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Suggested Reading

1. Rehearsal Rooms

Struggling to improve the acoustics in your band room? Check out how the Medan Band did it.

2. Concerned about playing swing music properly?

Check out my guidelines

3. Ear training exercises for bands

Unlike piano players, ear training is essential for wind band performers. But how many band directors bother to give their bands suitable exercises?

4. Intonation problems

While tuning is simple act of adjusting a length of tubing on a wind instrument (often by reference to a single note), intonation is an ongoing process in which a player strives to match the pitch of others in the ensemble during performance. 

5. “Blowing” a wind instrument

A common misconception among wind players is to believe that the air moves through the instrument in order to produce the sound. This is simply not true. 

6. Conducting – suggestions for home practice

The best way for a conductor to improve is in front of a live ensemble. The unfortunate reality, however, is that this is not always possible. Aspiring conductors therefore have little choice but to find other ways of honing their skills.

 

Mouthpieces

Introduction
The Rim
Cup Depth and Diameter
Cup Shape
The Throat
The Backbore
The Shank
Material, Weight and Thickness
Numbering Systems
Selecting a Mouthpiece


Introduction

Discussions among many young brass players regarding the virtues or otherwise of the various brands and models of mouthpieces currently on the market often seems prefaced by the assumption that there is such a thing as the perfect mouthpiece, i.e. one that will suit all players for all occasions.  The reality, however, is quite different.  Unless it is very poorly designed, every type of mouthpiece has both advantages and disadvantages. 

Every player is different.
Moreover, every player is different, and a mouthpiece that is most appropriate for one player will not necessarily be so for another.  A brass player needs to select a mouthpiece that not only meets his or her performance needs but is also consistent with the anatomy of his or her particular embouchure. This implies that the mouthpiece that comes with an instrument may not be the most suitable one.

In selecting a mouthpiece one needs to consider a variety of factors, including the player's teeth, jaw, and shape of the

lips (thickness and width), as well as the strength of the embouchure.  The desired tone quality is also important, as is the ease of playing the upper and lower range, endurance, intonation, and the type of playing done most of the time.

There is no substitute for regular, intelligent practice.
A word of caution before we begin.  No mouthpiece, no matter how well designed or appropriate for a particular individual, is going to turn an average player into a virtuoso overnight.  In other words, there is no substitute for regular, intelligent practice.  This may seem so obvious that it is hardly worth mentioning. Yet in my experience, many enthusiastic young players (particularly trumpet and cornet players) seem to spend such an inordinate amount of time speculating about the virtues of various mouthpiece designs that it would almost seem as if they believed that such a shortcut really existed. 

In selecting a mouthpiece design, at least five areas must be considered.  They are: the rim, the cup, the throat, the backbore, and the shank. Each is discussed in turn below:


The Rim

The size and shape of the rim is particularly important because it has the most significant effect on endurance and flexibility.  A narrow rim is gives greater flexibility, but tends to reduce endurance.  A wide rim, on the other hand, provides a better cushion for the lips, thus allowing a performer to play continuously for longer periods.

Sharper edges appear to improve the attack.
Most players therefore tend to favour a compromise, choosing medium-wide rims whenever possible.  Even so, it is difficult to generalize.  Players with soft, fleshy lips, for example, may be better off with wide rimmed mouthpieces.  Other characteristics of rim design are also important.  Flat rims tend to hold the lips immobile.  This is the reason the rims on most mouthpieces are curved slightly.  Then there is the matter of the shape of the inner edge or “bite”.  Sharper edges appear to improve the attack.  Even so, some players avoid such designs. A very sharp edge can be painful on the lips and reduce endurance.   A soft edge, on the other hand, may produce a blurred attack and a poorly defined pitch.


Cup Depth and Diameter

The diameter of the cup (as measured from the inner edges of the rim) is important because it determines the area in which the lips will vibrate.  It is therefore the most important factor determining the size of the sound.  Larger cup diameters result in a greater proportion of the lips vibrating inside the mouthpiece and will thus result in a larger volume.  Smaller diameters, on the other hand, tend to impede the airflow and thus produce a smaller sound. 

Large cups require a strong embouchure.
While larger cups are generally better than smaller ones, they also require a strong embouchure. Used by a beginner, large diameter mouthpieces could lead to the protrusion of the lips into the mouthpiece.  The latter is a common embouchure fault that results in the inside surface of the lips becoming the vibratory surface, producing a hazy sound devoid of resonance.

That said, players with thick lips seem to do better with larger cup diameters, while those with thin lips may get equally fine results with smaller diameters.  Deep cups produce a darker sound and are more responsive in the lower register, while shallow cups improve endurance, favor upper register playing and give a brighter sound.

Euphonium players should use deeper cups.
The most appropriate depth of a mouthpiece cup depends to some extent on its bore as well as its pitch.  For the average tenor trombone, for example, a medium-deep mouthpiece cup such as the Vincent Bach 7C or 11C, or Yamaha 46C2 is probably best.  For the symphonic bore tenor trombone, however, a larger cup such as the Vincent Bach 5GB is preferable.  Euphonium players should use even deeper cups in order to gain a more mellow sound.

Vincent Bach argues that players should emulate outstanding virtuosos such as Herbert Clark, Jules Levy, Theodore Hoch and Paris Chambers and use wide, deep cups. By diligent practice, he points out, such players were able to produce an enormous volume of tone and reach from pedal C up to high F and beyond.  They did not pinch high notes, as many do today, by using small, shallow-cupped mouthpieces.

As a general rule, however, it is better to encourage a student to use progressively larger size mouthpieces only as his embouchure develops.  A large cup volume produces a fuller and more resonant tone. It also encourages the development of more lip control.


Cup Shape

The shape of the cup is also important.  U-shaped cups have a brighter sound and are easier to play in the high register.  V-shaped cups on the other hand,  produce a darker sound and are easier to play in the lower register.  Some mouthpieces, particularly those designed for French horns, have a combination of the “U” and “V” shapes to make the instrument easier to play throughout its register. 


The Throat

The diameter of the throat shoulder or edge has an important influence on the timbre or tonal characteristics of a brass instrument.  Large throats darken the tone and give it body, but they also require lots of air from the player.  Smaller diameter throats produce high resistance, making for a faster response and brilliant tone.  Some suggest that a smaller throat also helps produce an easier high register.  However, it can also choke the tone, make high notes flat and low tones too sharp.


The Backbore

Many brass teachers and students tend to neglect the importance of the backbore. Part of the trouble is that the backbore is not so readily visible to the naked eye. The more important reason, perhaps, is a lack of understanding of the importance of its shape. According to experts such as Renold Schilke, it is not unusual to find mouthpieces that are superior in every respect except for the backbore. If the backbore expands rapidly, the tone will tend to be larger in volume.  Unfortunately, this will also decrease the resistance of the mouthpiece.  The player’s endurance will decline correspondingly and he will have more difficulty controlling the tone, especially when playing very quiet passages.  A smaller backbore will do the reverse.


The Shank

The shank is intended to fit the backbore into the instrument in such a way that a continuous taper is formed with the leadpipe.  Unfortunately, there is no international standard here, and European-made mouthpieces do not always sit well in US-made instruments.  Just how significant this is in affecting the tone is a matter of some debate among mouthpiece designers.  What is certain, however, is that when mouthpieces made on one continent are used on instruments made on another, they often go too far or not far enough into the leadpipe, thus affecting the instrument’s pitch center. 

Even the smallest particle of dirt can affect tone and response.
One final point.  Because of their great importance in influencing the sound quality of the instrument, both the throat and the backbore of a mouthpiece should be kept as clean as possible with the use of a small brush made for the purpose.  Even the smallest particle of dirt can affect the tone and response of the mouthpiece.  Dented mouthpieces are even worse and should be repaired or replaced as soon as possible.


Material, Weight and Thickness

Most mouthpieces are made of brass, with silver or gold plating added.  Silver is durable and will not flake or peel.  However, there are some players whose skin appears allergic to the metal.  Gold plated mouthpieces, although more expensive, provide the smoothest feel and enhance lip flexibility.  Some manufacturers such as Yamaha also produce mouthpieces made of solid silver.  The latter are said to have a darker, more powerful tone.  Unfortunately, because of the increased resistance associated with them, they are really only suitable for experienced players. 

Denis Wick claims that "heavytop" mouthpieces improve the high and low registers.
Many believe that lightweight mouthpieces give a faster, more flexible response than heavier or more massive ones.  The heavier types, on the other hand, are said to produce a better tonal focus.  Most manufacturers produce both.  Back in the 1980s Denis Wick introduced a range of “heavytop” trumpet, cornet and trombone mouthpieces, claiming that their increased weight and bulk gave a much more powerful undistorted maximum volume as well as improved high and low registers.  Once again, however, these mouthpieces are not for everyone.  Many players prefer the vibration feedback provided by more lightweight models.

 

Numbering System

Unfortunately, there is no standard numbering system indicating mouthpiece size, so it is important to understand the system used by each manufacturer when ordering or making comparisons between different brands.  In the case of Vincent Bach and Dennis Wick, progressively lower numbers indicate larger cup diameters.  With Shilke and Yamaha, it is the other way around.  A letter (A, B, C, etc.) placed after the number usually indicates the depth of the cup.  Again, however, there is no widely accepted system and it is important to refer carefully to the catalogues of the respective manufacturers. Vincent Bach models begin with “A” indicating the deepest cup, while Shilke model “A” mouthpiece indicates a small cup. Direct comparison between brands is further complicated by other design differences.  One of the most significant discrepancies between Bach and Schilke mouthpieces, for instance, is that Bach mouthpieces have a sharper edge (or bite) on the inner rim.  This helps in the production of clean attacks, but makes slurs more difficult to execute.  Standard Schilke mouthpieces also have larger backbores than those in the Bach range. 


Selecting a Mouthpiece

Since individuals vary considerably in terms of physiology, the following table is presented only as a general guide.  At more advanced levels, the type of music being played and the desired sound quality also influences the selection of a particular mouthpiece.  The table has been compiled from various sources, including the brochures issued by the following mouthpiece manufacturers: Denis Wick, Vincent Bach, Schilke and Yamaha. An asterisk (*) placed after a model number indicates that it is primarily designed for playing jazz. Although the catalogues issued by manufacturers sometimes seem to suggest otherwise, trombone and euphonium mouthpieces are not interchangeable.  A euphonium requires a deeper and more conical cup to achieve a true euphonium sound.

Mouthpiece Suggestions

 

Beginner

Intermediate

Advanced

 

 Trumpet

 

Bach 7 or 7C, Schilke 9, 13B Denis Wick 4 & 4BYamaha 9C4, 11 & 11C4.

Bach 6 & 5

Schilke 14C4 or 17

Denis Wick 3

Yahama 13D4

Bach 1C & 7E*

Schilke 16, 17 & 18

Denis Wick 2 & 1, 3E*

Yamaha 17C4, 18C4

 

 Cornet 

 

Denis Wick 7 & 5B

Bach 7

Yahama 9C4, 11C4

Denis Wick 5B

Bach 5A

Yahama 11E4

Denis Wick 3, 4 & 4B

Bach 5A

Schilke 11E

Yahama 16E

 

French Horn 

 

Conn 1

Schilke 27 & 30

Denis Wick 5

Yahama 30

Bach 7

 

Schilke 27 & 30

Yahama 31 & 32

Schilke 27 &  30

Denis Wick 4 & 4N

Holton DC

Yahama 34C4 or 34B

 Tenor Trombone

 

Bach 12 &  11

Schilke 46 & 47

Denis Wick 9BS

Yahama 45C2

Bach 9 & 7C

Schilke 47 or 50

Yahama 48

Denis Wick 6BS, 6BL

Bach 6, 5,  4 & 12C*

Schilke 51B & 51

Denis Wick 5BS, 5BL, 4BS, 4BL & 12CS*

Yahama 51C4 & 52

 

 Bass Trombone

 

Yahama 53

Denis Wick 5AL, 4AL & 3AL

Shilke 57

Bach 5G & 3G

Yahama 58

 

Denis Wick 2AL

Yahama 59 & 60

Schilke 59 & 60

Bach 2G

 

 Euphonium

 

Bach 7

Denis Wick 6BY, 6BM & 6BL

Schilke 46D

Yamaha 48

 

Bach 6-1/2AL

Denis Wick 6BY, 6BM & 6BL

Schilke 46D

Yahama 51B & 48D

Bach 5G, 3G

Denis Wick 4AY, 4AM & 4AL

Schilke 51D

Yahama 51D

 

Tuba 

 

Bach 25

Denis Wick 4L

Schilke 62

Yahama 64

 

Schilke 66

Bach 22

Denis Wick 4 Yahama 66D4

Bach 18, 12 or 7

Denis Wick 2 & 2L

Schilke 66 & 67

Yahama 66D4 & 66

 


When ordering cornet mouthpieces it is important to specify whether the instrument has been designed to accept large or small shanks.  Trombones and Euphoniums also differ, with some using large shank mouthpieces and some using small shank mouthpieces. As a general rule of thumb, large bore instruments take large shanks while small and medium bore instruments take small ones.  When in doubt, the safest way out is to indicate clearly the make and model of the instrument the mouthpiece you are ordering is intended to fit. 



 

 

 

 

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