Small Mouthpiece vs. Large Mouthpiece

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”

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

2 thoughts on “Small Mouthpiece vs. Large Mouthpiece

  1. Angel Chamate

    I started on a 7C like everyone. Switch to 3C and change embouchure but latter was my safari. At the end I find that can only play on big mouthpiece like Yamaha 17C4. I´d tried very hard to adapt for the smallest mouthpieces or at least 3C again, but I lost money, time, energy and almost my love for the trumpet. If I cannot play on other mouthpiece but Yamaha 17C4 or equivalent, I planned stay quiet, do not worry and joy. No more sacrifice

    • Bruce Chidester

      Larger mouthpieces are very comfortable for several reasons. Notes are much easier to start at soft dynamic levels, lip flexibility is easier and tone is much richer and full.
      Vincent Bach once said, “use the largest mouthpiece you can handle”.

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