July 29, 2015
Trombone Mouthpieces: A Buying Guide
If you or your child are interested in learning to play the trombone, there’s a lot you’re going to learn. Inexperienced and aspiring trombone players may not be aware, for example, that the mouthpiece is arguably the most important part of the instrument. To the untrained eye, trombone mouthpieces all appear to be similar in size and serve the same function. As you or your child will come to learn, having an understanding of your trombone’s mouthpiece as well as your own needs and preferences will have a beneficial impact on your sound and playing style. There are many different aspects of a trombone mouthpiece to consider, from the materials to the parts to the context the player will be expected to play in. We thought it’d be helpful to put together this buying guide so you know everything you need to before you go shopping for a new mouthpiece.
Brass Mouthpiece Background
If you or your child are just starting out with a trombone, it’s helpful to know what to expect. You want the mouthpiece to produce a tone that is firm and compact with good projection. You also want for the mouthpiece to be comfortable. When you’re taking recommendations, it’s important to recognize that what’s comfortable for someone else may not be comfortable for you. Students generally gravitate to medium-sized mouthpieces, before moving on to larger or smaller mouthpieces as they gain experience and develop their play style. Professional trombone players have a deep understanding of their instrument’s mouthpiece and its effect on their sound.
One of the first things to consider when shopping for a mouthpiece for a trombone is the material. The material changes the sound, allowing players to carefully select the sound they wish to produce. Trombone mouthpieces are made of brass, silver, stainless steel, titanium, or plastic. Since many people have a mild allergy to raw brass, mouthpieces are more commonly plated in another metal. Silver mouthpieces are used to produce a darker, heavier sound. Stainless steel mouthpieces will produce a brilliant sound appropriate for a lead performance. Titanium is known to produce a solid and bright tone, despite being lighter in sound than other materials. As you can see, the difference in material can make an enormous impact in the type of sound your instrument produces.
Parts of the Mouthpiece
Each of the different parts of a trombone’s mouthpiece can affect the overall sound the instrument produces. After all, mouthpieces are much more sophisticated than they might appear at first. Every brass mouthpieces consists of the rim, cup, throat, and backbore. Most important are the rim and cup, although the throat and backbore still influence your sound. If you need to adjust the size of the backbore or throat, you can do so by consulting with an experienced repair technician. Since each of these pieces plays an important role in the instrument’s sound, it’s helpful to understand each individually.
The rim is the part of the mouthpiece that actually touches your mouth. Because the rim is the point of contact between the instrument and the player, it’s important to describe how the rim affects the way a person plays. Brass mouthpiece rims either have a flat or rounded contour. A flat contour allows even lip pressure which helps to provide a good air seal. Mouthpiece rims with a flat contour are more comfortable, but unfortunately, they’re also less flexible. For more flexibility, a player would choose a rounded mouthpiece rim. When your mouthpiece has a rounded rim, your lips can move more freely allowing you to produce a greater variety of tones. The downside to rounded rimmed mouthpieces is that they require stronger lips and more lip pressure, which can be uncomfortable for some players. Additionally, if a player doesn’t have the air volume and embouchure needed, they will press too hard, cut off circulation which limits flexibility and defeats the purpose of using a rounded rim mouthpiece. It’s been recommended that beginners use a medium-wide rim with a semi-rounded contour and a slightly sharp inner edge which provides sufficient surface for comfort. This type of mouthpiece allows for the freedom of movement needed to produce a variety of tones.
Inside of the rim, there’s the cup. The cup is actually the area that the player blows into. Larger and deeper cups offer darker tones with greater volume. Shallow cups, on the other hand, can brighten up a tone, improve control, and don’t require as much effort. Generally, large cups require more control and stamina from the player. Choice of cup depends on the instrument’s pitch as well as the specific needs and preferences of the player. Another thing to consider is the cup’s diameter. Larger diameters will tire you out quickly, but offer more flexibility. Look for the largest diameter cup that you can comfortably play.
The throat of a trombone mouthpiece is the opening leading out of the cup. There aren’t as many wide variations in throat size or length, but bigger ones will allow you to blow harder and produce more volume. Throats are often designed to complement the cup and backbore design with the goal of achieving a good balance of tone and projection. When shopping, it’s uncommon that you’ll find much variation in the throat of a mouthpiece.
The backbore is the chamber which transfers the player’s breath to the horn. You can produce a brighter or darker tone, raise or lower volume, and raise or lower pitch depending on the shape and size of the backbore. Beginners will be well-advised to look for a backbore that balances all of these qualities. In most cases, however, the backbore is also commonly designed to complement the cup. Medium cups will have a medium backbore, which is likely to offer a suitable balance in sound.
Buy Trombone Mouthpieces at Music & Arts
At Music & Arts, we’re dedicated to bringing you the best offering of professional band and orchestral instruments, products, and accessories in the world. As a one-stop shop for students, parents, and educators, you’ll find trombone mouthpieces from some of the top manufacturers, including Bach and Schilke. Remember, when selecting a trombone mouthpiece, you should take the musician’s skill level and desired sound into consideration. If your child is a student, a great place to start is by speaking with their music teacher or band instructor.