Welcome to Weekly Trumpet Tips:
- The Mouthpiece Game
Tip #1 – The Mouthpiece Game!
Trumpet players get convinced at one point or another that a simple mouthpiece change is going to give them something that they don’t necessarily already have – largely range! There are several misconceptions that seem to be continually handed down from generation to generation, and it’s mostly from folks that DO NOT play professionally!
One of these misconceptions that we receive as younger players (and continue to hold onto with a passion) is the topic of rim size. Band directors and some lesson teachers feel that as a student grows, they should be playing a larger cup size – in other words moving said student from a 7C Bach down to a 5C or 3C. In the 20+ years I’ve been teaching, I’ve seen this time and time again from students who are now struggling to play the same way they did on their 7C.
The way I view it now is that mouthpieces are as individually specific as shoe sizes! This is nothing new (especially if you’ve followed my tips for years), but many still have this illusion that larger diameter cups give you a bigger / better sound and smaller cup diameters are “cheaters, screamers, lead pieces!”
I personally struggled for YEARS on a 3C equivalent and bashed my chops into my face so hard and so much that I killed my front tooth! It was Maynard and a hand full of other players that suggested I try a smaller diameter… this was foreign advice for me! And the first thing I ran into was that the smaller cups were cut off as I tried to play higher. Most of us stop there and think it’s not for us… truth is, the smaller the diameter the cup, the less lip movement you can get away with inside the cup! Larger cups accommodate lip movement, which in my opinion sets us up for bad habits down the road (unless monitored and adjusted by a competent instructor). As I got a handle on my lip movement inside the cup and adapted to a smaller diameter, I started having much more success.
I also found that all of the things I was warned about (losing flexibility, bottom register, tone, control, etc) didn’t happen at all! With PROPER practice and consistency, it all massively improved!
So this week’s first tip for you is if you’re thinking about a mouthpiece change consider the following:
A) Don’t be afraid to try something smaller (diameter). Shallower will brighten your sound, deeper will defuse (darken) your sound. I personally can’t play an overly shallow cup because of my lip structure.
B) Change only ONE aspect of the mouthpiece. For instance – if you play a Bach brand, stay with that brand and cup depth. For instance, if you’re playing a 3C and want to go smaller, try a 7C or a 10 1/2 C. The number dictates the diameter and the letter dictates depth.
Many times players make the fatal mistake of changing everything – throat, backbore, cup diameter, and depth. You’ll NEVER know what is working and what is not by changing EVERYTHING! Change one thing and experiment as you assimilate!
Tip #2 – LISTENING!
What makes a soloist a “GREAT” soloist? What makes a lead player a “GREAT” lead player? The same ingredient that makes an individual a great communicator (or not)! LISTENING!
Webster’s Dictionary defines listening in 3 ways:
- To pay attention To Sound
- To hear something with thoughtful attention: give consideration.
- To Be alert to catch an expected sound.
As fundamental (and pointless) as this tip may seem, I find it a skill that tends to not be as sharp as it really needs to be in order to improve or convey your message musically. I personally think that listening is a skill that we develop and should not be ignored or taken for granted as something we either have or don’t have.
Some of the things that a lack of listening massively impacts is:
- Tuning – being able to play in tune with other players
- Style – Being able to listen to your fellow musicians and adjust! If the lead player is doing dynamics or laying back harder, listen, and follow!
- Learning / Practicing – We are in an audible art form. It is our job to make the music we see on the page come to life. We learn by listening to those that have come before us and pick up on their style, approach, tone, etc. Yet many players don’t listen for the details!
There is a VAST difference between hearing and actively listening. Here’s a great tool to help sharpen your listening skills! Pick a player with a unique approach or style – someone who is unmistakable when you hear them play. Harry James comes immediately to mind. “LISTEN” to a particular song and try to imitate EXACTLY what he does stylistically. Record yourself and see how close you can come to sounding like Harry! Dynamics, articulation, vibrato, style, TUNING, etc.! Listening is a lot more than just playing the right notes and the right rhythms! The more you work on this skill, the better you become!