Mouthpieces are the part of a brass instrument which directly contacts your embouchure or lips. Being the first part of the instrument that the air and sound passes through, it is an important part of the instrument. In this article I’ll help guide you through what mouthpieces are and how to choose one that will suit your needs.
Mouthpieces are also a very personal choice and many players can get into heated conversations about the differences in mouthpieces and what is better. In reality, some mouthpieces work for some people and others work for others. This is due to a variety of factors including: concept of sound, range, natural embouchure, etc.
Parts of a Mouthpiece Explained
Rim – The rim of a mouthpiece is the part of the mouthpiece which contacts the embouchure. In most cases it is slightly rounded to improve comfort. The inner diameter of the mouthpiece is also an important measurement in determining the right size of mouthpiece for you.
Cup – This should be pretty self-explanatory. The cup of a mouthpiece is the inner part where the lips vibrate and sound is carried through the mouthpiece and eventually out the bell. Cup depth is the other important measurement in determining the right mouthpiece for you.
Throat – The throat of the mouthpiece is the smallest aperture (opening) in the mouthpiece. It is found at the bottom of the cup. After this point, the diameter will continue to increase throughout the mouthpiece. You can also find this spot by looking down the backbore of the mouthpiece. Throat size is basically standard for mouthpieces at the beginner and intermediate levels. Higher level musicians will learn what size throat they like to play on. This mainly affects the airflow through the mouthpiece and instrument.
Backbore – The backbore of the mouthpiece is the opening behind the throat of the mouthpiece. Usually it is shaped like a funnel, increasing the bore all the way to the end of the mouthpiece. Some manufacturers will sell mouthpieces with different size backbores, but as with throats, this should not really be changed from standards for beginner and intermediate players.
Shank – The shank of a mouthpiece is part below the cup. From the outside, it should look like a cylinder. For trombone and euphoniums there are two main shank sizes and one less commonly used one. The two main ones are small and large shank and the other is medium or european shank. These determine which instruments it will fit. European shanks are generally only used on euphoniums and baritones.
Bach Nomenclature System – This is the most common way that mouthpieces are sized. The Bach system consists of a number and then a letter. The number refers to the relative size of the inner diameter of the rim. The lower the number is, the larger the diameter of the mouthpiece. The letter after the number is generally a relative size of the cup. For most of the small shank mouthpieces this letter is a C. The large shank mouthpieces are generally a G.
Types of Mouthpieces On The Marketplace
As a beginner or intermediate, I would suggest you stick with conventional mouthpieces. That is silver plated brass mouthpieces from a manufacturer such as Bach or Faxx. These will give you the least trouble while you develop your own playing style and preferences. Once you make it to the 5G point you may want to experiment with different materials and shapes. When I bought my first 5G I went with a 5G Megatone because my concept of sound is very warm and focused. Megatones add weight to the mouthpiece and open up the throat which results in less resistance and a change in the timbre. Also you can try other materials. For instance, gold plating on a mouthpiece will often make the rim more slick allowing your lips to move more. Stainless steel has no plating and is more slick than gold. The biggest thing though is trying as many mouthpieces as you can before purchasing when you’re ready to start experimenting with different types.
Video On How Trombone Mouth Placement: