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Am I Using the Right Horn Mouthpiece?
Not sure if you need to change mouthpieces? Read below for some indications that it’s time to change.
1. How long have I been playing on my current mouthpiece?
If it has been a long time, chances are you can benefit from testing what else is out there. Sometimes, we get stuck in a rut with our equipment. Changing mouthpieces can drastically improve your sound and technique. If you are a younger player and are still playing on the same mouthpiece you began on, you are likely ready for a different mouthpiece since you have made significant improvements in your playing over the past few years. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are a seasoned player, your needs in a mouthpiece have changed over the years as you have grown and settled into your playing habits.
2. Does my mouthpiece feel uncomfortable after a long practice session?
If the answer is yes, you might want to try a different material or a different inner diameter size. The Houghton Horns mouthpiece rims in H-kote help immensely with increasing endurance and can be found here. While it’s important to address endurance issues with a trusted teacher, your mouthpiece could be holding you back. Generally speaking, if you play on a mouthpiece with an inner diameter size that is too large for you, you may tire quickly. On the flip side, if you play with an inner diameter size that is too small for you, you may have flexibility issues and a less resonant sound. Striking the balance between too large and too small for the inner diameter is no easy feat! If you schedule a mouthpiece appointment we’ll be happy to assist you in finding the correct inner diameter size for your embouchure.
It’s also important to note that inner diameter sizing may differ between different manufacturers and brands. Just because you are a 17.5 mm in a Schilke doesn’t automatically mean you’re a 17.5 mm in other brands. Depending on where you measure the inner diameter, you can come up with slightly different measurements. Keep this in mind as you try different brands and be open to trying different sizes.
3. Does my mouthpiece feel like it fits my embouchure?
Your mouthpiece should not feel uncomfortable or cause any pain. As mentioned previously, there is no “one size fits all” mouthpiece — everyone has a different facial structure and embouchure. Just because you see your friend or a respected performer playing on a certain model and size does not mean it is the best match for you. Rim contour is an aspect of mouthpieces that impacts how the mouthpiece feels on your lips. With many mouthpieces to choose from, we can help guide you to a rim contour that better suits your needs and your embouchure.
4. Have I recently changed horns?
If you have recently changed horns, your current mouthpiece might not be the right fit with your new horn. Finding the right match between the player and horn is a tricky balance. Don’t just assume that because your mouthpiece worked great on your other horn that it’s the best mouthpiece for your new horn. We do recommend changing one variable at a time — if you have just purchased a horn, give yourself time to get used to it on your current mouthpiece before venturing out to different mouthpieces. Changing too many variables at once makes it difficult to interpret what is really happening with your equipment.
5. Am I looking for a different sound?
You may be at a point in your playing that you are looking for a different sound. Maybe you want a different timbre, more projection, more clarity of articulation. Trying a different mouthpiece can help you achieve your sound goals in addition to practice. Generally speaking, the Houghton Horns stainless steel underparts have a more direct, responsive quality while the brass underparts produce a warm and traditional sound. Stainless steel is corrosion-resistant, hypoallergenic, lightweight, scratch-resistant, and more durable than raw, silver-plated, or gold-plated brass. These underparts can be found here. The decision between stainless steel and raw brass is a personal choice for players and we would love to hear your feedback!
6. What kind of ensemble am I playing in?
We encourage players to create the sound they like best and enjoy. However, many of us are in situations where we need to blend with a certain group of players. You might be in a brass quintet, a woodwind quintet, or a symphony orchestra. Perhaps you are primarily focused on your solo playing and blending with piano. All of these ensembles will require you to blend with different instruments and people. The reality for many horn players is that we need to be versatile and able to blend with a variety of groups. Considering what type of group you are primarily playing with is important when choosing a mouthpiece. If you have been using the same mouthpiece for a long time, but now have a different group you play with regularly, it might be time to reevaluate your mouthpiece.
7. Where am I doing most of my playing?
The space in which we play will alter our sound. While you might do most of your playing and practicing in a small practice room, consider where you do most of your performing. Is it on a bigger stage that is lively and resonant, or does this stage have a dry sound? These are questions to ask yourself as you consider your sound in your performance space. Make sure your mouthpiece works for the venue in which you typically play. If you have recently changed performance locations, ask a trusted colleague for their take on the venue’s acoustics. If the acoustics are different than what you are accustomed to, consider changing mouthpieces.
8. How’s my mouthpiece shank fit?
Sometimes a poor shank fit can affect the performance (flexibility, pitch and/or center) of your equipment. Every receiver is usually slightly different, and your shank should fit securely and snugly in the receiver, without wobbling or rocking when engaged. Depth of fit is also important, so you should generally look for a medium fit (ie: not too far in or too far out). Shank fit issues can also be exacerbated by combining the American (‘Morse’) shank taper with European receivers, or vice versa. Be sure that your mouthpiece shank taper correctly matches your horn’s receiver. If you’re unsure about the fit, feel free to contact us or even send a picture or video of your current setup.
9. How’s the resistance on my current mouthpiece?
Experimenting with mouthpiece resistance can aid in helping to achieve higher levels of performance. Does your mouthpiece ‘back-up’ in loud sustained dynamics or registers, or does it lack security and feel vague in soft dynamics? The feel of resistance (whether more open or more focused) is influenced by different cup, bore and backbore characteristics. Generally speaking, the resistance of a mouthpiece should act to temper or complement the instrument’s attributes. For example: large, free-blowing horns might be better matched with a smaller bore mouthpiece, and vice versa. When experimenting with resistance, bore size is a good place to start, and with all of our mouthpiece offerings, there are a myriad of bore size options from which to choose.
10. Most importantly, check with a trusted teacher!
If your teacher has suggested a mouthpiece change, listen to his or her expertise. Your teacher has a wealth of knowledge and knows your playing, including your strengths and weaknesses. We are also here to help at Houghton Horns! You can schedule a mouthpiece appointment here. We are happy to listen and chat over webcam if you are unable to come in to the shop. Having a second set of ears is very important!
Have fun trying new mouthpieces and exploring! Every time you try a different mouthpiece, you will learn about your playing and your equipment. Enjoy the process and let us know if you have any questions!
Houghton Horns is offering free shipping and free returns on all of our mouthpieces. This is the perfect time to try out a different mouthpiece from the comfort of your home.
Dr. Sally Podrebarac