Re: What's all the debate about mouthpieces?!

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Posted by Rob Perelli-Minetti on April 14, 1999 at 07:46:02:

In Reply to: What's all the debate about mouthpieces?! posted by Paul on April 13, 1999 at 17:18:47:

Some further thoughts (based loosely on John & Phyllis Stork's booklet "Understanding the Mouthpiece" published by BIM and which I recommend): the mouthpiece is the interface between your buzz and air, tounging, etc. and the instrument itself, which really only amplifies what you do. Everyone's mouth shape, teeth, and embouchure etc. are different. Different aspects of a mouthpiece (inner rim diameter, cup shape, cut depth, bite (sharp or rounded inner rim) and the size and shape of the outer rim) affect how your work is transferred into the horn .

Trumpet players especially have studied this stuff and have a number of rules of thumb to help fit mouthpieces to individual players and to solve particular problems, some which are translated for tuba and mentioned in Winkler & Phillips' "The Art of Tuba and Euphonium Playing" (which I highly recommend).

Around 1960 when we were all kids lugging BBb sousaphones around going 'oompah' using 'middle of the road' mouthpieces (such as the Bach 18 and 24AW and their many imitators, and the Conn 2 which was a modernistic design based on the Helleberg inside shape with a big outside rim, all of which are still around, or the old King 26 -a design which has not survived into the present day) designed to work for the mythical average person on 'typical' BBb horns of the period (e.g. Conn and King sousas, tubas and recording basses with bores ranging from .687 to .730), those types worked well enough for most people that hardly anyone went beyond that. Young kids, Eb playesr or those with very small mouths might go for a smaller mouthpiece like a Bach 25 or 26, and serious players may have gone with various Helleberg designs or the Conn Chief or the mouthpieces supplied with the german horns such as the Alexander.

Today, given better understanding of the role of the mouthpiece and how changes in its design affect a players' sound on a particular instrument (note, it is said that almost 100 years ago, August Helleberg made a different mouthpiece for each horn he had, which is why there are so many different 'authentic' Helleberg designs), it is possible through careful fitting of the mouthpiece to the player, and matching it with the particular horn a player uses, to enable a player to play to the best of his talent.

The Stork's comment is that it is much easier to change the mechanical device than it is for someone to change their natural embouchure, and that they have successfully solved problems for large numbers of professional musicians. Several of top level trumpet players I know work with John and Phyllis and are extremely satisfied with the results.

Similar experimentation seems to now be going on in the tuba world, especially with various Perantucci designs, Schillke and Dillon (especially working with players like Pat Sheridan and Scott Mendoker and in reviving old designs with variations), and a lot of interesting designs are being tried.

My own observation based on the Stork's work is that in the tuba world the trend seems to be to bigger and bigger rim diameter mouthpieces. There seems to be a 'macho' thing about using the largest mouthpiece one can 'handle', but it may also be related to the fact that many of the horns in use today are European horns of much large bore than the American tubas and sousaphones of our youth.

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