Intro to Mouthpieces
Bigger is better: that’s bad advice! You can safely ignore it. In the trumpet world, there seems to be a pervasive bias towards large equipment in general, but especially so for large mouthpieces. I believe a young player should be guided to equipment that is sized optimally for that player. Teachers, it’s your job to help your students reach their potential, not to place your biases in their path as an obstacle to overcome. I am speaking from personal experience, and years of well meaning but bad information.
Something else to consider, especially with young players just starting out in beginning band, around 10 or 11 years old. Young people are still growing, and they are still much smaller than they will be as adults. The size of their mouthpiece should be considered relative to and in proportion with their physical size.
When considering a mouthpiece, the player must take into account the style of music they intend to play. The quality of the sound they want to produce, and the amount of amplitude they require. Different situations will call for different equipment. If a player specializes in only type of playing, they can realistically choose one mouthpiece that will fulfill their need. Someone who crosses over styles, genres, and even venues; may need to get used to playing a few different mouthpieces in order to adapt their sound to whatever situation they find themselves in.
I recommend starting with the smallest cup diameter you can comfortably play, and gradually try larger cup diameters until you find the right size for your face. A quick note; everyone’s face is diferent, lips, teeth, jaw structure, etc. You may find that a smaller diameter works better for you even though you may have full lips, or large teeth, and a small diameter mouthpiece seems counter-intuitive.
Overview of the Trumpet Mouthpiece
There are five parts to every mouthpiece. They are: the inner diameter of the cup, the rim, the cup shape, the throat, and the backbore. Each part performs a specific function. Taken all together, the mouthpiece serves to accept vibration of the lips, and transfer that vibration to the leadpipe, which is then amplified through the rest of the tubing of the trumpet.
The size, shape, and resistance built in to the mouthpiece determines how efficiently the player can produce a sound on the trumpet, throughout all registers and dynamic ranges.
The overall resistance of the mouthpiece should be carefully considered and balanced with the players instrument. A mouthpiece with a certain resistance may be completely unsuitable if the resisitance is a mis-match for the trumpet that player uses.
When trying out new mouthpieces, always play them on your trumpet. The one you play the most, or like the best. That way you can get an accurate feel for how the mouthpiece will perform in your equipment set up.
Cup Inner Diameter
The inner diameter of the mouthpiece cup effects the bigness of the sound. A large inner diameter allows more surface area of the lip to vibrate, and produces a bigger (louder) sound. It also requires much more support overall, especially into the extreme high range. In contrast, a smaller diameter mouthpiece requires less surface area to vibrate; that in turn allows for higher notes to sound with less seeming effort.
A Bach 1C mouthpiece has an inner diameter of 17.00 mm, and a Bach 12C mouthpiece has an inner diameter of 15.20 mm. That’s a difference of 1.80 millimeters. The physical differences in size are actually tiny. But, the difference in feel is enormous by comparison.
Of all the aspects of mouthpiece design, rim inner diameter has the most direct impact on range, endurance, and recovery. It is critically important to get this size absolutely right for your playing.
Rim shapes range from very flat to very round with lots of variation in the amount of sharpness to flatness which occurs across the face of the rim. Different rims affect the clarity of articulation and security of the tone. A sharper rim will create crisper articulations, while a flatter rim helps with maintaining a steady tone. Round cushion rims are more comfortable, but also softens the clarity of articulation.
Cup shapes can be deep to shallow, and range from a “c” shaped bowl to a “v” shape or anywhere in between. It is generally agreed that deeper cups produce a darker or richer sound, where shallow cups produce a brighter or more cutting sound. “C” shape cups contribute to the feeling of deepness, and also help with clarity of articulation. “V” shape cups create a softer articulation, but can create a feeling of shallowness when the cup volume is actually relatively more than a “c” cup.
Throat size in trumpet mouthpieces coincide with the size of the drill bit used to make the throat. A #27 throat is the standard, and is relatively tight. Mouthpiece manufacturers typically produce mouthpieces with one throat size. It is then up to the individual player to increase the throat to the their level of comfort. As the mouthpiece cup gets bigger, the throat can be kept smaller, but a small cup mouthpiece might need to have a larger throat.
Most mouthpiece manufacturers today say they produce mouthpieces with the optimal throat size for their mouthpieces. Some players like the feel, or response they get from a more open throat. It is a matter of persoanal preference how open your mouthpiece throat should be. Exercise extreme caution whenever increasing the throat size of a mouthpiece. Because once a mouthpiece has been bored out, it can’t be put back. If the throat size becomes too big, the mouthpiece will be ruined and need to be replaced. See the TrumpetStudies Guide to Opening a Mouthpiece Throat.
Backbore is the measure of how quickly or gradually the throat widens to the diameter of the end of the mouthpiece. This will in part, along with the size of the throat determine how much resistance the mouthpiece will have as the player tries to make it vibrate. Open throats which suddenly widen at the backbore will provide little resistance, while tight throats with very gradual opening to the backbore will produce more resistance.
Some mouthpiece manufacturers describe things like deep cup, and open throat or backbore in terms of a darker sound. While the oppostite shallow cup, and tight throat or backbore are described in terms of a bright or cutting sound.
All of these characteristics need to be considered when a player chooses a mouthpiece. For the most part, good teachers will recommend some kind of balance between all of the factors taking into account the overall sound the player is looking for.
One needs to be prepared to accept some of the disadvantages of each characteristic in order to enjoy it’s benefits. It is not practical to expect the benefits from one part of the mouthpiece to cancel the negative aspects of another. For example, a shallow cup will brighten up one’s tone, but probably will not improve the upper register if the cup diameter is too big.
Be positive, and keep an open mind when it comes to mouthpieces and other equipment. Try out different sizes, shapes, cup depths, throats, and backbores in all kinds of combinations. When you find YOUR “magic” mouthpiece; the one you’ve been searching for, you’ll probbly know it. Remember, small changes can make a big difference. The more mouthpieces you can experiment with, the more likely you’ll be able to recognize the fit that’s right for you.