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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.

 

Single Reed Mouthpiece

Introduction
Materials
Design
Mouthpiece Faults
Selecting a Mouthpiece


Introduction

Although often neglected, the mouthpiece is just as important as the quality of the reed in determining sound production on single reed instruments.  In fact, unlike the brasses, the intonation and blend of a clarinet or saxophone section will often improve significantly when players use similar mouthpieces.  

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Materials

Clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces are usually made of hard rod rubber.  It plays easily, has strong fundamentals and more overtones than mouthpieces made of plastic or wood.  Metal mouthpieces are also acceptable for the saxophone, particularly since the strength of the material makes it possible to reduce the exterior proportions to the point where very young players do not feel that the mouthpiece is excessively large.  Jazz players (notably tenor saxophonists) often prefer metal mouthpieces, arguing that they aid in creating a brighter, more authentic jazz sound. Classical players, however, hold to the belief that hard rubber mouthpieces produce a superior tone quality.  There is general agreement, however, that mouthpieces made of moulded rubber or plastic should be avoided.  The latter, which often have shiny surfaces, tend to warp easily.  Softer materials produce a darker tone and more flexible response, but also tend to lose their shape more easily. 


Design

Various aspects of mouthpiece design also affect the instrument’s response.  The lay, or curved area at the top of the mouthpiece (sometimes called the facing), determines the size of the opening between the reed and the mouthpiece tip.  A short lay or facing produces a smaller tip opening, while a long lay results in a larger tip opening.  The longer lay requires a firmer embouchure and a softer reed. It produces a dark tone, but can make the instrument difficult to play loudly. 

A short lay requires a stiffer reed, making the instrument difficult to control.
The high register can also be problematic because more embouchure pressure is needed to close the wider tip opening.  This lay is nevertheless attractive for players with strong embouchures since it offers greater pitch flexibility.  A short lay, on the other hand, involves less embouchure pressure but requires a stiffer reed, making the instrument difficult to control. A medium lay is therefore probably best for most students, at least until they are advanced enough to be able to choose for themselves.

Interestingly, differently designed lays - whether the curve is smooth and even or simply straight, for example - can make reed appear soft on one mouthpiece and hard on another.

The placement of the reed on the mouthpiece is also important.  The tip of the reed should be aligned both with the rails and with the tip of the mouthpiece.  Only a hint of the mouthpiece should be visible above the reed.  An incorrectly placed reed can be cause intonation problems (too flat or too sharp), poor tone (too breathy or too thin) and unwanted squeaks.

Other mouthpiece design factors influencing the instrument’s response include the size of the window and throat and the shape of the baffle. In fact, the shape of the baffle and the inner chamber influences the tone quality of a mouthpiece more than the material from which it is made.  A concave baffle gives a softer sound and requires more air, making the sound more difficult to produce.  A convex baffle, on the other hand, gives a louder sound and requires less air, but makes the sound more difficult to control.

The window is the opening at the top of the mouthpiece.  Large openings produce dark tones whereas narrow ones produce brighter and more penetrating ones.  Similarly, the more curved the upper area of the mouthpiece interior and the more open the throat, the darker and (in extreme cases) more unfocussed the tone. 

Jazz mouthpieces generally have smaller, square-shaped chambers.
In general, classical and concert band mouthpieces have large, round chambers which produce a tone quality rich in fundamental and low overtones. These mouthpieces are usually played with moderate tip openings. Jazz type mouthpieces generally have smaller, square-shaped chambers, which encourage production of higher overtones. This design gives more brilliance to the tone. These mouthpieces are usually played with larger tip openings and softer reeds than classical mouthpieces.


Mouthpiece Faults

A number of common playing difficulties can be traced to mouthpiece faults, including squeaks, hard blowing and rough tone. The following are among the most common:

Excessive Squeaks may be due to:

 
  • A thin tip rail.
 
  • An irregular tip rail.
 
  • A baffle convexed near the tip rail.
 
  • A facing that is too short.
 
  • An uneven facing.
 
  • A facing that is too open.
 
  • A vent that is too straight.

Hard blowing may be due to:

 
  • A wide rail tip.
 
  • An excessively curved vent.
 
  • A baffle that is too concave.
 
  • A baffle that is too convex.
 
  • The pivot in the facing too close to the tip.

Rough tone may be due to:

 
  • A facing that is too flat.
 
  • A facing that is too open.
 
  • A facing that is too long.
 
  • An extremely concave curve in the baffle.


Selecting a Mouthpiece

The catalogues of most woodwind mouthpiece manufacturers such as Yamaha and Leblanc distinguish between mouthpiece models in terms of materials used (metal, plastic, hard rod rubber or ebonite), tip opening, and the lay or facing length, the latter measurements being given in millimetres.

Eugene Rousseau ["Saxophone Mouthpieces" in Bandworld vol. 7 No. 4 March/April 1992] gives the following tips for those choosing a saxophone mouthpiece.  Much of the advice, however, can also be applied to selecting a clarinet mouthpiece.

 
  • Use several reeds of slightly different strengths. Your favorite reed is probably comfortable on your current mouthpiece, but may not be suited to a different mouthpiece.
 
  • Be certain that the reed is placed correctly on the mouthpiece, that its tip is even with the mouthpiece tip, and that it is centered from side to side.
 
  • Does the reed seal? Keeping the end covered, draw the air out of it and then take the mouthpiece from your mouth. A popping sound means that the reed is fitting properly on the mouthpiece. A warped reed will not pop because air is escaping between it and the mouthpiece.
 
  • Tune on alto, tenor, or baritone saxophone (on soprano) to its respective concert pitch. This note may be tuned slightly flat, but never sharp. Improper mouthpiece position can cause bad intonation, poor response and inferior tone quality.
 
  • Do some playing in all registers, from lyrical to rapid staccato using various dynamic levels. Repeat the examples several times, then play them using your own reed and mouthpiece. Now try the new mouthpiece and reed again. Many players like to record this test which allows them to "stand back and listen". Some prefer to have one or more musician friends listen as each mouthpiece is played. If you use these "judges", be sure that they cannot see which mouthpiece is being played.

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