entire piece.

<speaking the rhythm>

This repeats throughout the entire piece. That becomes the metronome or the rule book by which you play your solo. You must play the solo with rhythmic precision to match the percussion part.

Now in an audition, it becomes extremely difficult because you need to self-generate that tempo and that rhythmic precision in your own mind. You will not have on stage a drum playing along with you. However, in the audience [in the audition], those that are observing your playing, they will be hearing that in their minds. They may tap on a table.

<speaking the rhythm>

They may be tapping along, seeing if you play things in time. It is important for you to master that. You will need to record yourself. You will need to listen to yourself many times to get a feel for where you are stretching things, pushing things, where you are out of tempo.

Ideally you should be listening to the smallest value you can. Sixteenth notes would be great if you can do that. (2:41)

I haven’t been as successful listening to sixteenth notes although I have certainly practiced it numerous times with sixteenth note divisions in the background. For instance, let’s just take the opening solo and I will show you how to practice that with tonguing sixteenth notes so that you have rhythmic precision.

<music: opening solo with tongued sixteenths>

OK. So I know that I am precise because my tongue is moving at the same velocity—same speed—as my fingers are moving. You could also set the metronome (mine looks like a flying saucer) for sixteenths, which would be fairly quick. My metronome only goes up to 208, which is a little bit slow for this tempo.

<music with metronome>

Perhaps you have a metronome that will go faster. 208 is just not fast enough for me.


This is played at various tempos, but 208 is certainly too slow for sixteenth sub-divisions. You might then want to progress from sixteenth notes to eighth notes. That is (eighth notes) what I normally hear in my mind. Sometimes I even tap my foot just to make sure I am keeping that even pulse.

<music, tonguing eighth notes>

I wasn’t very good at tonguing each eighth note there for you, but I think you get the idea.


So if you are hearing eighth notes, that will help you keep the music rhythmic. It is very important that you keep it rhythmic.

I suggest that you practice certain small portions of this over and over again with rhythmic precision. Take, for instance, the measure that has the triple eighth note. Let me put the metronome on eighths.

That is a good tempo. MM=132 for the eight note. Here we go. Let me start on the breath after the E.


See those triplets there are tricky. You fit that in to meet the next downbeat accurately.


You should practice these at different speeds because the conductor will never pick your favorite tempo. That is guaranteed!

So the rhythmic precision is very important. It is so easy for us to cheat tied-over notes. It is rhythmically quite complex….All of that has to have rhythmic precision.

You might be tempted to think that your exposed solos in Bolero are over after you have completed the solo on the first page. But I want to bring to you attention a very tricky passage a little further in the piece where the bassoon needs to tongue the Bolero rhythm on G4. Here is the passage.

You may want to add a muted fingering, that is, the E key with the right hand thumb. I find that this is helpful. But do also spend some time practicing this. This is a rhythm that is traded off between the first and the second bassoon and can be quite tricky. I often play it quieter than mezzo-piano so that it blends in as a nice background for the solo instrument.

Let me close here by recommending two articles to you, which are written on Bolero. Both of these articles appear in The Double Reed, which is the journal of the International Double Reed Society. If you are a member of that society then you can access these journals online. If you are not a member, I encourage you to join. It is a wonderful society that has all sorts of benefits for its members. The first article by Dale Clark discusses dissonance and ways of interpreting Bolero. You may find this interesting as you study the work.

I particularly want to recommend the article by Richard Ramey that deals with practice techniques for the bassoon solo. In this article he provides his vantage point for how to practice the solo. Many of his ideas concur with what I have presented in this video and the next. I highly recommend this article as a supplement to what I offer you here. So please do take a look at Richard Ramey’s article. I think that you will find it very helpful. Thank you.