Mouthpieces: My Thoughts

Note:  I found this draft when transferring files from the old website.  I updated it, posted it, and it disappeared!  No sign of it anywhere…so, I’ve learned to make backup copies of everything I post.  We’ll try again…

I always ask my students why they want to change mouthpieces, and if it’s because someone else changed or because of something they heard or read, I usually recommend that they stay on their current mouthpiece.  (Some of them change anyway!)  Mr. Christensen (my second trumpet teacher at Iowa State) said to change when you start busting notes for no reason — it means you’ve outgrown the mouthpiece.

I played a Bach straight 6 (the same mouthpiece Vincent Bach played) until my senior year of college and went directly to a Bach 1 1/2C without any problems.  Twice since then I have gone too large — I went from a Schilke 16 (which let me have my best range ever) to a Schilke 18.  [I was consistently working on my range during this time, so that may have been the reason it was my best range.]  Another time I went from a Bach 1B to a straight Bach 1.  Both times it took me years to admit my error.  Too macho for my own good!  I had a student at Illinois State who was a great player on a Bach 7C.  So, we moved to a 5C on the way to a 3C and ultimately a 1C, but the 5C was too big, and after a couple months we decided he needed to go back to the 7C.  I knew a band director in North Carolina who started his beginners on Bach 3C’s — he said if they didn’t know any better, they would never know the difference.  I’ve never agreed with that approach — beginners are little and wouldn’t wear their mom’s or dad’s shoes, so why should they play a grownup’s mouthpiece?

Traditionally, orchestral players recommended the largest mouthpiece you can handle.  The reasons were:

  • You have to produce the high range properly (pressure does very little good)
  • Since you don’t press as much, recovery time tends to be quicker.
  • You have more room in the mouthpiece for better flexibility and intonation
  • The sound is usually bigger

Jazz players, on the other hand, recommend the smallest mouthpiece you can handle to help range and endurance.  I always thought the jazz guys meant to use a really small mouthpiece, and I never understood their thinking until Mike Vax was on campus about 5 years ago [it was 2003] — he was one of Kenton’s lead trumpeters and is a great jazz soloist.  Mike explained that for some the smallest they can handle is a Bach 7C and for others (like me) it’s a Bach 1C or something comparable.

You need a minimum of three weeks on a mouthpiece to let the newness wear off to find out how the mouthpiece is REALLY going to work for you.  There’s a tendency at first for a new mouthpiece to work GREAT because you think it might be the “magic mouthpiece” that will do EVERYTHING!  Reality sets in after the newness wears off.  [That shows the impact of psychology — it’s more important than equipment.]

Updated Mouthpiece Thoughts

I continue to learn as I play trumpet.  The sources of this learning include:

  • guest artists
  • my trumpet colleagues
  • things I read and hear on the internet
  • things my students tell me
  • things I learn while helping my students play better
  • my own practice

Because of this, I have changed some of my thoughts since I wrote the previous draft:

Update:  What mouthpiece should you play?  There are no hard and fast rules nor are there quick, easy answers.  It’s probably best to start with a medium-sized mouthpiece made by a well-respected manufacturer and begin your search from there.  (If you want to read about my mouthpiece journey, see Buckner’s Equipment.)

My personal belief is that there are approximately 7.4 billion [current world population] different ways to play trumpet, although there certainly are mainstream patterns of playing well.  You have to find what works for YOU and that includes the mouthpiece and the trumpet.

There seems to be a more recent trend in orchestral players toward moderation in their equipment choices; smaller, brighter equipment projects better, which means you don’t have to play as loud.  Years ago, I played lead trumpet in a gig with the Sonny Land Band.  The rest of the section was using small bright mouthpieces; I had to play twice as loud to have the same presence.  It was exhausting!

Some time back, the South Arkansas Symphony played a concert of movie music — every piece was demanding on the trumpets.  I started the rehearsal on my Warburton 2D 12* backbore mouthpiece and realized by the end of the first phrase that I was going to have to play very loud to get the presence I needed.  Fortunately, I had brought my lead trumpet mouchpiece (Warburton 2M 7* backbore); I immediately changed to it and barely survived the rehearsal and concert instead of dying during the rehearsal.

I talked to Scott Laskey of Laskey Mouthpieces 14 years ago at the ITG Conference n Fort Worth, Texas (2003) — Scott said he worked a lot with Phil Smith, principal trumpet in the New York Philharmonic.  Phil wanted more “silver” in his sound, which I interpret to mean brighter.

Chuck Lazarus, 4th trumpet in the Minnesota Orchestra and former member of the Canadian Brass and the Dallas Brass, came to Henderson in 2014.  He saw my Warburton 2D 12* backbore mouthpiece and asked if he could try it; of course, I agreed.  I expected him to say that this mouthpiece would be great for Mahler and Bruckner; to my surprise, he said that it would be great for playing ballads in jazz combos!

For these four reasons and the fact that I’m not practicing 2-3 hours per day, I have gone to more moderate equipment.