Though there are many different mouthpiece manufacturers, no standardized system exists for comparing the different brands. I refer here to Bach sizes, first because Bach is the most common manufacturer, and also because the sound that can be achieved with a Bach mouthpiece is “standard” in the trumpet world and is the sound that many professionals will think of when envisioning quality trumpet tone.
The mouthpiece consists of many variables. For pre-college students, I am primarily concerned with cup depth and cup diameter (also known as rim size or rim diameter). As a general rule, a deeper cup will produce a richer, fuller sound, whereas a shallower cup will be conducive to the brilliance needed for extreme high register. The danger, or course, is that too deep a cup will sound dull or “thuddy,” whereas too shallow a mouthpiece will lead to a laserlike, brittle sound without warmth. Diameter determines the amount of lip in the mouthpiece. The wider diameters will spread the impact of the trumpet over a greater area but will require more developed muscles to manage.
In Bach mouthpieces, these two variables are expressed by a number and a letter. For this brand, the larger the number, the smaller the diameter. The later the letter (alphabetically-speaking), the shallower the cup. Thus, a 1A is a very wide, deep mouthpiece, and a 10E is very narrow and shallow.
As a general rule, I start my beginning students on a Bach 7C. In the event that a student has unusually full lips, I may try a 5C or 3C, especially if the student is continuing to struggle after the first few lessons. Most music stores have a stock of these mouthpieces, and most new trumpets come with a standard-issue 7C.
I do not change my students’ mouthpieces unless I find that my student is (a) playing in a correct and healthy way; and yet (b) unable to achieve something I am asking for, in terms of sound quality. Usually I find that I am trying to get a student to produce a more rich and resonant sound, and he/she is simply unable to do so. At this point (and only at this point), we try out other mouthpieces. I supply a variety of likely candidates from my own collection (or that of the store where I am teaching) and stand across the room from the student. I then ask the student to play several different exercises—usually something familiar and simple—that demonstrate (a) the sound quality on lyrical passages; (b) the highest notes in the student’s range; (c) the lowest notes in the student’s range; and (d) rapid articulation throughout the range of the instrument. We play the exact same sequence of exercises on each mouthpiece in turn, always beginning with the student’s own mouthpiece.
During this process, I do not want to know which mouthpiece is which, nor do I want my student to know, so I ask her to ignore that information. I am listening to see which of the sounds produced is most like the sound that she and I have selected as a model. (See “Developing a Sound Concept.”) After a series of back and forth comparisons, we use whichever one is the closest. At no point should the sound veer into the realm of overly thick and dull or too thin and shrill. A new mouthpiece also should not compromise the student’s high register. In general, I prefer to switch a student’s mouthpiece only after he or she has outgrown the current mouthpiece—I do not want a student to have to “grow into” a new one.
A WORD TO STUDENTS
Many students are influenced by the mouthpiece choices of professional trumpet players and believe that they should play the same models so that they will achieve the same sound. This is simply not realistic, as each person’s facial structure is different. Furthermore, you should never choose your own mouthpiece. (I learned this from a very trusted colleague, who selected the mouthpiece on which I currently play.) You, as the player, are not able to hear the way that you sound from the other side of the bell. Find a teacher or other musician whose ears are excellent and trained to make fine distinctions between tone qualities. Then ask that person for his or her opinion about which mouthpiece is best. You may ask for multiple opinions, but ultimately you will need to trust someone else’s judgment. When I work with my own students to select the right equipment, I may ask them whether or not a particular mouthpiece feels good, but only after I have made a decision about which one I prefer. I have not yet had a case where I found myself advocating a particular mouthpiece that the student found uncomfortable.