This is an essay I give to my students who have played for a couple of years, are starting to progress, and are a bit limited by playing the mouthpiece that came with their horn. I know that more than a couple of teachers would be unhappy with the following advice, but I think that it is wise to have the player experience playing on a larger mouthpiece as they get physically bigger. We rarely wear the same shoes when we are twelve years old as we do as adults. After a year or two on the Schilke 14, the teacher, and even the student, can then know enough about the individual player to fine tune the mouthpiece choice and launch the poor kid into The Crusade For The Ultimate Mouthpiece.
Trumpet mouthpieces are a combination of several variables–the rim diameter and contour; the shape, size, and depth of the cup; the size of the bore; and the size and shape of the backbore. Each of these variables effects the tone quality and ease of producing the notes. The tiniest changes (measured usually in tenths of a millimeter or thousandths of an inch) can have considerable effect. Choosing the “best” mouthpiece is an exercise in balancing different consequences, depending on your strengths and weaknesses as a player, your taste, and the type of playing you do most.
There are hundreds of trumpet mouthpieces available from many, many different manufacturers. I recommend (and play) a Schilke mouthpiece because the range is comprehensive (both bigger and smaller than almost anybody else’s) and they are designed and labeled in a logical and systematic fashion. They are extremely consistent and of very high quality manufacture. The fact that I also play a Schilke trumpet may have something to do with it, though I played a Schilke mouthpiece before I bought their horn. Bach mouthpieces may be more popular and, at least in the more common models, more readily available, but they have eccentricities in their design and can be inconsistent (i.e., one Bach 7C may be different from another Bach 7C). Schilke mouthpieces are now essentially priced the same or even a tad less than Bach. No high quality mouthpiece costs less. A list and a description of their stock mouthpieces is available at Schilke_Mouthpieces. It is extremely informative and provides information about all 48 (!) of their stock trumpet mouthpieces. Likewise, Renold Schilke’s essay on choosing a mouthpiece is also available in How to Select a Brass Mouthpiece.
Generally, a larger mouthpiece produces a higher quality tone. Traditionally, the rule of thumb (for which there are many counter-examples) is that you should play on the largest equipment, both mouthpiece and trumpet, that you can fill up. So the first step a young trumpet player usually takes is moving to a larger mouthpiece. Initially a larger mouthpiece will make playing high notes more difficult until the player learns to compensate by using more air to reach higher pitches. The tone quality improves almost immediately and the range is shortly restored.
In the Schilke numbering system the larger the number, the larger the mouthpiece. The Bach labeling system (such as it is) is the opposite. The cup diameter of a Bach 7C is about the same as a Schilke 11. I believe that almost all young students, after a couple of years of playing, could benefit from playing a Schilke 14 and, bluntly, I would recommend you buy one. Traditionally, the first move was from a Bach 7C to a Bach 3C, however at least with the more recent Bach mouthpieces, the 7C and the 3C are essentially the same diameter, although they differ significantly otherwise (rim shape, cup shape and depth, etc.). A greatly enlarged computer generated tracing (7C vs. 3C) of the two mouthpieces has been made by mouthpiece maker and expert Jeff Parke and pretty much proves the point. Skip the Bach 3C.
Strange as it sounds, trying out a particular mouthpiece, after only having played a couple of years, is not all that advantageous because all of the new mouthpieces are going to sound and feel different from what you are used to. The temptation is to pick the one which feels the most familiar, but that may not be your best choice. You may need to grow into the mouthpiece, even though it is initially more difficult. Then, as you get to be a stronger, more sophisticated player, and you can analyze your own strengths and needs as a player, you can fine-tune your mouthpiece selection. If you desire a bigger, darker tone, you can increase the cup diameter, cup depth and the backbore, etc. At that point, trying the mouthpiece is critical. The systematic nature of the Schilke system, however, aids in making such adjustments.
© 1999 by James F. Donaldson
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