Tone trick: clock your mouthpiece

You probably saw it coming, or maybe you didn’t, but today I am continuing my blogging about how the mouthpiece affects your tone with the fascinating and unusual practice of clocking your mouthpiece. I learned this technique from my colleague and friend, the late Aigi Hurn, principal trumpet of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia.

Background: when your lips vibrate in the mouthpiece, they set up a standing wave of the air column surrounded by the walls of the trumpet tubing. The vibration can be somewhat dampened if any part of your trumpet is not ideally connected with the rest. This is especially true of the mouthpiece. At the very least, you can improve your tone by firmly putting the shank into the leadpipe receiver (with a small twist). This insures that the metal surfaces are really touching each other. However, there is a rotation of the mouthpiece that is optimal for this effect. It’s different for every mouthpiece/trumpet combination. How do you find out? You clock your mouthpiece!

How to clock: take a mark on the outside of your mouthpiece (like the number), and use this as a reference. Start by firmly placing the mouthpiece with the number up (at the 12 o’clock position). Play a few notes that are revealing of your tone quality (e.g., the beginning of Pictures). Then rotate the mouthpiece by a quarter turn (or 15 minutes, if you’re thinking of minutes on a clock). Play the same passage. Continue in this way two more times. When you’ve gone around the clock, think to yourself which clock position was the best. Then go back to that point on the “clock.” Shift the rotation slightly clockwise and counterclockwise to find the most optimal sound. When you have found it, then you should remember this for the future. You have clocked your mouthpiece for this trumpet.

Do this for the rest of your mouthpiece-trumpet combinations for the best sound.

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Some 20-year-old demo recordings

Like all trumpeters, I have made some demo recordings. Here are two I found from a while back. I hope you enjoy!

The first is an excerpt from Verdi’s Rigoletto. I think it is the “banda” first trumpet part. This recording is about 20 years old. There is no editing.

The second is Honegger’s Intrada. This was not edited, so there are a couple of scuffs, but I think this recording captures the way I liked to play this about 20 years ago.

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