Let’s talk tone: the mouthpiece according to Bach

In the last two blog posts, I talked about the trumpet itself as a factor in tone production. Today, I want to address the equipment that probably has the most effect on tone. The mouthpiece. It doesn’t seem right, does it? If you sink $4,000 into a trumpet and only $100 in a mouthpiece, the trumpet seems like it should be the biggest factor. That is not the case. There are many aspects of the mouthpiece and all of them have large implications in regard to the tone. In today’s post, I want to focus on Bach mouthpieces, since Vincent Bach put a lot of effort into mouthpiece design and most good mouthpieces made by other makers benefit from his work.

Let’s start with the wonderful and educational mouthpiece manual on the Bach website. Here’s the PDF: Bach mouthpiece manual. There is a wealth of information here, so please take as much time as you’d like. On the first page, Bach says, “Do not select a certain mouthpiece because another player uses it. Because no two players have the same lip or tooth formation, what is perfect for one may be entirely unsuitable for the other. Bach produces many different models so that each player can find the best mouthpiece for their individual embouchure.”

I agree AND disagree with this (for the same reasons I wrote about in yesterday’s post about trumpets). You have to know what basic parameters of music you want to play–solo, lead trumpet, orchestra section, orchestra principal, studio, jazz solo–so that you narrow your search. You’re just not going to get a job in an orchestra if you audition on a 12E-W mouthpiece, no matter how well this mouthpiece suits you. And, to be fair, Bach alludes to this in the previous paragraph by writing that

Professional musicians and advanced students prefer the musical results of
large mouthpieces, such as the Bach 1B, 1C, 1 1/4C, 1 1⁄2B, 1 1⁄2C, 2 1⁄2C, 3C, which provide a maximum volume of tone with the least amount of effort. By opening up the lips so that they do not touch, the larger mouthpiece produces a clearer, purer tone. The large cup diameter also allows a greater portion of the lip to vibrate, producing a larger volume of tone, and keeps a player from forcing high tones by encouraging the correct functioning of the lip muscles. However, a student may find a medium-sized mouthpiece suitable.

So, when thinking about your mouthpiece, try to think about what your abilities and musical needs will be. Blend your ideal sound with your needs.

A note about beginners: if I’m starting out a young trumpeter, I am definitely going to recommend a mouthpiece the size of a 7C. This will work with beginning embouchures. As the student grows and gets better, then I would try a larger mouthpiece, like a 5C, then a 3C. I would generally not introduce a smaller mouthpiece (for commercial/jazz work) until the student has shown mastery of intermediate music materials and has a great, solid high C.

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Recording, part the deux

Yesterday’s recording session ended with a problem over how to record a computer-accompanied piece by Kevin Olson. This piece has computer cues to advance through the score–the cues help determine what the accompaniment is doing (that, and the trumpet sound). The problem was that my bluetooth pedal was not connecting with my computer, so I couldn’t advance the cues. This occupied about three hours yesterday afternoon. Needless to say, I was worried about my timeline for the week.

When I came home last night, I tried a different computer, and the bluetooth pedal worked. So, this morning, we were able to knock out this complex, highly technical piece in three hours. This kept us on schedule. After a great lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, we went back and recording a piece by Kevin Poelking for trumpet, piano and percussion (my CSU colleagues Tim Burns on piano and Eric Hollenbeck on percussion). This piece took a little more than four hours to record, but we got it done! My wife, Christian and I celebrated by going out to the “Mayor of Old Town” for some beers.

Here are some photos from today:

 

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