Top 50 JAzz Blog

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Truth About Mouthpieces (updated)

I recently posted about Booker Little and trumpet player/blogger Ian Carey commented: "interesting that he got that fat "1C" sound out of a tiny Al Cass 1-28!"

That's one facet of the mouthpiece mythology that I didn't get into in this original post: People believe they should strive to get to a bigger mouthpiece (1c-3c) so they can get to a "bigger sound." The truth is, it absolutely depends on the player. Enough great players with "fat" sounds have put the lie to it to make any young (or older) trumpet player think twice:

Clifford Brown's sound has always been renowned for its juiciness. What mouthpiece did he use? Bach 17C1 and 17C2, equivalent now to Bach 10 3/4 CW. Small.  Ditto Conte Condoli. Ditto Fats Navarro. You think of Red Allen's sound as small? Don't think so. He used a very small cup Zottola. Dizzy Gillespie: Al Cass 2-24 & 2-25-equivalent to a Bach 11.75. The list is long.

The neglect that I experienced around mouthpiece choice and which I believe continues in early brass education is sickening. Young players: You need to know how important mouthpieces are. I truly believe that players just starting out are given mouthpieces that are several sizes too big and trying to use a mouthpiece that's too big can really mess you up.

You can play almost any trumpet, unless it's a real piece of junk, but having the wrong mouthpiece can absolutely stunt your musical growth. When you pick up this beast of an axe, you need positive reinforcement to stick with it. The wrong mouthpiece can make it so much more difficult to play that it can erode morale and no doubt has led many to ditch the horn. On the other hand, finding the right size mouthpiece can be incredibly motivating and speed you on your way to great range and flexibility.

As far as I know, to this day, when instruments are handed out, mouthpieces are a "one size fits all" proposition. No attempt is made to find one that suits the player. And chances are, the stock mouthpiece dished out-a 7C Bach-is not what the student needs. Yea, it's hard to get an accurate reading on this the first time someone picks up a horn, but you can revisit it 6 months or a year later and see what's up.

It makes no sense to think that someone would intuitively know about this. 

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of different mouthpieces out there. This just shows that the most infinitesimal difference in outside and inside diameter, cup size, shape, throat size, etc can make a big difference. In fact, there are so many variations that to be firmly convinced you have the mouthpiece that works best for you, you'd have to spend big bucks. About the least you can spend per unit is $50 and the price goes up from there into the $$thousands.

Even then, you're not done, because optimally, you'd have different mouthpieces to help you perform different kinds of music. You might want a more brilliant sound, a more diffused sound, darker, lighter, fatter, brighter, etc.
[Ed note: This concert was last year] I was fortunate enough to hear Lou Soloff play this week. He's a guy who carries about a half dozen mouthpieces in his pocket and as the music changes, gives serious consideration to which one he'll use. Combine that with a battery of mutes and you have a musician with the potential to produce a vast range of colors, which he did.

This is knowledge that is widespread in the "grown-up" world of trumpet playing, but there's no reason young players should not be hipped to it. I think we've lost some good ones because they weren't. I only hope they didn't feel as though they had to pick up a saxophone...


Art said...

I am a believer! As the head of the instrumental music program in our middle school, I am constantly faced with the budget vs. quality dilemma. Parents of my beginning students want to go "economy." With a stock mouthpiece, sometimes it works. Most of the time it does not. After a while, the student looks for more. That's the time to move up to better quality.

Great article. I'd like to share it with my students.

Thanks for putting it put there for us.

Art Greenberg

Steve Provizer said...

Art-thanks for checking in and for your support for the piece. Please share it with whomever you like.

I'm sure that resources are an issue-including cost and the time necessary to act on this. However, I do think its importance needs to be reconsidered and re-prioritized. Good luck!

Matt Lavelle said...

I played the WRONG piece for almost 20 years! Yes,.seduced by a Jet-Tone add that said I would "Sizzle",and suggested that the upper register would be easier I tried to work with the wrong approach for many moons.

Only working at Sam Ash in Midtown NYC,and dealing with thousands of trumpet,sax,and clarinet players with mouthpiece drama did I seek out the TRUTH.

Mine is a big,fat,warm,dark,Bach 5B

And for the first time in my trumpet life,.I'm in Love.

Natalie Walker said...

What is an email address I can send press releases to for your blog? I work for Do512 in Austin,TX. Love your stuff! My email is

Steve Provizer said...

That's cool-Matt. I don't make it easier on myself by changing embouchures...

bigtiny said...

I agree with the importance of mouthpiece choice, but I'd like to make a few comments:

1) as with EVERYTHING about the trumpet, there is no standard 'one size fits all' solution for any piece of trumpet hardware (horns, cases, braces, leadpipes, mouthpieces, swanky suits for performance, etc.) We all have different bodies, oral cavities, teeth, etc.

2) as with EVERYTHING about the trumpet, a player's needs might (will likely?) change over time because our bodies evolve and de-volve over time, thus our approach to the instrument will necessarily change, if for no other reason than the body aging.

3) I'm not sold on the multiple mouthpiece use thing. I know guys like Soloff who do a lot of commercial wotk with different requirements do it, but one has to remember that every time you change your mouthpiece, you are requiring your embochure to readjust to it immediately. I guess some people have the physical flexibility to do this, however, in my experience most people don't. Changing the attributes of the mouthpiece (especially BIG changes) have a significant impact on the embochure and one's ability to play. Usually when moving a player from a mouthpiece they've been playing to a new one is a process that takes at least weeks, I'm not sold on the efficacy of doing it several times a gig.


Steve Provizer said...

Natalie-Glad you like the blog-thanks. You can send stuff to

Big Tiny-I agree with the idea that one-size-doesn't fit-all. That's the point of the post. As far as switching mouthpieces during a gig, you're right that very few can do it, it takes an amazingly adaptive embouchure and I didn't mean to blithely recommend it; just wanted to emphasize the degree to which mouthpieces change sound.

bigtiny said...


I wasn't so much commenting on switching because I thought you were heavily advocating it (though when I look back at the wording I used it sure sounds that way....sorry). But there are a LOT of young trumpet players who I see posting on forums and such that seem to do this. They use mouthpieces with different attributes on different horns, then they'll use different mouthpieces on a horn depending on what kind of gig their playing. I've even see people talking about switching mouthpieces during a single chart!

I guess I'm old, but this just seems silly to me. If they just took all of that time and energy and stuck with a mouthpiece that was appropriate for them and got their nose into an Arban's book, they probably be just fine =:-)

Anyway, nice piece....maybe we'll bump into each other around town sometime...


Steve Provizer said...

Keith-I hope we do bump into each other. What's yr last name?

As far as the kind of mouthpiece changing you describe-I didn't know it was that endemic. You're right. It's like people who buy umpteen fountain pens and foolscap paper and think that will improve their poetry.

Roddy said...

Hello. I happened upon this blog by accident. Yes. Kids in school get poor advice. And, usually it does them no good cos it ain't anywhere like REAL trumpet playing [mpc]life.

Advice from me...

use the SMALLEST mpc you can get a decent sound on...


study all you can about the lip aperture size start point.

In the past, players could get a BIG sound on a small mpc because they had an open [but not spread] lip aperture set point.

here's you know what I'm talking about...

regards . .

Roddy o-iii<O

"E M B O U C H U R E ____E N H A N C E M E N T"
[Self Analysis / Diagnostic Methods for Brass Instruments]

available only from...

Steve Provizer said...

Roddy, I'm glad you found the post and commented. When a critical mass of people "gets" it, the process should improve and future trumpet players will benefit.


Yes Steve, the trouble with the critical mass theory is that we may not be around to see it ourselves as it takes so long.

If you consider that LOUIS ARMSTRONG was coming 'good' in 1920 as a young lion, that makes it almost 100 years so far.

Don't hold yer breath! :)

PS...I've never posted on a blog before so you have my cherry, don !

Steve Provizer said...

A trumpet player should NEVER hold his breath...



Having never looked at 'trumpet'blogs before, I've just done a google search to look at some other trumpet blogs...


I've gotta say...most of them are incredibly boring with the same old advice that WE know is mis-leading at best.

The blind leading the blind, so to speak.


BIG CONGRATS on your trumpet blog called 'BRILLIANT CORNERS.'

I really like it!

If I can figure out how to press / find a 'follow this blog' button I will.

Kudos brother !

Roddy o-iii<O [WALES,UK]

Jimmy Blue said...

It's a sad state of affairs in trumpet pedagogy.

I've been playing 35 years. I'm mostly self-taught, and glad that I used my own brain and common sense to to to the conclusions you've reached here about mouthpieces. By trusting my own body, ears, and brain to provide feedback, I've accomplished EVERYTHING a trumpet player could hope to accomplish on the horn.

I can blow up above double c when I want, yet prefer to improvise jazz. I've played orchestras, big bands, rock horn sections, and salsa bands. I've recorded, toured and seen much of the world thanks to my horn.

I love playing on instruments people think are junk, or toys. I have a certain fetish for pocket trumpets at the moment.

For me it's about making music that gets the ladies interest, and perhaps gets me a free scotch from the club owner.

NOT ONCE, EVER did I have a trumpet teacher or instructor pull out a collection of mouthpieces for me to try out. Even when I went to the local Disney pros (some guys you've heard of and seen on youtube) to work on my range, it was about making me fit the equipment rather than the other way around. Needless to say, they only lasted one lesson with me. Even great players are really sure how they do it. They know what works for them, and think their way works for you too -- including mouthpiece and horn selection.

Oh well, keep up the good work! Let the trumpet playing world know that you can be WRONG and yet still be RIGHT ON!

BTW, I play left of center, too much bottom lip and pivot too much . Yet I still consistently blow up to double A in gigs without much maintenance and practice, being a very part-time hobbyist in my old age.

Jimmy Blue
>look for the man with the blue horn<

Steve Provizer said...

JB-You're an inspiration to us all. Your playing career all too clearly illustrates the teaching failures that I'm talking about. Good for you that you had the persistence to triumph in the end!

Unknown said...

I started on a 10 1/2 with Cliff Sproul in Wichita than changed to a 7 C thaen at WSU with Walter Meyers trp prof. I changed to a 3 C and never messed around after that. I dont believe in too much change to the ambruchur , my double Cs are ok but I dont have the Cat dog Whistles

Whistles said...

This is knowledge that is widespread in the "grown-up" world of trumpet playing, but there's no reason young players should not be hipped to it