One of the greatest things about being a woodwind player is the numerous ways that we can personalize our instrument’s sound by changing reeds, mouthpieces, and ligatures. The combinations are nearly endless and allow players to develop a set up that expresses their musical personality. This having been said, the task of selecting a new mouthpiece can seem daunting so hopefully adding a little information about the differences in construction and resulting sound will make the process easier.
The basic material that is used in the construction of the mouthpiece varies from brand to brand but is generally divided into hard plastic or hard rubber. In general, beginner mouthpieces are made of plastic and most of the advanced ones are hard rubber. However, it is not always true that if a mouthpiece is hard rubber it is an advanced model or automatically better than a beginner mouthpiece. Many players notice a warmer sound from the hard rubber but the physical construction and dimensions of the various parts of the mouthpiece have a much greater effect on the sound produced than the materials it is made of. In addition, the actual chemical composition of the rubber or plastic can vary greatly from one manufacturer to another so it is not wise to make assumptions about a mouthpiece’s sound based on the concept of “plastic versus rubber.”
The basic parts of a clarinet mouthpiece are shown in this illustration:
Although many factors influence the timbre and response of a mouthpiece, most players focus on the measurement of the tip opening which is distance of the space created by the curvature of the facing. This opening has a large impact on the overall sound and responsiveness of the mouthpiece and the relationship between the strength of reed and tip opening is paramount. A good general rule is that the bigger the opening at the tip of the mouthpiece, the softer the reed needs to be to create a good sound. Other factors that influence the overall sound and playability are the facing, chamber, baffle, and throat. The facing is the part of the mouthpiece where the reed is placed and creates a seal with the back part of the reed and allows the front of the reed to vibrate. The length of the curve that creates the tip opening varies greatly and is an important part of how the mouthpiece responds. The chamber is the section inside the front portion of the mouthpiece and directly affects the amount of air flow in the mouthpiece. The baffle and the throat also change how the air flows into the instrument and how resistant the mouthpiece feels. Although the general shape of the outside of mouthpieces is fairly standard, some manufacturers adjust the narrowness of the “beak” and this changes how the mouthpiece feels when it is played but has little effect on the overall sound.
All of the various parts of the construction of the mouthpiece are important to how it plays and the sounds. Ultimately, every player is going to have a different opinion about what is ideal. In addition, the reed and ligature combination used will greatly affect the overall sound and response so these factors are important to figuring out what works best for the particular player. The best way to upgrade the mouthpiece that you are using is to try many of them and make a decision based on the characteristics you are looking for. This can be a really fun day at the music store and allows the player to try many different mouthpieces without committing to the purchase until the decision is certain.
One of the questions we get quite frequently is “Should I lubricate the tenon joints on my woodwind instrument?”
If the tenon joint has a cork then YES it should be lubricated with cork grease. Just a small amount will do from time to time. Too much can cause the cork to fail. (most clarinets, some piccolos and flutes, oboes)
If there is no cork and therefore is metal to metal then it should NOT be lubricated. Then tenons are designed to be a slip fit and work without lubrication. They sometimes become damaged, out of round or just become worn and need to be properly re-fit. If you try and use lubrication it will eventually pick up some dirt or a metal fragment and when you put it together can cause serious damage to the tenon. They do need to be cleaned off from time to time by just wiping them off with a clean cloth. If you experience a problem with this type of tenon you need to send it in for repair. (saxophones, bass clarinets, flutes, piccolos)
Budding trumpet players can often improve their sound and playing experience by simply changing the mouthpiece they use. It’s such a small part of the instrument as a whole, but playing the correct model is incredibly important. Now, we could write an encyclopedia about all the different models and measurements mouthpieces come in, but in today’s blog post we are going to focus on helping young musicians understand how the components of their mouthpiece can affect their trumpet playing.
Firstly, there are five main components to a trumpet mouthpiece:
The mouthpiece and its dimensions you choose are going to affect many aspects of your trumpet playing such as intonation (the ability to stay in pitch), ease of attack, range, volume, flexibility, tone, and comfort.
Secondly, it’s important to understand that most beginner-level trumpets come with mouthpieces that have shallower cup depths and medium cup diameters (such as a Bach 7C or Bach 5C). A shallower cup is a bit easier for inexperienced players to produce a sound. As the student progresses in his or her musicianship, they may consider going to a deeper cup such as a Bach 3C. Why consider a deeper cup depth? A deeper cup allows more air flow. More air flow means a warmer, richer tone as well as increased volume and range. On the flip side, a mouthpiece such as the Yamaha Bobby Shew Lead mouthpiece has a very shallow cup depth and a narrow backbore. This provides the musician with an extra bright sound and upper register which is ideal for serious jazz trumpeters who need to hit those screaming double-G’s!
Also, it does not hurt to consider the plating of the mouthpiece. Most mouthpieces will be silver plated since silver produces a brighter sound. However, there are a variety of trumpet mouthpieces where the rim, cup, and even the entire mouthpiece, are gold plated. The reason for considering gold plating can vary. Some like the softer feel of the gold plating against the embouchure while others like the warmer sound gold plating provides. There are even musicians with silver allergies, so the gold plating is a great alternative.
Helpful Hint! When trying new mouthpiece models, start on a mid-range note, such a G on the staff, and go up chromatically to see if there is an improvement in range and if those higher notes are easier to hit with a good sound. Do the same going down chromatically into the lower register.
Lastly, it is a common misconception among young trumpet players that as the years go by they need to keep changing mouthpieces and go to a deeper and deeper cup depth (similar to how young woodwind players feel they need to keep changing to a harder reed every year). This is not necessarily the case. If you are advancing well and meeting your goals with your current mouthpiece, there is no need to change. However, if you do find yourself trying new models, ask yourself these questions:
1) Is my range increasing (upper and lower)?
2) Am I producing the kind of sound I want (classical, jazz, big band, etc.)?
3) Has my intonation improved?
4) Do I have better attacks at the front of my notes?
You are welcome to bring your instrument into Paige’s Music to try a variety of mouthpieces in one of our practice rooms! Your band director or private teacher may have suggestions for particular makes and models they would like you to try, but if you are not sure where to start in your mouthpiece journey, our Sales Associates can help you pinpoint your current ability and have you try models which may help you meet your musical goals.