A mouthpiece is a bridge between the instrument and the player. You practically cannot play the instrument without this component, which largely influences your playing experience.
Actually, in quite a number of ways, the mouthpiece critically determines what sound will come out of the trombone’s bell; therefore, making this a very complex subject.
In my earlier years of playing the trombone, I never gave much thought to the mouthpiece. As long as it felt comfortable and was consistently playable, then that’s all that mattered.
Well, as my playing skills advanced, I got round to experimenting between different mouthpieces. I must admit that it was an expensive endeavor. However, this elevated my playing experience to a whole other level.
I could see that using different mouthpieces on the same trombone brought about changes in my range and the sound produced.
This made me want to dive deeper into the science and physics behind mouthpieces, and years down the line, here I am.
I’m eager to guide you through the selection of the best trombone mouthpieces, so shall we?
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Are All Trombone Mouthpieces the Same?
No, they are not.
While you may only play on one or two instruments throughout your trombone playing life, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself in the market for a mouthpiece dozens of times.
Part of the reason why trombone mouthpieces are such an overwhelming topic is that these accessories widely vary in shapes, sizes, weight, materials, and types.
The differences between different brands and models might be subtle, yet amazingly impactful.
All these differences arise from the fact that selecting a mouthpiece is a very personal choice. So, while one player may prefer a particular mouthpiece, another player will prefer the other.
It isn’t a matter of which mouthpiece is better than the other. Instead, preferences are based on a variety of factors, such as the concepts of sound, range, natural embouchure, etc.
Let’s assess some of these mouthpiece differences a little deeper so that you can get a general idea of what I’m talking about.
Differences in Trombone Mouthpiece Sizes
The rim is the part of the mouthpiece that contacts the embouchure (lips). The inner diameter of the rim is the rim width, and this determines flexibility, range, and comfort.
A smaller rim width allows you to play higher registers easier and is a better fit for smaller embouchure.
A larger rim width lets you play lower registers easier, and is a better fit for larger embouchure.
The cup is the inner part of the mouthpiece where the lips vibrate, and sound is carried through the mouthpiece and eventually out the trombone bell. The cup depth determines tonal quality.
A shallower cup gives a brighter tone and makes the high register easier to reach.
A deeper cup gives a darker tone and makes the low register easier to reach.
The throat is the smallest opening in the mouthpiece and is found at the bottom of the cup.
Throat size affects airflow through the mouthpiece and instrument, therefore determining volume, breath control, and tone control.
The smaller the hole, the better the projection and the more resistance you’ll have. Meaning you can play with less air, playing longer phrases on the same breath, and likewise, you’ll fatigue slower.
A large throat has less resistance, letting you play louder and fuller more easily. You’ll run out of air faster and need more lip strength to play for long periods.
As a result, therefore, larger throats are recommended for more advanced players.
The backbore is the opening behind the throat of the mouthpiece. This part is shaped like a funnel, and the bore increases all the way to the end of the mouthpiece.
Back bores vary in both shape and size, and this can affect pitch and tune in certain registers.
The shank is the part below the cup. It looks like a cylinder when viewed from the outside.
A trombone mouthpiece could have either a small shank or a large shank. The shank determines which instrument the mouthpiece will fit into.
What Do the Letters and Numbers Mean?
The letters and numbers are a nomenclature system used to size mouthpieces. This is known as the Bach Nomenclature System, and it is commonly used.
The number refers to the relative size of the inner diameter of the rim. The lower this number is, the larger the diameter of the mouthpiece.
The letter after the number corresponds to a relative size of the cup (cup depth). Most small shank mouthpieces correspond to letter C, while large shank mouthpieces correspond to a G.
These are generic rules, but they don’t apply to every brand.
No two brands use the same number/letter system between mouthpieces, which complicates the selection process even further.
Your best bet is to look up charts published by the companies themselves for numbers and to try them out.
Differences in Shapes
This is also referred to as C-type cup or bowl shape.
A U-shape cup has more air turbulence at the bottom, as the air travels around the curve and back towards the lips.
This turbulence creates a coarseness or brilliance of tone and projects well.
A shallow U cup will have more brilliance and projection, but then it might also cause the player to ‘gas out’ (fatigue) from working harder to move the air into the throat.
A deep U cup has more cup volume, and this will allow the airflow to slow down. With this cup, the tone darkens, but the sound may become dull and less responsive.
A V-shape cup will not have a lot of turbulence near the throat.
A shallow V cup lets the player move air quickly and freely into the throat, which is much needed when playing in the upper register.
The disadvantage is that as a result of the small cup volume, the tone could be thin. Also, the player’s lips might ‘bottom out’ if the V is too shallow.
A deep V cup gives off a smooth, mellow sound with lots of core.
On the downside, because of the effort required to move the air quickly without a lot of resistance, the player could struggle with the upper resister.
Differences in Weight
As you look through and test out different mouthpiece brands, you may find that there are heavy mouthpieces and standard mouthpieces.
The weight of a mouthpiece affects your playing experience and the sound and responsiveness of the instrument.
A lighter mouthpiece would have increased projection and response, resonating with the instrument as you play.
This would provide a width of sound and a broader partial feel for natural playing experience.
Because every tone and timbre can be manipulated, a light mouthpiece can be very expressive, but with a thinner sound.
A heavier mouthpiece wouldn’t feed the instrument’s vibrations back to the player. Such a mouthpiece is very free blowing and can provide a bigger, darker sound than mouthpieces with less weight.
Additionally, a heavy mouthpiece provides stability, giving more security in the high registers. This can help define partials on those trombones where extra focus is needed.
At the same time, the added weight would be great for large bass trombone mouthpieces that may have thinner walls due to larger inner cup diameters.
Mouthpieces may vary in mass distribution, i.e., where the heaviest part of the mouthpiece is located.
If the weight is distributed evenly around the bottom of the cup, then this would result in an even core of sound with overlapping overtones.
The tone quality created would be thicker than conventional mouthpieces, thereby providing the midrange overtones that are often lost with other mouthpieces.
Differences in Materials
The material of a trombone mouthpiece affects the sound produced.
Many trombone mouthpieces are made of brass. However, since many people tend to have a mild allergy to raw brass, it is not uncommon to find such mouthpieces plated in another metal.
Silver mouthpieces produce a darker, heavier sound.
Stainless steel mouthpieces produce a brilliant sound appropriate for a lead solo performance.
Titanium mouthpieces produce a solid and bright tone. However, the sound is lighter than that provided by other materials.
How Do I Choose A Trombone Mouthpiece?
There is no general rule that will guarantee how your particular mouthpiece, embouchure, and instrument will interact.
So here are a few tips to abide by when shopping for a new trombone mouthpiece:
1. Try A Few Different Sizes and Models
If you’ve only ever played on one mouthpiece before, then do not shy away from seeing what else is out there.
Comparing differences can be a helpful way to establish what works for you and what doesn’t.
You can do this at a music store, or you may also try different mouthpieces from other trombone players in your band.
If you opt for the latter, be sure to clean any mouthpieces you borrow!
2. Bring Your Own Trombone
Having your trombone with you will mean that the only changing factor is the mouthpiece. This way, you are in a better position to make a more informed judgment based on the results produced.
3. Carry Your Current Mouthpiece
This way, you can quickly compare the new against the old so that you don’t have to rely on memory when distinguishing how the two play.
4. Play Different Types of Music and Passages
The idea here is to test the tone as well as the extremes of dynamics and range. This will give you a better idea of how the mouthpiece fares in a range of situations.
Can you hit a couple of screamers? How about some slow, soft passages? Also, try out something with a lot of moving notes and fast articulations.
To get a good feel of the mouthpiece, the boring stuff is just as important as the faster, louder stuff.
5. Zero in On the Most Important Thing You’d Like to Change
We all wish to play higher, louder, and with a good tone. However, even the best mouthpiece isn’t a magical accessory that will immediately give you all these things.
The reality is that you’re probably going to have to compromise a little to find the right balance of characteristics.
What is the one thing that you’d want to change?
Is it hitting that D above the staff? Improving your endurance so you can play longer without fatigue? Do you hope for a warmer, fuller sound? Do you want something that will help with your articulation?
Different mouthpieces can help with all these things. So, having a more focused goal in mind will help you find a good fit faster.
6. Consult Your Coach or Teacher
It would help to listen to what your private coach or teacher suggests.
This is because such a person already has a ton of knowledge and insight into how you play.
So, they are in a perfect position to make recommendations that can help you correct a particular issue or achieve a specific sound.
7. Comfort Trumps All Else
It is okay to use other people’s opinions and experiences as a starting point in the earlier stages of your search.
Ultimately, however, the mouthpiece you choose needs to fit you, and comfort is the paramount thing to go for.
In some instances, it might make sense to go for a mouthpiece that feels difficult to play.
Such scenarios are like when you’re trying to build your endurance, for instance. Or if you need to fix your embouchure after a period of using a cheater mouthpiece.
That aside, the safest bet is always to select a mouthpiece that feels the most comfortable for your style of playing.
FAQs About The Best Trombone Mouthpieces
What Is the Best Trombone Mouthpiece for High Notes?
The two factors that most affect the pitch of a trombone note are the speed of the air and the size of the embouchure aperture.
Therefore, the best trombone mouthpiece for high notes has a shallow V-shape cup, ideal for a brilliant piercing tone.
It also helps if the mouthpiece has a smaller rim width, a smaller throat, and is a little heavy.
What Size Trombone Mouthpiece Should I Get?
The trombone mouthpiece size you get should be informed by the sound you want, the type of music you play, and your trombone bore size.
That being said, physical comfort should always be your primary goal when choosing a mouthpiece based on its size.
The right trombone mouthpiece size and shape should fit the player’s face. It should accommodate all embouchure adjustments needed to cover the trombonist’s full range of notes, dynamics, and articulation.
Is A Baritone Mouthpiece the Same as A Trombone?
The major difference between a baritone and a trombone is that a baritone is a conical bore instrument, whereas a trombone is a cylindrical bore instrument.
Do the two instruments use the same mouthpiece? Well, yes and no.
You may have instances where the shank sizes coincide, and you can use one mouthpiece on the other instrument. However, just because the mouthpiece might fit, doesn’t mean that it’s the correct playing setup.
Baritone mouthpieces tend to be larger, having a deeper, more conical cup and more shank size options that trombones.
A baritone player may be tempted to use a trombone mouthpiece because the latter is more readily available in music stores.
Using a baritone mouthpiece on a trombone and vice versa won’t give you the same control, and range comfort. Using the proper playing setup is much easier and more fulfilling.
What Is A Trombone Mouthpiece Made Of?
Trombone mouthpieces are often made from brass, that’s then plated with another metal such as silver, stainless steel, titanium, or gold.
Alternatively, trombone mouthpieces may also be made from plastic. These are more inferior to their metal counterparts when it comes to performance and durability.
How Do You Use A Trombone Mouthpiece?
When using the mouthpiece correctly, you will experience the following when the lips meet the mouthpiece:
- Pressure from the mouthpiece as it’s pushed against the lips.
- Pressure in the other direction as air is forced between your lips.
- Tension in the lips as the muscles are tightened.
- Backpressure from the mouthpiece and the trombone resulting from resistance to the flow of air.
Playing the trombone will involve positioning your lips on the mouthpiece coupled with tongue movements, jaw movements, tilting, changes in posture, breathing, etc.
How Do You Clean A Trombone Mouthpiece?
Without the correct mouthpiece, a trombone would be virtually unplayable and non-functional.
With the right mouthpiece, you would get elevated playing experience, and your sound, tone, range, and dynamics will also be positively different.
It might be tempting to get overwhelmed by all the options out there, thereby causing you to give up on your search and settling for what’s good enough.
I’ve been there before, so I get it. My advice to you, however, would be this: don’t give up.
Finding the perfect mouthpiece for you will prove to be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done in your entire trombone playing life.