How does a mouthpiece work?

How does a mouthpiece work?

Scott’s philosophy on mouthpieces:

“I believe that the primary function of a brass instrument mouthpiece is to serve as an acoustically matched bridge between the player’s aperture and the instrument. This maximizes playing efficiency for the performer and identifies the natural characteristics and sound of each specific instrument.”

Hartman Mouthpieces finally make this concept systematically attainable. My mouthpieces are designed with the understanding that each mouthpiece is an acoustic instrument – independent of the trombone – working for you, and with the trombone. 

The good news is that, now I can match a mouthpiece to your horn that will help you play easier in the high range, the low range… play more loudly and more softly… gracefully… aggressively…all with a clearer articulation and stability that will allow you to play with more confidence than ever before. Plus, I can bias a mouthpiece towards the high range, the low range, loud, soft, lead playing, section playing, whatever you’d like to do with the horn.

The bad news is that there are limitations to what one can expect just from a mouthpiece. A proper mouthpiece matched to your horn will reveal your horn’s inherent characteristics – it’s positive traits and it’s limitations. Just like people, an instrument has personality traits that are there at birth – some that are loveable and some that aren’t so pleasant. An acoustically superior – and matched – mouthpiece allows you to identify what your horn is especially good at, as well as its challenges. I like to find a mouthpiece that fits a horn and then use that horn only for what it is best at…symphony work, solos, chamber music, jazz, baroque, etc. Of course, you can use one horn for every occasion, but it is a rare horn that wants to do it all. If you find one of them, keep it!

Acoustically superior Mouthpiece??? Here’s how I do it.

As a trombonist, myself – I was frustrated by my inability to find a mouthpiece that really worked for both me and my trombone. I ‘made do’ and achieved professional ‘success’ (check out some recordings), but I was constantly frustrated by having to work so hard to get the results. I finally decided to try to find a solution by making my own mouthpieces and – after 20 years of trial and error – I’ve learned an incredible amount about how to manipulate a mouthpiece to make it function the way I want. In the process, I’ve developed a unique philosophy about brass instrument mouthpieces, what we should expect from them and what are their limitations.

My biggest asset as a mouthpiece designer is that, many years ago, I developed the ability to buzz without a mouthpiece, which has made it possible for me to assess with confidence how a mouthpiece translates what I buzz into it. When I play a mouthpiece and it responds and sounds exactly the same as when I buzz without the mouthpiece (often referred to as free-buzzing) – then it is a ‘neutral’ mouthpiece. It efficiently transfers to the horn just what you are doing with your embouchure/aperture, your tongue and air. Most mouthpieces are not neutral! They are not balanced perfectly and they distort what you buzz into them. As a result, they are often inarticulate, unstable, difficult to play in the high or low ranges, and tricky to slur. Why is that? Because the component dimensions aren’t balanced…one needs to properly balance weight, cup size, cup shape, throat size, rim dimensions and backbore shape to make a neutral, acoustically accurate mouthpiece! Now that I know how to do this, I can also bias these factors to make a mouthpiece lean a little left or right of neutral – but this always comes with a trade-off – so I’m very wary of doing this…I don’t like compromise!

Luckily, you don’t need to be able to learn to buzz without a mouthpiece to benefit from using a great mouthpiece. A great mouthpiece is just easier to play! It lets you play more naturally and you’ll be much more likely to be able to learn to buzz without a mouthpiece after playing for a while on a balanced and matched mouthpiece. It actually teaches you how to play more efficiently.

“It’s an incredible – liberating – ‘Too good to be true’ – feeling…having the mouthpiece and instrument respond in a natural and predictable way!”

DESIGN: As I just said, in order to achieve this ‘neutral’ ability with a mouthpiece, there must be a specific balance between many parameters of the mouthpiece. (check out my post on Parts of a Mouthpiece) Therefore, it was necessary to create a modular design to allow me to adjust, balance and ultimately, control, the primary parts of each mouthpiece for maximum affect.

As you can see in the above graphic, I’ve designed the mouthpiece so that I can isolate and adjust various dimensions, i.e., rim size and shape, cup shape and depth, throat size, cup weight and backbore resistance.  Without the ability to adjust these dimensions independently, you limit your capabilities to control a mouthpiece.

So what are advantages of playing a ‘neutral’ mouthpiece? Primarily that it allows the player to play in a natural way and not have to compensate for biases of the equipment. The obvious thought that comes next is, of course, what if you wanted to engineer the mouthpiece with an attitude? Maybe your instrument isn’t perfect and could benefit from a little help? Well, a bit of bias isn’t always bad. Say you wanted a loud mouthpiece… or one that favors the high or low range, for example? Well, that is possible! But remember that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ – as you move away from that neutral balance, there will be a trade-off somewhere. It’s hard to make a mouthpiece that belts out high notes but is perfect for lulling Baby to sleep as well! Especially if a horn is leaning in the other direction already. But it’s fun to tweak, none-the-less.

Just as there are differences between trombones, there are differences between trombonists! Thick lips, thin lips – Overbites, underbites – high players, low playersloud players, soft players. Depending upon how you are built and how you play, your mouthpieces need to fit your face and satisfy your requirements. To accommodate your needs and preferences, I offer each model with a variety of rim shapes and I am expanding the number and variety of models available for each size of trombone that you play to make sure that you – and your horns – are all perfectly happy. 

Here is How does a mouthpiece relate to the horn?

Here is the process that I use to select a mouthpiece: