Is your mouthpiece oversized?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by 2nd tenor, Sep 7, 2017.

  1. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    I've used a Wick 6B on Trombone for some time and like it very much, the higher notes above the stave can be a bit of a push sometimes but I can get some lovely peddle notes and a nice full tone. Some time back a more expert player than me (he's a second section player) suggested that the Wick might be on the big side for a 1st Trombone and advised that he played something slightly smaller, but I think it had a deepish cup still.

    IMHO a change of mouthpiece isn't a silver bullet to cure all things but a good one sure does help. Simply put you have to put the work in to get a decent sound but the right mouthpiece eases the work load. As a low brass player I've used ease of getting the peddle notes as a proxy marker for the quality / richness of sound that comes with 'the best' Mouthpieces, is that an error? What I haven't considered is the value of easy playing in the higher register and maybe I should. How often does a first chair part go to top C and how often does it go to peddle C? Who has ever had a part that asks for peddle C?

    Looking at old Mouthpieces, as played by Bandsmen decades ago, I see that many of them are smaller cupped than we commonly use today. Were they correct, in an overkill search for richness of tone do we have a tendency to play on Mouthpieces that are oversized against our actual needs?
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  2. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    2T - might it also depend on the piece you were actually playing? For example; in the case of a hymn, which didn't call for many notes (if any) above the stave, but for which a full, rich tone was a definite requirement, then a Wick 6B might be the optimum. If, in contrast, the next piece had lots of notes above the stave, and which called for a really bright tone, then going to a smaller mouthpiece might make life much easier. Of course, that assumes that the player was able to switch from one mouthpiece to another without any problems!

    But I can see that, if you have that ability, it could enable you to really ring the changes on tone to match the piece you were playing.
  3. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your reply Jack.

    Whilst I've seen it done to some effect I don't believe in constantly changing your Mouthpiece from one piece to another and have seen comment elsewhere about the risk of damaging your lip in doing so. From what I've seen and heard a good player will be able to manage everything that they play, in a particular seat, using something of the same cup diameter. I've used a 6B to cover First, Second and Bass Trombone parts (in community bands) but wonder whether that was wise. I think it probably was not as they play in different ranges whereas a physical item will have an optimum performance at one point and a tolerance (wide in this case) of others.

    Thinking back to old cups being smaller my reference data comes from looking at low brass pieces. From what I found in the Band's store room Mouthpieces were smaller in the days when Boosey was the dominant supplier and I gather from the WWW that the size choices were more limited then. Those pieces worked for yesterday's bandsmen so what's changed and have we overcompensated?

    All comments gratefully received, I'm also hoping that some of the higher section players will chip in on this topic and likewise some folk that were playing decades ago.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2017
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  4. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Switching mouthpieces (between say 2 or maaybe 3 per instrument) isn't a massive problem for a strong player as long as you're practicing with both and practicing switching between both - if you're not both of these things (put together, that encapsulates most players, I would contend?) then it's probably best to stick to just the one.

    What's changed? Required sound pallette - if you listen to any (very) old recordings of bands, you'll hear that although some of the playing is beautiful, there's quite a narrow range of tonal flexibility and a limited requirement to expand it (though ofcourse the recording quality masks it a bit)... as time's gone on, original band music has become more and more complex and "modern" (think of some of the older music, the likes of Keighley and Ireland, through to the likes of Denis Wright and Eric Ball, onwards to a seismic shift with Vinter, another with McCabe's "Images" and Bourgeios' "Blitz"... etc), and bands have begun playing adaptations of ever-changing pop and rock type musics also - in short, we simply need a greater variety of tone colours and expressions.

    Add to that the changes in bore sizes of instruments - the changes in mouthpieces create a better match with the more modern, larger bored instruments.

    I do sometimes think that a lot of people use both instruments and mouthpieces that are too big for them - there's a lot of needlessly wasted energy in playing these setups if you don't require the range of tone and dynamics that they allow for... and there's a beautiful kind of tact in finding a near-perfectly efficient setup that allows you to "just play" with what feels like the bare minimum of effort (in reality, it's just the bare minimum of wasted effort) - that word "efficiency" is something you find dominating trumpter players discussions and yet almost never seems to come up amongst banders
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2017
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  5. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Agree, definitely. Always better for your playing to work your face up to handling everything on one piece.

    As a developed player, one should never (*) switch mouthpiece as a crutch - only change to obtain an altered tone quality.

    (*) "Never" - there's always an exception. The sainted Ed Kleinhammer of Chicago Symphony Orchestra fame wrote in his 1960s method book the advice to bass trombonists to carry a small tuba mouthpiece in their case in case they were presented with isolated loud pedal notes. Note that that was in an era where the largest available bass trombone mouthpiece was the Bach 1-1/2G, which is medium-small by modern standards. There is always the possibility that one may be presented with a truly outlandish piece of writing. But these are exceptions, not what's being talked about here.

    Agree, definitely, too. Fashions have changed. Listen to what noises good band trombonists made in the late 50s - it's a very different sound world now. Those old noises are fabulous, and some of us rather yearn for them, but the modern goal is something much closer to the conical instrument sounds than it used to be. The tiny old British mouthpieces were part of what made this unique sound.

    Tom, you talk a dangerous amount of sense! Having already said all the salient things, I'll just add a trombone perspective, and tie it in with 2T's post:

    IMO this is potentially dodgy advice. a Wick 6BL is about as small a mouthpiece as will produce a decent sound on a large bore tenor trombone. The de facto standard is the Bach 5G, which compares to the Wick 5AL (i.e. one size both wider and deeper than the 6BL), and many play a 4, and some even a 3. Joe Alessi, 1st trombone of the NY Phil, prefers a piece with a 2-sized rim, which is small bass trombone territory.

    You may perhaps personally need a smaller mouthpiece for your own playing reasons, but in general, a 6BL is a small mouthpiece for 1st trombone in a brass band, and has been since the change to large bore instruments in the 60s/70s. Note that it is also nearly the smallest size made in the large shank - smaller pieces in the same ranges are designed for smaller bore trombones.

    Come to Cheltenham on the 17th, and hear full tenor trombone section pedal Cs written way back in 1954 in the 1st section, on Eric Ball's Tournament for Brass. But this is very much unusual - they are almost never written for tenor trombones in brass bands. You find them occasionally in orchestral music from Elgar and others of the same vintage - the G trombone on bass is missing the top three pedals one can get on the Bb tenor - and the tiny bores and mouthpieces made for a very distinctive noise on the pedals - a proper rattle. But they are basically never written for tenor trombone outside solo repertoire. In contrast, "top C" is a common note in 1st trombone parts. I would submit that judging a mouthpiece on your pedal facility on it isn't likely to be the best for your playing.

    My suggestion would be to pick a mouthpiece that is basically sensible (and a 6BL is indeed that), then make sure by practice that you can play everything that you need to be able to on it. Boring, I know.

    These tiny old mouthpieces, coupled with the tiny old instruments, required a rather different way of playing, one that is less muscular (but also less flexible) than the modern approach. They do one thing well, and they require relatively little in the way of physical development to do it. They are utterly unsuited to coupling with a modern large bore tenor trombone - or medium-large, or medium-small, or even small. The old peashooters make even the tiniest jazz trombone look huge. The effect is as of a car being driven by a hamster in a wheel...

    Now we can argue that the whole modern trombone/mouthpiece combo is larger than it might profitably be - that's a different and interesting discussion.
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  6. GER

    GER Active Member

    As one who fits into the second category (played decades ago)I think it's a matter of scale, as Tom says if you're a strong player it may be viable, but for the 'hobby' musician who doesn't practice or only sporadically and attends practice once or twice a week I think it would create more problems than it would solve. A couple of days ago I posted about using an old mouthpiece, (mine's 48 years old) as I had concerns that using it with a modern instrument wouldn't be a good match-the general consensus was if it works for you, go for it and do not worry. So my advice would be find a mouthpiece you're happy with and use that, accept there may be a trade off in tone, as that is the better alternative to pitching issues, which may become prevalent if switching mouthpieces. One final thought, at the start of practice most bands will play hymns or do some other form of 'warm up', which gets the player's muscles warmed and the instrument warmed from mouthpiece to bell, how can you do either if you're using two or three different mouthpieces?
  7. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    My thanks to all who have supported the thread so far, there's a lot of good stuff in there that I'd like to look more closely at later and then consider discussing further. I quick and off the cuff response now,

    One of the things that I think that I'm 'hearing' is that larger bore instruments require larger cup Mouthpieces, if that is correct then I'm wondering what the relationship between instrument bore size and optimal cup size is, in rough terms will be fine. Please tell me more !

    I noted the comment about the Bass Trombonist and the Tuba mouthpiece; as far as I can roughly judge at one time an Eb Bass mouthpiece was around the Bach 1G size (28.0 mm cup IIRC) and there are some Bass Trombone Mouthpieces that are bigger than the 1G. The smallest mouthpiece that Wick makes is a 5 and that has a 30mm cup (IIRC), wonder how it would work in a Bass Trombone.

    Interesting conversation here about the increased range of colours available to the large bore player versus the greater efficiency of a small bore instrument. Personally I find lesser players like myself buy kit that better bandsmen have but we're unable to replicate their results because we lack the skills to use the clever stuff properly, a bit like buying a formula one car and wondering why you can't go as fast as 'The Stigg'. As an aside there's a case to be made for bands buying small bore instruments (if they were available) and then being in a better position to make the best of something with a smaller tonal range.
  8. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Not sure I can give you anything particularly useful on that. In Doug Elliott terms, the following broad equivalences work okay, with the caveats that many find variations on these, and that cup depth also can be usefully matched to cup width. Nevertheless, the following will serve as basic set of expectations:
    Size (bore in inches) - suggested DE modular cup depth
    Bass (.562) - I, J, K, L, M
    Large Tenor (.547) - E, F, G, H
    Medium-Large Tenor (.525) - D, E, F, G
    Medium-Small Tenor (.500-.508) - B, C, D, E, F
    Small Tenor (.485) - A, B, C, D, E

    Ref British peashooters - these had bores about .440 - truly truly tiny.

    Kleinhammer was an American, don't forget. US tuba mouthpieces have always been big. What he called a small tuba mouthpiece was likely larger than the standard size here at the time. I can certify that a Wick 5 tuba mouthpiece in a bass trombone is not a particularly good effect - in a trombone it is much too deep a cup to control in the required register. One can buy bass trombone mouthpieces with a 30mm inner diameter that work much better than a Wick 5 tuba piece in a bass trombone. Different designs.

    That said, some brass band players have had success with tuba pieces - James Case, sometimes seen posting around here, used a Wick 3 with Flowers band for a number of years, to get exactly the effect wanted from him.

    Absolutely. But you want to be doing the same thing as the person sat next to you. No use you making a beautiful historical peashooter noise next to a player making woofy noises on something big.
  9. Slider1

    Slider1 Active Member

    Waltzing Matilda (Gordon Langford) comes to mind, 2nd Bone part of Extreme Makeover has top C,s etc. including a Bar on its tod marked Solo.
  10. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    I briefly did some number crunching based on the Elliot sizes ( Doug Elliott Mouthpieces ). The relationship between (small, medium, large and bass) Trombone bore size in inches and cup size in mm seems to have a factor of fifty linking them, that relationship doesn't hold for Tubas where the factor drops to forty five. That seems about right to me but I wouldn't put money on it being correct.

    At one time the Eb Bass was popular in the States but it no longer is. Bach don't produce smaller Tuba Mouthpieces for the Eb as they believe that Eb's are only used in their low register, perhaps more catering for the (standard) BBb rather than an Eb or F ( Kleinhammer might well have understood a small tuba mouthpiece to be one to fit a single Eb Bass and hence something around the 28 - 29 mm mark could have been what he ment. (Bore data from here: TubeNet • View topic - Tuba Bores)

    It's interesting that the top contesting players are looking at the Wick 4L on Tenor Trombone, but it does bring me back to the folly (IMHO) of following the highly skilled and expecting their results.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2017
  11. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    To my way of thinking the above cuts to the root of the matter. The questions are about how to judge and to what extent a player can scale back the size that they play whilst still fitting in and producing something of satisfactory tonal quality?
  12. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Ah... Stating it is the easy bit, finding out for yourself is the hard bit.

    Honestly, I think starting to cut down the size and giving it a good run (it can take a month or two to get back to anywhere near the consistency and familiarity) before making judgements is vital - you can pick up a few in the shop and judge what responds well, buy what feels easy and efficient to play and then find that you get a kind of honeymoon period after which things nosedive and then pick back up to where you started after a time (then you can make progress).

    Short of trimming down your setup, giving it time to settle and then deciding whether you can go further (or need to go back... Or just settle there) there's nothing beyond educated guesswork.

    I wouldn't know what to suggest you... For starters, I don't know your playing, how your tone stacks up to your desires (ditto endurance, etc) and for seconds I'm not a trombone player... So I guess over to Dave?
  13. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    I'm sorry Tom, I hadn't ment to appear like I was asking for myself and aren't particularly though I will be using any information gained in the thread to validate or help change the stuff that I use. My object is to question for everybody (no matter what instrument) whether we collectively and as inderviduals use stuff that is oversize, so far the answer I hear is 'possibly' dependant upon what you want to achieve.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2017
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  14. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Well, what you want to achieve plus what you already use.
  15. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    For what it's worth, I think such a course is folly, too, 2T - and not just in the field of playing brass instruments.
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  16. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Regarding tenor trombone on that theme:

    Joe Alessi plays on a 2-sized rim. Unless one has an unusual embouchure/facial musculature, one needs to be doing the trombone equivalent of bench-pressing hundreds of pounds a day to keep in shape on a rim this large on 1st tenor trombone.
    Denis Wick developed the 4AL for his personal use on the Conn 88H when he was 1st trombone of the LSO. It's a cracking mouthpiece that many amateurs (including myself) find suits their tenor trombone playing needs well - and also incidentally works well on euphonium.
    The larger of the two standard mouthpieces that those picking up a large bore tenor for the first time tend to be started on is the Bach 5G (to which the closest Wick equivalent is probably the 5ABL). The most common mouthpiece found amongst high level amateurs and professionals alike is the Bach 5G. This is not coincidence.
    The smaller of the two standard mouthpieces is the Bach 6-1/2AL. This is pretty close to 2T's Wick 6BL (the 6BL is a little shallower, I believe; it's an unusual enough choice, on the opposite side of normal to my personal preference, on what for me is a doubling instrument, that I've never given it close attention).

    The point of this post was the sentence above "This is not coincidence". One must use one's noggin... Following Joe Alessi's choices and expecting good results is likely to end in problems. Following Denis Wick's might do, if you don't put in the practice time. Following the large number that use the 5G is a very reasonable course. Almost no professionals use the 6-1/2AL as standard - but for the time-challenged amateur it isn't a bad option, as it offers more support to the face, at the expense of some of the breadth of tone in power that the pros require.

    Which points up a distinction that is perhaps relevant to the topic - the pros do what makes it easy for them to do what they need to do. If a pro goes a size larger than needed in experimentation, they tend to head back before too long, recognising that they've strayed from their playing sweet spot. The amateur does not face the same pressures, particularly while they are still learning their craft. I well recall as a young euphonium player macho-ly reasoning myself into using a Wick 1AL on solo euph in a 4th section band (I was 12, but a big and burly 12), a mouthpiece that produced a sound that seemed great to me, but that slayed my then stamina and high range.
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2017
  17. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    What's changed?

    [QUOTE="Tom-King, post: 872977, member: 5301]
    What's changed? Required sound pallette - if you listen to any (very) old recordings of bands, you'll hear that although some of the playing is beautiful, there's quite a narrow range of tonal flexibility and a limited requirement to expand it (though ofcourse the recording quality masks it a bit)... as time's gone on, original band music has become more and more complex and "modern" (think of some of the older music, the likes of Keighley and Ireland, through to the likes of Denis Wright and Eric Ball, onwards to a seismic shift with Vinter, another with McCabe's "Images" and Bourgeios' "Blitz"... etc), and bands have begun playing adaptations of ever-changing pop and rock type musics also - in short, we simply need a greater variety of tone colours and expressions.

    Add to that the changes in bore sizes of instruments - the changes in mouthpieces create a better match with the more modern, larger bored instruments.

    The above is kind of what I anticipated so I'm glad that you concluded similar to me - though you are somewhat more informed than I. It seems to me that the desire for a wider range of tonal flexibility met a changed ability to provide it, as the abilities of brass band musicians changed. I am told that the best amateur players of say eighty years ago would not compare well with the best amateur players of today who are better musically educated and have more leisure time to practice in, etc., today's instruments probably have a better build quality too but yesterday's might have been perfectly fit for purpose. Following a little behind that change in ability came the introduction of modified instruments who's changed playing characteristics could be exploited by the additionally skilled to produce that greater variety of tone colours and expressions. However, the downside of those modified instruments is that whilst they are designed to be less harmonically stable so that the skilled can more readily shape the sound produced the less skilled 'obviously' aren't served as well by them.

    It's probably simplistic but were instruments once better slotting (so producing the open note series in tune more easily) as that eased one aspect of playing and have we lost that by deliberately making instruments less acoustically stable by increasing their bore size and changing their lead pipe characteristics? (I suppose that the larger bore has also assisted an increase in the dynamic range but that's perhaps a side issue?) The size of mouthpiece cup required seems to go up with bore size so perhaps the less skilled player ends up in a perfect storm: a large bore instrument that takes a lot of air, deliberately unstable acoustic characteristics and a large mouthpiece requiring strong chops to operate well. If so then shouldn't that be more recognised, appreciated and managed?

    This kind of brings me back full circle but with a bit more information to reason with. It is not necessarily just the mouthpiece that is oversized but maybe more an inappropriate match of instrument bore size, mouthpiece and player skills. However as few people understand the benefits of recognising their own limited skills the sales of top line instruments, fast cars, flashy fishing kit and 'pro' golf clubs are in no danger. On a superficial look the Trumpet forums do have some interesting things to say about efficiency and the merits of questioning whether Mouthpieces and bore sizes are unnecessarily too big. Their style of playing isn't the same as ours but there is significant practical overlap; those forums are worth a second look. To me it now seems sensible for all but say music graduates and championship level players to use well made smaller or medium bore instruments when they can and to happily exchange the greater variety of tonal range and colour 'possible' from them (larger bore) for increased reliability in getting the basics right and not having to control (fight even) the instrument as much.

    Have I reached the correct conclusion or have I either missed some important detail or misunderstood something?
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2017
  18. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    There are a couple of points which stand out for me on this very interesting and informative thread (and my thanks to 2nd Tenor for starting it :)):

    (my emphasis, Jack E)

    (my emphasis, Jack E.)

    If you are called on to play highly complex pieces, which call for a wide dynamic range and working up to the top notes of which the instrument is capable, then (as well as the ability and strength) you clearly need an instrument / mouthpiece combination which will allow you to play such pieces as easily as possible. In contrast, if you are only playing simple and undemanding pieces, and even they are stretching you, a more forgiving combination of instrument/ mouthpiece will make life much easier whilst you develop your skills and stamina.

    It's a parallel case to RAF fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain who had trained on the simple and stable Tiger Moth, and then found themselves in charge of a greased-lightning, hair-trigger response Spitfire; sometimes they piled it up before they'd got half-way down the runway on their first take-off!

    Which brings me to my question; will a learner actually learn more quickly and easily by going for a student-level instrument, with a smaller bore and mouthpiece to suit, rather than going for an instrument which a good player can manage very well, but might (as 2nd Tenor pointed out) make it very awkward for a beginner to even get the basics right?

    With best regards,

    Jack E.
  19. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Answer: Sometimes. There's no one-size-fits-all here, and some will find right from the start that a large bore with large mouthpiece suits them better than something smaller. I think we're in danger of overstating the challenges of playing a bigger version of an instrument here.
  20. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    80 years ago was 1937; enjoy Jack Mackintosh (principal with St Hilda's and Harton Colliery bands) with unnamed military band, circa 1930, giving us some outrageously showy cadenzas in Facilita. There have always been standout players to match to principal seats; the difference lies in the quality of players in the 'rank and file' seats, a change largely driven by increased sophistication of repertoire.

    Per my post just above, I wouldn't say that this is at all obvious. The change in design makes the instruments different. Not necessarily 'better' or 'worse'. Even when I was a young and inexperienced player I found it vastly easier to make acceptable noises from a large bore trombone than from an old peashooter. I learned euphonium (where I started on brass) on old Boosey Solbrons, and then Imperials. When I was 12 I got the use of a Sovereign, the first 'modern-bore' instrument I had access to, and it immediately let me play more freely (when I wasn't insisting on putting too big a mouthpiece into it!).

    On much later reflection I actually prefer the sounds available from the older instruments, but that doesn't change the fact that I have found the larger modern instruments easier to play both when a child and an adult. Some find the opposite. It's a very individual thing.

    Trombones have definitely become stronger slotting over the years, the opposite trend to the one you suggest. Chris Stearn's posts on TTF contain some interesting stuff on this from someone vastly more informed than I.
    With older valved instruments, it can be hard to tell due to valve wear causing sealing issues, but it is also my impression from instruments played that the same applies.

    Note that "slotting" = the 'focus' of a harmonic on the resonance in the middle of it. A strong slotting note will be resistant to bending around with the lip; a weak slotting note will be bendable; it's not to do with how in tune the partials are, but rather with how strongly they centre.

    Reading the above para, I wonder if you meant "better in tune" rather than "better slotting"?

    30 years ago a variety of bore sizes in brass band trombone playing used to be common, but we have since standardised on large. This makes for a clearer set of tonal expectations than the days when a new player might well show up with anything between a King 3B and a Bach 42, and results in section blends working better by default, but we have lost some interesting variety en route, and lost options that might suit individual players better.

    Regarding valved brass band instrument bores, in practice almost everyone plays on instruments that are either Sovereigns or very close copies of the bore design. There are outliers, but they don't tend to get played in banding. Back in the day, the band would own the instruments, and prior to the 60s bore shift, that meant bands aspired to own a set of Imperials. Then they aspired to 'upgrade' to Sovereigns. It is only in quite recent history that it's become at all common for players to own their own valved brass band instruments, and by now the fashion is very intently set on the Sovereign design, and the brass band 'sound' is rather narrowly defined.

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