So you’ve decided you want to buy a new mouthpiece that will drastically increase your range and flexibility and produce a fantastic tone. And to find that magical mouthpiece, you have decided to visit your local music store and try every single mouthpiece they have to find the perfect one. If they don’t have it, then on to the next store to try out all their mouthpieces! This blog post is to save you some time and to tell you that mouthpieces make up a very tiny percent of your overall playing and most likely won’t magically fix your playing.
The main components of a brass mouthpiece are the rim, cup, throat, and back bore. The rim and cup make up almost all the change in how a mouthpiece plays, while the throat and back bore don’t affect the mouthpiece significantly as long as they aren’t too open or closed off.
The rim is what you press your lips to and that facilitates the lip “buzz.” When picking what type of rim you are going to go with, you will want to consider its width, contour, and inner edge. Beginning players should opt for a medium width, slight contour, and sharper edge, as this will be the most comfortable on the lips while providing a sufficient air seal and limited flexibility. Here’s the non-magical part: once you get comfortable with and are successfully playing with a beginner mouthpiece, then you can start looking to upgrade mouthpieces. And with rims, you’re really only looking to switch to a more rounded rim and smoother inner edge. These changes make it more difficult to control your sound, but increase your overall playing flexibility by making it much easier to move your lips around the rim. Like it sounds, more flexibility takes more finesse, so should be reserved for a more experienced player. No magic shortcuts here!
The cup is the bowl behind the rim with which you blow into. A beginner will want to go with a medium-sized cup. A medium cup requires less air volume than a big cup while you still get a more uniform response across all registers, better than a smaller cup. As you develop as a player and find out what kind of playing you want to do, like lead trumpet in the jazz band or the solo tuba in an orchestra, then you can switch to a smaller cup for a brighter tone and quicker response or a bigger cup for a darker tone and more mass of sound.
Like mentioned above, the throat and back bore make small changes to your playing, and are usually made by the manufacturer to work well with the cup you have picked. Some more advanced players like to drill out the throat of their mouthpiece to make it more free-blowing and to increase volume, but this requires even more air from the player, and when you drill away part of the throat, there’s no going back. However, if the throat becomes too open, your tone can be too spread and require too much air, or if the throat is too small, tone with be stifled and you’ll be playing against too much back pressure. It’s normally a good idea to just go with what the manufacturer has set up.
Hopefully this was helpful and will save you a lot of time when searching for that magic mouthpiece. The main point is that if you don’t sound good on your mouthpiece, you can try and get a different one, but nothing will help your playing out more than just practicing and sounding your best on any equipment you’re playing on. With that being said, if you have reached the point on your mouthpiece where you see the need for a different one, the Tuba Exchange has some for you to try out!