This debate has been present since the beginning of time. Which is the better mouthpiece? Small mouthpieces have definite advantages such as easier upper range and more endurance. Large mouthpieces have the advantages of easier flexibility and a darker and a more pleasant tone. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to get every advantage and not fight the disadvantages?
Advantages of a small mouthpiece-
As I stated before, the small mouthpiece can make the upper range a little easier but to do so you will have to give up other advantages the large mouth piece has to offer. If you are playing only high range work, the smaller mouthpiece would be my choice but most of us are not able to play only in this limited field. When we speak of a small mouthpiece, we are referring to two areas; the width of the cup and the depth of the cup. The distance between the inside edge (or bite) of the cup will determine how much meat will vibrate when you start a note. If the distance is great, you will be expected to utilize this area through the strength of your embouchure. The smaller the area between the bite (inner edge) of the cup, the less work your embouchure will have to deliver. If you pluck a guitar string and play its full length, you will get a lower pitch than if you depress the string to a fret along its finger board. A longer string and in our case, lip will vibrate at a slower speed and thus produce a lower note than if the string (lip) were shortened. Less lip in the mouthpiece cup will produce faster vibrations and consequently a higher pitch than a wider cupped mouthpiece.
The depth of each mouthpiece cup will also affect the sound and range of your playing. If the cup is shallow, you will experience more resistance to the air stream. A deeper cup will generally give you a darker sound than a shallow cup. High range specialists most often prefer a shallower cup for playing in the upper register for continued periods of time. You may wonder why we all don’t play on small mouthpieces all the time. Remember that for every advantage there will be disadvantages.
Advantages of a large mouthpiece-
When performing on larger mouthpieces, you should experience more ease in starting notes at soft dynamic levels than when playing on small mouthpieces. You should experience more flexibility and a darker tone color on the larger mouthpieces. An additional advantage the large mouthpiece has over the smaller is that with more meat in the mouthpiece, you will be able to develop more strength in your embouchure. The reason for this is that with more meat involved, you will be working with more material to strengthen. I have noticed many times when I am using a smaller mouthpiece for work, I will come to a plateau where no matter how much I practice, I do not seem to gain additional strength or endurance. After switching to a larger mouthpiece, I continue to build strength and endurance.
If you are not able to practice regularly, the smaller mouthpiece will help with you endurance. This may sound contradictory but with regular practice, the larger cup will allow you to continue to build, the smaller mouthpiece will not.
Please note that all of my comparisons have been directed only towards the cup diameter and depth. Other mouthpiece shapes and dimensions will also affect your range, endurance, flexibility and tone . At a later date I will address these differences but for now we will discuss only the width and depth of the cup.
Which mouthpiece would be best in my case?
People have shared with me their ideas as to what mouthpiece should be used and some beliefs have made since and some are downright stupid. Here is one of the dumbest ideas-
- I start all of my beginning cornet students on Bach 1½ C mouthpieces 9VERY LARGE) so that they will have a big sound.
A Bach 1 ½ C mouthpiece is much too big for a beginner and Could be too big for most professional players. It is true that they would produce a big, dark sound but few would be able to fill that large a mouthpiece. because of their undeveloped air supply, they would soon tire their immature embouchure. Mr. John Haynie had what I considered a more practical approach to mouthpiece selection for younger students. His belief was that young people require small shoes at early ages and eventually grow into larger ones. So will they eventually grow into larger mouthpieces as they mature. If I remember correctly Mr. Haynie started young players on Bach 10½ C mouthpieces and as they grew, he suggested that they progress to larger mouthpieces. That sounds good to me also.
I am convinced that each person will be able to decide on a comfortable mouthpiece which would suite his/her individual needs. Too many times (and this is particularly true of trumpet players) players continue to search for the perfect mouthpiece which will do everything. As far as I know, the perfect mouthpiece has not yet been invented.
Playing requirements and tastes change and so do our requirements for our mouthpieces. If I were playing the same music day after day, I could easily settle on one mouthpiece but fortunately, we are expected to do everything and thus the mouthpiece switch continues. As an example of this I will share a situation which happened last month. I had been practicing for several months and because of the great condition my chops were in, I decided to up the size of my mouthpiece a little. For two weeks I practiced regularly on the bigger mouthpiece and all was doing well until I got a call to start with a new show which required more endurance and range than I was used to. Out came the old (smaller) mouthpiece and I played three weeks on that one. The season closed in Brason and I was back to the larger mouthpiece for the first of the year I begin playing with a fine brass quintet which requires better tone and more ease in all dynamic ranges. Life is full of changes and you have to be ready for them.
In closing, I would like to pass on some very fine advice given to us by the trumpet manufacture Vincent Bach from his pamphlet, Mouthpiece Manual. “Use the biggest mouthpiece you can handle”
AGENT: a character who resents performers getting 90% of his salary.
ARRANGER: a guy who writes to support a drinking habit.
BALLET: an art form for people with eating disorders.
BANDSTAND: the area furthest away from an electrical outlet.
BIG BAND: nowadays, an aggregation consisting of two musicians.
BROADWAY PIT JOB: a prison sentence disguised as a gig.
CABARET: a venue where singers do songs from shows that closed out of town.
CATERER: a man whose hatred for musicians is unrivaled.
CHANTEUSE: a singer with an accent and no time.
CLASSICAL COMPOSER: a man ahead of his time and behind on his rent.
CLUB DATE LEADER: someone who changes his name from Kaminsky to Kaye.
CONTINENTAL VIOLINIST: a guy who rushes like he’s trying to catch the last train to Budapest.
CONTRACTOR: a man whose funeral nobody goes to.
CRUISE SHIP WORK: a gig that gives a musician two reasons to throw up.
DJ: the guy your son would rather have play his Bar Mitzvah.
DOUBLEBASS: the instrument the folks footing the bill feel is unnecessary.
DOWNBEAT: the magazine that would have you believe that all jazz musicians are working.
ELECTRIC PIANO: the instrument that enables its player to pay for the hernia he sustained lifting it.
HOTEL PIANIST: a guy who looks good in a tux.
JAZZ: the only true American art form beloved by Europeans.
JAZZ FESTIVAL: an event attended by folks who think Coltrane is a car on the B&O railroad.
LYRIC: that part of a tune known only by singers.
MELLOPHONE: an instrument best put to use when converted into a lamp.
METRONOME: the archenemy of chanteuses and cantors.
MOVIE COMPOSER: someone who can write like anyone except himself.
NEW AGE : a musical substitute for Valium.
NEW YEARS EVE: the night of the year when contractors are forced to hire musicians they despise.
ORCHESTRATOR: the musician who enhances a composer’s music, only to be chastised for it.
PERCUSSIONIST: a drummer who can’t swing.
PERFECT PITCH: the ability to pinpoint any note and still play or sing out of tune.
PIANIST: an archaic term for a keyboard player.
PRODIGY: a kid who has as much chance at a normal childhood as the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series.
RAGA: the official music of New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission.
RARE VIOLIN: a Stradivarius, not to be confused with a rare violinist, which is someone over four foot eleven.
SIDEMAN: the appellation that guarantees a musician will never be rich.
STAFF MUSICIAN : harder to locate than a cavity in the Osmond family.
STEADY ENGAGEMENT: look up in Webster’s Dictionary under the word ”obsolete.”
24\7: the time signature of the national anthem of India. Also, a Don Ellis chart.
UNION REP: a guy who thinks big bands are coming back.
VERSE: the part of a tune that’s disposable, except to its composer.
VIOLA D’AMORE: a baroque string instrument and coincidentally the hooker Bach lost his virginity to.
WURLITZER : the Ford Pinto of pianos.
YANNI: a man blessed with great hair for music.
Download- 60 Minute Practice Routine
Your warm-up will begin your lip development and I strongly recommend that the first portion should be done on the mouthpiece alone. I have included a short warm-up which includes buzzing on only your mouthpiece (5 minutes). Be sure to produce a full, rich sound on every note. Fill your lungs completely and begin each note with just the air. Do not tongue any of these notes.
Begin these exercises slowly and as you become more comfortable with the keys, increase the tempo. Keep your dynamic level at a P level and be sure to fill your lungs before every line. All notes are to be slurred (5 minutes).
Lip Flexibility Exercises
Dynamics should follow the line so that the highest note is the loudest. Take full breaths for each exercise and hold the last note out (10 minutes).
TAKE A BREAK
Make sure that you are in control at all times. Do not rush. Push each valve down soundly and continue at a controlled rate. On exercises you feel uncomfortable with, repeat it four times before moving on (15 minutes).
Advanced arpeggio studies
As in the first arpeggio studies, begin exercises slowly and as you become more comfortable with the keys, increase the tempo. Keep your dynamic level at a P level and be sure to fill your lungs before every line. All notes are to be slurred (10 minutes).
TAKE A BREAK
You can down load these exercises from my site at the following….
Melodic Exercises (20 minutes).
The above schedule will require approximately 60 minutes to complete in actual playing time.
What difference does it make when you practice? That is a very good question for little has been written on this subject. I will share some of my feelings on this in hopes that you can gain some insight into the affects of practicing at various times throughout the day.
What is the best time of the day to start practicing?
The best time of the day to start practicing is early in the morning. Your schedule will dictate if this is possible but if scheduling is not an issue and you could plan out your whole day around practicing, I would suggest that after your shower and breakfast, you should start your practice for the day.
Why is it better to start practicing early in the morning?
Repetitious actions such as warming up are much easier when you’re half asleep in the same way brushing your teeth in the morning is something we do but really never think about. I’m not saying that your warm up is not important but that chore does not require any more concentration than the every day act of brushing your teeth.
Is one practice session better than multiple sessions?
If you have only one period in the day to practice, that would be the best for you. If you are able to break up your practice into several periods, that would be better. It has been proven that most people can only fully concentrate for twenty minutes at a time. Because this is true, it would be more effective to break your practice sessions into twenty to thirty minute segments. You will be able to accomplish much more in this manner than you would if you practiced for a longer period.
What disadvantage is there to breaking the practice sessions into several twenty to thirty minute segments?
One big problem with multiple practice periods is the fact that many times we start the day with good intentions but because of conflicts and unseen distractions, we many times do not get back to practice the additional material. And for most players, after working all day at their jobs, be it school or work, they are more tired at the end of the day and our productivity and energy is at a lower level.
Can I practice at night?
Of course you can. If this is the only time in your daily schedule that you can devote to your instrument, that is what you should do. Practicing in the evening can be very relaxing after a busy day and I encourage you to do so. There are some issues which you should consider when practicing in the evening.
• Melodic playing is more pleasant to perform when you’re tired.
• Technical passages are more demanding and require more concentration.
• When the body is tired, your endurance will drain faster.
• High range playing can many times require more effort when you’re tired.
• Concentrating on finger exercises can be helpful.
• Before beginning your practice, do some deep breathing exercises to help you wake up.
When I’m away from my horn, is there anything I can do during the day to practice?
There are several things you can do during the day which will benefit your playing.
• Keep an extra mouthpiece in your car so when you drive down the road, you can practice buzzing.
• In addition to the practice on your mouthpiece you can also practice buzzing without the mouthpiece.
• Buzzing with and without the mouthpiece is also great practice for developing better intonation for if you are able to buzz a recognizable melody, you will be improving your intonation ability.
• Buzzing lip flexibility exercises work the embouchure in the same way that playing on the instrument does.
What would be an ideal schedule for each day of practicing?
That would totally depend on the individual. I have found for me that this works best-
• Mouthpiece warm-up after breakfast (twenty- thirty minutes)
• Arpeggio Studies (twenty- thirty minutes)
• Lip flexibility exercises (twenty- thirty minutes)
• Valve work (twenty- thirty minutes)
• Range and interval studies (twenty- thirty minutes)
• Melodic studies (twenty- thirty minutes)
Our next post will get down to the final issue of what material needs to be practiced on a daily basis.
We practice to get better.
• Why do we have to practice?
We don’t but if we didn’t we would not be pleased with our performances.
• Why are we concerned about our performances?
We are motivated by pride, or fear of embarrassment.
Some people do not practice because of their lack of pride or share an attitude that playing poorly is not all that important to them. To the rest of us, we are driven to prove our value in music and because of this pride; we are determined to spend many hours alone in a practice room. There will always be C grade students, content to “just pass” each course. Their interests may be in sports, auto shop repair or any other life goals but to a musician, our focus is in the direction of music and music is not the easiest art form to achieve.
So why are we compelled to beat ourselves up behind the music stand. To perform well on any instrument requires training of many parts of our body and mind. To depress the trumpet valves in a coordinated fashion at the correct instant requires muscle coordination, speed, strength and timing. In order to hit the correct pitch requires the exact tension in the embouchure as well as the correct position of the tongue and jaw as well as the proper amount of air with the correct amount of force. All of these adjustments must also happen in a combined way in order to play just one note.
In many occupations, the coordination of so many elements is not required. For a carpenter to drive a nail into a board, only the muscles in one arm and hand plus the visual measurement from the hammer head to the nail is required. To replace a spark plug, the mechanic is required to cover the plug with the proper socket and turn counter clock wise with the handle. I do not mean to minimize the talents of either a carpenter or a auto mechanic but when speaking of muscle, eye, coordination, a musician is faced with a much more complex situation
Coordination, speed and strength of our body requires repetition in order to be certain that we will have the ability to achieve each task in performing our parts. These elements can only be improved through regular repetition and we achieve these abilities through regular practice. We learn to control our air and embouchure through slurring exercises. We learn to move our fingers in a coordinated fashion through finger exercises. The ability to read new music is developed through sight and past images of notes and endurance can only be improved through progressive studies which increase our muscle tone.
To my knowledge, there is no pill you can take to become a better performer. There is no mantra you can chant which will make you a better player. There is no fountain of youth or any other magic potion which can be substituted for regular practice. If there were, I would be the first in line to get started. I hate practicing but the alternative is not worth the pain and embarrassment. I am a musician and I will continue to pound away my hour a day until someone comes up with an alternative.
Now that we have addressed the issue of why we practice, we will address the more practical issue of practicing which is when to practice and what to practice.
One of the most distasteful and laborious chores I endure each day is practice. Whether you play a trumpet, trombone or the kazoo, we are all faced with this task if we want to improve or even retain what abilities we have.
If you have ever been out for sports, you will remember those early morning routines on the track or the warm-ups you religiously participated in on the baseball field, football field or tennis court. When participating in sports, whether high school, recreation department teams or in a foursome on the golf course, you were motivated by the people around you. Your coach was there to make sure you were at the field on time. Your basketball team was there to join you in practice sessions. Your usual foursome was there to encourage you on your next putt. Through all of these practice sessions you were given support and that support made the practice session all that more easy to get through.
Now you are expected to practice on your own with your instrument in order to improve your art. Practicing an instrument is like shooting free throws with no one there to feed the ball back to you and that is the reason most of us have a hard time getting the instrument out of its case every day. Friendly encouragements on the field will make your work a little easier than if you were alone. Seeing your friends working hard during a practice session helped you go that extra mile. This is not the case in a practice room when you are alone. Whether you are a student in high school, college or a musician playing regularly in shows, the motivation needed to spend countless hours practicing your instrument is not easy. It isn’t easy for me either, but it is one of the unchanging facts in life- “If you don’t practice, you don’t get better”.
In this series, I will try to address several issues related to regular practice and it is my wish that some of this information will help you in your efforts to practice and improve on your instrument.
My next post will address the issue of “Why do we need to practice”. The next will cover a seldom motioned topic, “When is the best time to practice”, and the last will deal with “What you should cover during your practice session”.
How are cornet solos different from trumpet solos?
Literature which has been written especially to be performed on a cornet usually follows these characteristics-
• Melodies are most often very lyrical and smooth.
• Traditionally more vibrato is used in cornet solos.
• Cornet solos many times have drastic tempo changes with grandiose retards and sudden accelerandi.
• The cornet solo gives more liberties in the musical interpretation than in the trumpet literature.
• Most cornet solos draw from a more romantic period.
• Dynamics tend to be on the softer side when compared to the trumpet literature.
• Many of the cornet solos were written in a Theme and Variation form which illustrates the many subtle effects capable when playing a cornet.
• Even when double and triple tonguing during a solo, the cornet retains its smooth and connected tonguing style.
• The cornet exemplifies the extremes in playing, i.e. soft-loud, fast-slow and lyric-bombastic.
Who should I listen to in order to understand how to play cornet solos correctly?
There are many recordings available of previous and current cornet players but if you really want to understand the fine art of cornet playing, I would recommend that you visit this site The James F. Burke Tribute Page for not only will you be able to hear wonderful examples of cornet playing, you will also be able to learn everything you need to know about one of the modern greats of the instrument, James Burke 1943-1974).