Five Myths about Mouthpieces

1. The main factor in selecting a mouthpiece is how it feels.

This myth has a LOT going for it, but it has some fatal flaws. The biggest is that many factors can go wrong when you’re feeling really good about your mouthpiece–factors like articulation, focus and actual sound.

Sound is utlra-important to me. The best mouthpiece trial is conducted with your trusted colleagues in the place that you play the most (the concert hall, for example). Have your friend sit at a good middle distance from you. Then try all the mouthpieces you have (or that both you and your friend have together) in a blind test, playing various excerpts or licks that show off the high register, articulation, low register, and lyrical playing. This is not a one-and-done proposition. This should be repeated every year, at a minimum, because your physiology, fitness level, and musical values tend to change slightly over time.

Next best would be a recorded trial, if you cannot enlist the help of a friend.

Vincent Bach, trumpet (and trumpet mouthpiece) maker

Vincent Bach, trumpet (and trumpet mouthpiece) maker

2. You should play on the biggest mouthpiece that will get the job done.

I think this myth comes primarily from Vincent Bach’s statement, “If the player tries different models of mouthpieces and obtains equally good results with both large and medium sizes, he should always give preference to the larger.” Bach’s ideas on mouthpieces have a lot of validity, but if you look at the size mouthpieces trumpeters were playing when he began his business (and for the first few decades of his business), they were, on average, smaller in diameter than our current favorite sizes. Adolf Herseth began his career playing a 7B. Harry Glanz (from the NBC orchestra) played a 6C. Starting in the 1950s, orchestral players began to explore bigger equipment. The “biggering” of trumpet mouthpieces has culminated in some rather large mouthpieces made by David Monette, for example. According to Jens Lindemann, we should be looking mainly for “efficiency.” When we play in the sweet spot, we play more efficiently. The sweet spot is bigger on a larger mouthpiece, but it is harder to maintain that sweet spot (see below about baroque trumpet mouthpieces). A moderately sized mouthpiece will have a smaller sweet spot, but, once you have mastered playing centered on it, then you should be able to go for a long time on that mouthpiece. Because I played in an orchestra early on, I developed on a 1C. This works for me, but I am hesitant to recommend this to others, because it might prove too ungainly. As far as the back-end of mouthpieces go, I have had no luck with large throats and large back bores on medium-large B-flat trumpets. On a piccolo trumpet, however, I actually think that a very large back bore (a 117 in a Bach mouthpiece) works very well. My opinion is that the quick outward taper associated with the 117 matches the overall relative small length and conical “profile” of the piccolo trumpet.

2. You should play on the smallest mouthpiece that will get the job done.

This myth comes from young players trying to emulate their favorite lead players. If you can’t play loudly with good, clean articulation, then you are probably are playing too small of a mouthpiece. If you are looking to play on a mouthpiece smaller than a 7C on a daily basis, then you should have a really good reason (i.e., you’re a lead player). In general, look for mid-range size diameters (3 to 7 in Bach sizes) . Often, if you pair a mouthpiece that is too small with an instrument that doesn’t want that kind of mouthpiece, then you will wind up with an exaggerated “scale”: the bottom notes will be a little low and the top notes will be too sharp. Even very large mouthpieces can be played VERY high. Just not all night long.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 6.08.58 PM3. Traditional is best (always get a Bach, and, better yet, a “Mt. Vernon”)

These are great mouthpieces, because Vincent Bach was such a good trumpet player AND engineer. However, nowadays you will find amazing mouthpieces from new makers. To name a few (without any endorsement, per se): ParkeGR, Hammond, Greg Black, Warburton, Bob Reeves, Sparx (for cornet), Curry, Lasky, Stork, Monette, Wick (great especially for cornet and flugel) and Yamaha to name a few. Many makers can be very helpful in finding a great mouthpiece for you. Ask your teacher and friends for advice. Search for little personal “reviews” on the Trumpet Herald, Trumpet Master, etc. Do some research on some mouthpiece comparison charts, like The Ultimate Trumpet Mouthpiece Comparison Chart.

4. Don’t buy a mouthpiece that your favorite trumpet player plays–buy one that works for you. 

This obviously has great validity, but if you’re just starting out, you should FIRST try the mouthpieces that your heroes play (as long as they are not extreme). They usually had to go through a long period of trial and error that you may be able to circumvent if you start by trying theirs. Keep in mind a couple of factors when purchasing artist models: 1) did your favorite player start out on a different size and then move into their current size only later in life (because of a change in the demands of her job over time demand different equipment, because of old age or because of some trauma to the mouth)? 2) do you really know for sure that your favorite artist ACTUALLY plays this mouthpiece on a regular basis? 3) do you REALLY know what sorts of playing your favorite artist does daily (if he plays 8 hours a day mostly at high C and above, then that may not be the mouthpiece for a 3 hour-a-day player).

To help find your favorite trumpet player’s mouthpiece, do some google-research. Often you can find the information you’re looking for.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 6.14.10 PM5. If you are going to play a historic instrument, then you can just play your modern trumpet mouthpiece rim/cup and fit it into the instrument. 

Sorry, but you cannot do this and expect to get a historic sound. You have to play the same kinds of equipment that the players of yore did to approach their sound. For instance, the baroque trumpet mouthpiece should have a completely different rim (flat) and cup (very “C” shaped–like a sphere cut in two). In addition, the baroque trumpet mouthpiece was much larger than the typical modern trumpet in all dimensions (the diagram to the left suggests that the two mouthpieces are the same size, top to bottom, but the baroque mouthpiece typically is longer). This type of mouthpiece works well, especially when coupled with a no-vent-holes,  natural trumpet approach. The larger size also matches the overall largeness of the 17th- and 18th-century trumpet. In addition, the large size mouthpiece has a very large “sweet spot,” which enables “lipping” to a large degree–if the embouchure is developed enough for this type of activity. With a small instrument like the cornett, mouthpiece is critical. I only get mine made by my most trusted mouthpiece maker (Graham Nicholson, a British baroque trumpet player who lives in the Hague).


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13 thoughts on “Five Myths about Mouthpieces

  1. On reflection, I would have to say that the “rim/cup” interface to the embouchure has a more noticeable effect on sound and “tone” than back-bore size/shape, but the later has much more influence on tuning / tone / timbre / endurance, in the long run… which makes this part of finding the “correct” mouthpiece much much harder. . . . . .(yes I’m still looking )

    • I agree, Pete. There’s a spectrum of factors that affect tone–the ones that are closest to the face are the most critical. Finding the right equipment cannot be a perfect quest because our chops are always in flux and our aesthetics are somewhat changing over time.

  2. I play trumpet 45 years and daily. I started on 7C in 4th grade, high school 5C, college 3C, then 2 1/2C, 2C, and today 1 1/2 C. It took 2 years make jump 2 1/2 C to 2C. 2 years later 2C felt tight, now 1 1/2C. Couple times tested 2C, lasted only 10 minutes, lips look like Mike Tyson blows. Larger mouthpiece get more sound and easier reach high register. Smaller mouthpiece was struggle with high notes.
    I am thinking 1 1/4 C. I assume larger cup than 1 1/2 C ? I am confused by description in Bach mouthpiece chart, large cup for 1 1/4 C but dimensions are same as 1 1/2 C.
    1 1/4C Medium 17.00mm Medium wide,Large cup for powerful trumpeters. Compact tone of great carrying power.

    • Andrew, thanks for your comment. Each trumpeter seems to have his or her own mouthpiece “journey.” But yours definitely seems to be one of increasing size. That’s fine. You’ll get more tone and more ability to adjust the “sweet spot” in my opinion. My understanding of the Bach numbers is that the 1/4 size really refers to the smooth curvature of the inner bite of the rim, whereas the 1/2 size refers to the wideness of the rim. So, your next step might be to stay with the mouthpiece you have or perhaps try the 1C. But certainly feel free to try the 1 1/4 C also. I like the sound of the 1 1/4, and I play on the 1 C. I don’t like the feel of the 1 1/4 for me.

      • Thanks. I take your advice 1C, wait until June. It is better to avoid changing size close to performance. Classmate from high school is on size 1X, needed more room for lips, don’t know if ever try it. I play trumpet at church mass, hand bells, 2 choirs. Some numbers posted on youtube. I like C trumpet for mass.
        Check it out, March of the Three Kings

        • Andrew, nice job on the March for 3 Kings. Good luck on the mouthpieces, but, if I may add, you might want to spend some time working to center the pitch in the “slot” so that you can maximize your resonance. That may alleviate your perceived need to switch to a larger mouthpiece.

          • Interesting observation. Bad habit started in school, not center lined with mouthpiece, downward angle of horn as result. In 11th grade, lesson instructor mentioned while doing paper route, bring lower jaw forward (monkey look). Muscles got used to new position, help keep lower jaw forward. The lineup problem was worse, slightly better with larger mouthpiece. Now that you remind me of it, going to work on it because disadvantage. I remember instructor had a mouthpiece with built in spring, too much pressure, air flow bypass the horn. Thanks.

  3. “This [trying a bunch of different mouthpieces] should be repeated every year, at a minimum…”

    Yes, absolutely. Because otherwise consistency, accuracy, range, tone and endurance might develop. Best to keep the embouchure, air and tongue levels confused….

    • I came across this article again today and reread it, recalling that I had left a comment regarding my disagreement about the idea of purposely trying a bunch of different mouthpieces each year even when the current mouthpiece seems fine (I still think that is a crazy idea). But I have to say, the humor I meant to inject with my sarcastic original comment is, well, most likely lacking to most folks. I am truly sorry if I offended anyone, including the author of this article which contains a ton of valuable information and advice.

      The suggestion to have a trusted colleague or colleagues listen as one A/B tests mouthpieces is SO important. What we hear behind the bell of the horn is not what people hear out front – and the sound we are hearing behind that bell comes to us in significant portion as sound radiating into our inner ears through our physical connection to the horn. As such we are literally in no position to judge what we sound like with different mouthpieces (or horns). I’ve had a number of occasions where I thought one mouthpiece sounded brighter than another (and/or better than another) only to be told by a group of other musicians – unanimously – that the opposite was true.

      The info in the article regarding the fallacy of trying to play the smallest (or the largest) mouthpiece that works is priceless as well.

      My teacher Claude Gordon suggested that one should find a good, common-sense mouthpiece that works for him or her, and then stay with that mouthpiece forever. Granted, Claude worked in a different time when the range of music styles and tones necessary were a lot narrower than today, and personally, though I know he’d grumble about it, I played on a different mouthpiece when playing 1st Trumpet on “Cats” or “West Side Story” than I did when subbing with the Berlin Radio Orchestra. But I keep my mouthpiece choices reasonable, and I don’t continuously embark on mouthpiece safaris – and I would never urge one of my students to try out different mouthpieces just in case he or she might happen upon one that seems better than the old one. As Claude also used to say and wrote in his book Brass Playing Is No Harder Than Deep Breathing, “Constantly changing mouthpieces is the beginning of the end.”

      Best wishes,

      John Mohan

  4. The biggest problem with Bach ‘c’ cups is inconsistency of depth: for instance why is a 3c much shallower than a 7c? and there are other examples, making the system confusing. What do you do if you like the 7c rim but find the cup too deep? you can try another rim of the same size(eg a 5c) but you may not like the fact that it has a less sharp bite etc. etc.

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