Table of Contents
Parts of a Brass Mouthpiece
Mouthpieces for specific instruments
Alto Horn Mouthpieces
French Horn Mouthpieces
Trombone, baritone horn, and euphonium mouthpieces
Tuba and Sousaphone Mouthpieces
Brass Mouthpiece Accessories
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Every brass player should have an understanding of how their mouthpiece works and what they need from it. Without some guidance, though, it can take years of experimentation for players to discover what type of mouthpiece best suits their music and playing style.
A good mouthpiece will give the player a tone that is firm and compact with good projection. It also will be comfortable to play, helping you develop a better embouchure and more precise technique. Since players rarely have exactly the same shape lip and mouth anatomy, there are many variations in mouthpiece design to meet nearly everyone's needs.
For students, medium-sized mouthpieces typically offer the best starting point. As your embouchure and abilities develop, you may gravitate toward either a larger or smaller mouthpiece, but many professionals play medium-size models their entire career. The many variations in construction influence tone, projection and playing comfort.
Parts of a brass mouthpiece
Mouthpieces for the different brass instruments vary in size, shape and other characteristics, but share similar design elements and components. Understanding how these elements affect tone and playability will help you zero in on the level of comfort, ease of play, and type of tone you want.
Every brass mouthpiece consists of the rim, cup, throat, and backbore. Let’s take a look at each of these components and how they affect the overall tone and playability of an instrument.
The rim is the round edge of the mouthpiece that you place your lips against to play your horn, and it is one of the most crucial parts to consider.
A rim with a fairly flat contour allows even lip pressure across its surface. It also provides a good air seal and feels comfortable, but it doesn't offer much flexibility. Rounded rim mouthpieces, on the other hand, offer a lot of flexibility, allowing the lips to move back and forth in the cup allowing the player to produce a greater variety of tones and effects.
However, rounded rims also require more lip pressure and muscular lips to play. Players without the air volume and embouchure needed will end up pressing too hard against their lips, cutting off circulation and ultimately limiting the flexibility gained from using a rounded rim, defeating its purpose.
What many players, especially beginners prefer, is a medium-wide rim with a semi-rounded contour and a slightly sharp inner edge. This provides sufficient surface for comfortable lip pressure while offering the lip movement needed to produce a wide range of tones.
While throat and cup depth vary among models, trombone mouthpieces in the UMI Christian Lindberg Series are among today’s most popular and is a highly regarded choice for students.
The cup is the area inside the rim that the player blows into. Generally, the larger and deeper the cup, the darker the tone and greater the volume the instrument can produce. Large cups require lots of control, which can quickly tire a player. In contrast, smaller and shallower cups brighten the tone, improve control and response, and ultimately require less effort. Going too shallow, however, can kill volume and flexibility.
In choosing cup depth, keep two things in mind: the pitch of the instrument and the player’s situation (i.e., embouchure, lung power and lip/teeth anatomy).
The diameter of the cup is also an important consideration. For most players, it’s best to choose the largest diameter you can comfortably play without tiring too quickly. Benefits include a more uniform response across all registers and easier lip control, resulting in more flexibility.
French horn mouthpieces like the Laskey mouthpiece line, have a deep cup that produces a dark, mellow tone.
The throat is the opening leading out of the cup. There aren’t usually wide variations in throat size or length. The throat's job is to let you push air from the cup and concentrate it into a stream with the right amount of back pressure providing tone control.
A bigger throat will allow you to blow harder and produce more volume, but it also will require more air pressure from your lungs and make playing soft passages more difficult. A throat that’s too small will choke your tone and produce more back pressure than is comfortable.
Most manufacturers design the throat to complement the cup and backbore design to achieve the best balance of tone and projection. But again, due to the many physical and skill-level differences among brass players, slight differences among these three elements can have a surprisingly big impact on sound and playability.
The backbore is the chamber that transfers your breath to the horn and its shape and size can produce a brighter or darker tone, raise or lower volume/projection, and raise or lower pitch. A well designed backbore helps maintain good intonation throughout the instrument’s range.
The backbore that has emerged as the best in all-around performance, tone, and popularity is one that’s neither very large nor small, with a smooth, slightly curved taper from the throat to a well-rounded, even backbore.
While important to sound, feel, and performance, the throat and backbore are matched to the cup and rim by the mouthpiece manufacturer and are of less concern. When all's said and done, most players will find that a mouthpiece with a medium cup and rim will suit them quite well.
Armed with this information, along with the feedback from your mouth during play, you're ready to begin your search for the ideal mouthpiece.
Mouthpieces for specific instruments
While the structural elements of a mouthpiece are similar across all brass instrument types, there are significant variations among different models within an instrument category.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the specific instruments and explore some purchasing strategies.
Alto horn mouthpieces
If you are approaching the alto horn as a new player, the most suitable mouthpiece for you will largely depend on your background with brass instruments.
Often, intermediate and advanced players of French horns may find themselves taking up the alto as a second instrument, and in this case, it’s often best to choose a mouthpiece with a slightly smaller cup diameter, as players of these instruments are already familiar with a smaller-sized mouthpiece.
On the other hand, those coming from a euphonium may feel more comfortable with a larger diameter that requires less adjustment from the larger euphonium mouthpiece. Brand-new players are likely to prefer a size that’s in the middle, and as skills develop, the mouthpiece size can be revisited, based on the physical needs and style of the player.
Some alto horn mouthpieces, such as those in the Denis Wick Heritage Series come in multiple sizes, making it possible to match different playing needs with a single model. Other manufacturers make different models with specific characteristics for different styles.
The Yamaha AH38D4 Alto Horn Mouthpiece has a semi- deep cup depth, giving it a relatively dark tonal character.
See the entire selection of alto horn mouthpieces from Musician's Friend.
Many cornet players also play the trumpet, regardless of which instrument they start off on. Some trumpeters/cornetists use a single mouthpiece for both instruments. This is possible using adapters for cross-fitting the mouthpiece.
However, while cross-fitting can be a good, economical approach for infrequent instrument doublers, it may yield less than ideal results in tone for those who use both instruments extensively. This is largely due to the different throat sizes between trumpet and cornet mouthpieces. Even though the difference involves mere millimeters, the wider-throated mouthpiece of a cornet goes a long way in differentiating the instrument’s voice from that of a trumpet. Therefore, it’s generally best to get a mouthpiece specifically designed for each instrument.
The Bach line of cornet mouthpieces comes in a wide variety of sizes to suit players of all types.
Explore the full Musician's Friend selection of cornet mouthpieces.
One common issue that flugelhorn players encounter is a poor fit between the instrument’s receiver and the mouthpiece, particularly on older flugelhorns. In addition to a noticeable wobble, it can cause poor intonation and response. Differences in the taper of the mouthpiece are made to fit a particular style of receiver.
You’ll want to make sure you understand the different types of tapers available and match a mouthpiece model to your instrument accordingly.
The most common styles of taper:
- French taper: The distinctive quality of this taper is, in fact, that the mouthpiece does not taper at the end.
- Standard taper: The common style of taper used by most modern flugelhorns. If you have purchased one manufactured recently, there’s a good chance the instrument accepts this style of taper.
- Bach taper: Used in Bach brand instruments, it is similar in style to a standard taper, but slightly smaller.
Mouthpieces like the Bach Mega Tone are highly regarded choices for Bach flugelhorns. However, players sometimes find the fit is loose in other flugelhorn brands and models.
The Denis Wick Flugelhorn Mouthpiece has a very deep cup for a rich tone and a standard taper that fits most contemporary instruments.
Explore the full selection of flugelhorn mouthpieces at Musician's Friend
French Horn mouthpieces
Generally requiring a deep cup to bring out the instrument’s tonal warmth, the shape of a French horn mouthpiece can vary significantly. And this variation is most pronounced in the shape of the cup.
Many of the most popular mouthpieces, such as the Yamaha Standard Series, have a deep V-shaped cup, which is considered to produce a more mellow tone with a more pronounced low-frequency response. Alternatively, some French horn mouthpieces use a somewhat shallower U-shaped cup, which add some brightness to the tone and makes the upper register easier to handle.
Some models, like the Stork Orval Series, have slight rounding on a V-shaped cup to warm up tone. In contrast, the Schilke Standard Series French Horn Mouthpiece has a slight curve that helps balance mellow tone with greater response on higher notes.
For more options, check out the entire Musician’s Friend selection of mellophone mouthpieces.
Like trumpet/cornet players, marching band mellophone players sometimes use an adapter to place their French horn mouthpiece on the mellophone. This route is budget-friendly and with its a relatively shallow cup depth, a French horn mouthpiece may be manageable on a mellophone. A better option is to use a mouthpiece specifically designed for the instrument, which generally uses a more shallow, bell-shaped cup that makes the instrument easier to control and keep intonated.
For more options, check out the entire Musician's Friend selection of mellophone mouthpieces
Trombone, baritone horn, and euphonium mouthpieces
When it comes to the trombone, and similarly voiced brass instruments, the context a player will be performing in matters greatly in the selection of the right mouthpiece.
In an orchestral setting, it’s important that the instrument blend with the section, and it should generally produce the rich sound that’s expected in the arrangement. This typically comes from a deeper, rounded cup shape. The Faxx Trombone Mouthpiece Series are an example of this style.
In jazz, where players are more free to carve out an individualized sound, larger, more shallow cups are a popular option for opening up the range of the instrument and brightening its tone. The Giddings & Webster Harry Waters Jazz Trombone Mouthpiece is one such model that’s meant to help deliver the full range of the instrument.
Using a U-shaped cup and V-shaped throat, the Yamaha Alain Trudel Mouthpiece produces warmth during intense fortissimo passages.
The baritone horn is a low brass instrument. They look like small tubas or euphoniums but play in a higher rage. Some marching bands and bugle corps use marching baritone horns, which play like a trumpet. Although they are not generally used in jazz, shallow mouthpieces—like the Denis Wick Steven Mead Baritone Mouthpiece—are favored by soloist baritone horn players.
Another option, the Tama by Kanstul Small Shank Baritone Horn Mouthpiece T64A produces mellow tone, even at high volumes.
The euphonium is an even lower, baritone-voiced instrument that looks (and sounds) like a small tuba. It is used mainly in marching, military, and brass bands. As with other brass mouthpieces, a larger, deeper bowl—like the Yamaha Standard Series Euphonium Mouthpieces —will provide a deeper tone and greater volume. A shallow bowl will produce a more acute, brighter sound, favored by many soloists.
Another popular option among soloists is the Denis Wick Euphonium Mouthpiece, which features the shallow bowl design favored by musicians doing lead work in an ensemble.
View the complete selections of trombone, baritone horn, and euphonium mouthpieces at Musician's Friend
As with trombonists, trumpet players choose their mouthpieces partly based on the context they will be playing in. They use deeper cups for mellow, orchestral playing, and shallower ones for jazz or soloing. While some players may use a single, medium-sized mouthpiece for most of their playing needs (a good place for beginners to start), it’s quite common for advanced trumpet players to carry multiple mouthpieces for different playing situations and even different pieces.
The large variety of trumpet mouthpieces available today makes the multiple-mouthpiece approach sensible. You can choose from weighted, deep designs like the Schilke Heavyweight to the super-shallow Jet-Tone BC Classic Re-issue, favored by fleet-fingered soloists looking for the utmost in response. Student models like the Yamaha Standard Trumpet Mouthpiece maximize playability, while signature models such as the Yamaha Allen Vizzutti Mouthpiece handle the broad range that soloists of Vizzutti’s skill can produce.
The Bach Standard Series Trumpet Mouthpiece is one of today’s most popular and is a highly regarded choice for students.
See the entire range of trumpet mouthpieces from Musician's Friend.
Tuba and sousaphone mouthpieces
Like the instrument, mouthpieces designed for tuba are larger than others in the brass section. But just like other low brass mouthpieces, available models are varied so as to allow tuba players to fine-tune their preferences.
Tuba mouthpieces come in two different styles: a more funnel-shaped and narrow design exemplified by the Conn Helleberg, and a more bell-shaped and wide design exemplified by the Perantucci mouthpieces.
For tuba students, the right design is largely a matter of which style is more comfortable; you may find you have a strong preference for one over the other.
The sousaphone is a type of tuba especially designed to be played while standing or walking. The tubes of a sousaphone wrap around the player’s body, resting on the left shoulder while the bell projects sound over the rest of the band. As a specialized type of tuba, the sousaphone uses very similar mouthpieces. Faxx Tuba and Sousaphone Mouthpieces can be used on either instrument to produce a warm, full sound.
The Bach Mega Tone Tuba/Sousaphone Mouthpiece fits both instruments as well, but its depth produces a darker sound with a more flexible range.
Brass mouthpiece accessories
Your mouthpiece is a critical part of your instrument and needs special care, proper storage, and regular cleaning. One accessory you definitely need is a case for proper storage and protection. The Bach 1894 Nylon Quad Pouch is ideal for multi-instrumentalists with its thickly padded space for four mouthpieces.
The Protec Trombone Mouthpiece Protector is a simple accessory that helps keep your trombone mouthpiece clean and free from dents.
For any of these needs, from carrying cases and adapters, to extensions and tone intensifiers, Musician’s Friend has what you need. Consider what other brass instrument accessories you’ll need before you check out with your new mouthpiece.
View the full line of brass mouthpiece accessories from Musician's Friend
Why buy your mouthpiece from Musician's Friend?
Specs only tell you so much. You need to spend some time with a mouthpiece before you decide it’s right for you and your instrument. That’s not possible in a store with a clerk breathing down your neck. When you purchase your brass instrument mouthpiece at Musician’s Friend, you get a full 45 days to check it out under our No-Hassle Return Policy. (Mouthpiece returns are subject to a sterilization fee. Details here.)
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