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).



22 responses to “Five Myths about Mouthpieces”

  1. Peter Czekaj Avatar
    Peter Czekaj

    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 )

    1. Stanley Avatar

      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. Andrew Papcun Avatar
    Andrew Papcun

    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.

    1. Stanley Avatar

      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.

      1. Andrew Papcun Avatar
        Andrew Papcun

        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

        1. Stanley Avatar

          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.

          1. Andrew Papcun Avatar
            Andrew Papcun

            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. John Mohan Avatar
    John Mohan

    “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….

    1. John Mohan Avatar
      John Mohan

      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

      1. Stanley Curtis Avatar
        Stanley Curtis

        Thanks so much for the follow-up comment, John.

        1. John Mohan Avatar
          John Mohan

          You are very welcome.

      2. Julian Zimmermann Avatar
        Julian Zimmermann

        Dear John,
        i although just came across this article and was not offended by your comment….but for my taste it sounds a bit to dogmatic.
        Beeing able to adapt to a mouthpiece and use its properties to your advantage is a skill, wich in my primary field (Early Music) is essentiel.
        It is not that i would recommend it to a beginner, but as a professional player we should in my oppinion be flexible and adaptive.
        Throughout my modern trumpetstudies i used more or less the same gear all the time, Bach 1 1/4 C (24/25 Backbore) for B/C/Eflat and 7E for Piccolo. At that time i would have agreed totally with you and to collegues that went on a mouthpiece safari i gave a strange look. But when i started with the Natural Trumpet a field without real standards that perspective changed and from my experience i must tell you that changing mouthpieces is not destabelising, but quit the opposite, it sharpens your sense for center and soundcolour.
        Anyway, we are not all wired in the same way and what is true for me, must not be true for you….and that is okay (at least for me!).
        All the best
        Julian Zimmermann

        P.S. sorry if my english is not perfect, i am from the old continent….

        1. Julian, thanks very much for your comment, because I know you have put a lot of thought into mouthpiece design and selection. I think the process goes both ways: pick a mouthpiece that is good, then get used to it; if it still isn’t good, then change your mouthpiece, then get used to it. Repeat until reasonably happy. It’s a little how a composer like Bach would write a fugue. You have to start out with a subject, and then you begin to write your countersubject, and all of the other things, but you have to go back and adjust your subject when you have problems. Essentially working from both ends.

          1. Julian Zimmermann Avatar
            Julian Zimmermann

            What you describe is, what i would call a finetuning process: you know basically what kind of mouthpiece you want to play, but maybe your not yet sure if the resistence is really right…..(wich is quit important for endurance). My finetuning process is having a mouthpiece that works and one that i try out over a longer time.
            If i find myself playing on the one that i just “try out” all the time (especially if i choose it as well for concerts), that speeks for itself (so it is a bit more based on gut feeling).
            I think in the end, beeing able to select a good mouthpiece needs the ability that i can play it as it presents itself by nature. Wich means I don t impose my wishes into the sound when i choose. This is the problem if someone wants to play the same mouthpiece as your personel hero.
            As well I think, the bigger the difference between the brassinstruments you play (like you play cornetto, naturaltrumpet and modern Instruments), The easier it becomes to learn to identify what real qualities in mouthpieces are.
            All the best

  4. Colin Ball Avatar
    Colin Ball

    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.

    1. The number corresponds to the rim diameter. The LETTER corresponds to the cup VOLUME, and represents an actual value. All C cup mouthpieces have the same cup VOLUME. Therefore, a 3C is more shallow than a 7C.
      The 1 (or 1A, they don’t print A on the piece, it’s implied) is the biggest.
      You want to look for a 7D or 7E (not particularly common but available), or look at a different manufacturer. There are a TON of great ones. I’ve used STORK, LASKE, SCHILKE, YAMAHA, and others. All useful for the right player.
      All that being said, I play on a good ol’ (NON-STRIKE ERA) Bach 3C right now. (plays vastly different to my STRIKE-ERA 3C) (strike ended in 2010, so new stuff is all good, FYI)
      Good Luck!

  5. 5 myths replaced with 55 opinions.

  6. I have learned over the years that everyone has a right to an opinion. Based on their results, perception,style of play, age, teachers influence, colleagues influence and opinions.

    I had the opportunity to study with Dr. Harold Harmon at Northeastern. He had the power of Bud Herseth, but the vibrato of Dockshitzer, played a large bore Getzen and Schilke 24 with a Schmidt backbore. Studied under Mel Broiles,Claude Gordon, a bit with Charley Davis and Bob O’donnell from L os Angeles. All fine, different sounds.
    For me as I get older now playing 53 years, my range has increased, to double bflat, but not really workable. As we age, you do want efficiency and smaller pieces do that. at the sacrifice of sound, accuracy and so forth. smaller id’s less strength required but more control. Bigger Mouthpiece ID’s ( in general) more vibratory surface with chops, bigger sound, but more work . I started on a Bach 6, ( Mr Bachs choice, then 5c 3c, 2 1/2 C, then went on road, Reality check, to a same Bach 3c Giardinelli made, well Terry Warburton when he worked there and a 6s underpart. I got a 6c underpart as well. 9 months a year on the road. used the shallow. and days off. to do lyrical stuff. the 6c for swelling or just to relax the embouchure . Your article is great . No best teacher in the world, Variety is what we like . Would be boring if everyone sounded like Miles, or Maynard or Bud. I went also to IU and yes great players there, but they are everywhere, find your own way. Get your head out of the mouthpieces and horns. Use your gut,what your heart want you to play like.You cant be everything to the horn, or to everyone.Wayne B in LA is great, but I would rather hear Phil Smith with legit.
    Michael P

  7. i bouhgt Bach 1 1/2C size golden rimm mouthpiece,and the size seems smaller than Bach’s Megatone 1 1/2C. why the sizes are so different,when they are supposed to be the same?

  8. I have played trumpet for a long time 20+ years but have recently started teaching. My student that I have only taught for a short time plays at around grade 3-4 level. They are playing 1c mouthpiece, cheeks out, articulate needs work and I’m wondering if the mouthpiece is apart if the problem and should be playing some timing like a 5c.

    1. Hi Bec–I think the cheeks and articulation issues can be pursued somewhat independently of the mouthpiece. I encourage you try to get your students to free buzz for a more controlled embouchure. In addition, articulation–check whether the tongue is striking too low (like between the teeth)–which can cause a “thuddy” sound. That being said, a 5C could help in many ways–endurance and range.

  9. My Cornet is a Prestige bb, excellent Cornet but having trouble choosing the right mouth piece, tried many but have settled on Wick 4, top G easy but above harder

    The Prestige bb Cornet needs a mouth piece which is open.

    B cup mouthpiece are difficult blow after playing on 4, 3, Denis Wick .

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