How to pick a mouthpiece.

How to pick a mouthpiece.

This section may seem odd, but having watched hundreds of players at conventions and in my workshop try mouthpieces, I have figured out a few things. You are not picking out a mouthpiece, but rather un-choosing a mouthpiece. By getting rid of the “least favorite” mouthpieces, you will be left with the best one. This process can take as little as 10 minutes.

1. Find a reed (strength) that works for a given mouthpiece. Each facing curve or tip openings will take different reed strengths to work. The wrong reed will make a great mouthpiece sound and feel horrible. If you have three different tip openings or facings to try, you may need three slightly different reeds.

2. Play a moderately fast eight note, slurred C major or F major scale up and down. Do it once PP and once FF, then once staccato. Immediately go to the next mouthpiece, do the same thing, repeat with the third mouthpiece.

3. Now get rid of the least favorite mouthpiece. If not sure, play the scales again and add a tongued version. Then get rid of a mouthpiece. Never have more than 2-3 mouthpieces in front of you.

4. Pick out about two lines of music that you know very well (10-20 seconds) and play this short section ONCE on each mouthpiece. If you cannot choose, do it again. Make a decision.

5. Pick out a different 1-2 lines of music that is very different from above and repeat with each mouthpiece. Make a decision. Does one mouthpiece seem to stand out above the other? If not go to #6.

6. Pick out a third short example of music and repeat with each mouthpiece. Maybe a slightly different reed would affect your decision.

7. You do NOT need to play all the excerpts you know, play all the major scales, honk open G’s, or play pages of music from your last recital. The human brain can only remember a maximum of 20 seconds of sounds. So you need 10-15 second excerpts to quickly compare between mouthpieces.

8. You should have found the best mouthpiece. NOW play about a page of something you know well and see how the mouthpiece feels after a page. How is the air and lip resistance? How does it articulate? Can you forget the mouthpiece and just make music? If so, you have found your mouthpiece.

9. Put a cap on the mouthpiece and go for a 15-20 minute walk, answer email, etc. Go back and pick up the horn and start playing cold. Do NOT re-soak the reed or putter around, just pick it up and play. If the setup just seems to work, then it confirms your choice.

10. The mouthpiece is just a tool. Ultimately you will slightly alter how you modify your reeds. It will feel a little different from your other mouthpiece. Live with it for a few weeks and see if you can conform to it. You will still make your equipment sound like you! But, can you get that sound easier, is the articulation easier, soft and loud better, flexible leaping around registers, does it have various tone qualities available?