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Jazz Mouthpieces Revisited

by Paul R. Coats

In a recent discussion with a local highschool band director the selection of mouthpieces for jazz andmarching band came up. In an earlier handout, "First JazzMouthpiece", I gave specific recommendations but feel the need togo a little further.

First off--metal vs. rubber (or synthetic):Jazz and classical mouthpieces are available in both metaland non-metallic materials. Dr. Frederick Hemke is noted forusing the Selmer Metal mouthpieces for his classical performanceson alto and tenor. A few years ago I saw a Boston Popsperformance on PBS in which I noticed the tenor and bari playersusing metal mouthpieces, the altos, hard rubber. The tone qualityof a mouthpiece is influenced more by the shape of the baffle andchamber than by the material from which it is made--though thematerial does contribute to the tone since the mouthpiece alsovibrates. The problem with recommending a metal mouthpiece to ahigh school student (or many college students) is that they havenot fully developed their embouchure or playing style. Sincemetal mouthpieces start at well over a hundred dollars, and mayrun to several hundred, it would be unwise to advise a youngplayer to buy metal. There are many good rubber and syntheticmouthpieces to choose from at a much more affordable price.

High school and college students may have tochange mouthpieces several times before finding models suited totheir needs. Metal mouthpieces are difficult to reface andshould not be refaced as this will break through thesilver, gold, or chrome plating, exposing the user to possiblebrass poisoning. A hard rubber or synthetic mouthpiece may beeasily refaced to the player's changing needs. When a player isexperiencing choking up at high volume he may need a strongerreed (no more than a #3) or a larger tip opening. If the studenthas to use a reed stronger than a #3 then his mouthpiece's tipopening is too close. If there are problems controlling the tone,difficulty playing softly, playing the low register, orembouchure fatigue, a smaller tip opening may be needed. This isusually overcome in a week or two as the player becomesaccustomed to the new mouthpiece, unless an extremely large tipopening was selected. The Runyon #6's should suffice, thoughstrong students may do better with #7's. These sizes translate to.074"-.078" (#6-#7) for alto, .086"-.090" for tenor, and.089"-.093" for bari. Most pros play #7's and #8's in the Runyonfacings.

Note that each manufacturer has its ownunique numbering system. A #5 in one brand may be a #7 or aletter size in another. This strange setup causes confusion whichis only solved by referring to the charts.

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