What mouthpiece should I play? This is one of the most asked questions by trumpet players of all levels.
For many experienced players, the quest for the perfect mouthpiece leads them only to paralysis through over-analysis. They constantly switch between the extremes of mouthpieces without ever spending enough time on any single one to get comfortable with it. The longer they search the more extreme their choices become.
Which is the Best Trumpet Mouthpiece for Beginners?
Many young players are completely discouraged from switching their mouthpieces, to avoid exactly what usually happens to more experienced players, of switching between extremes of mouthpieces.
Most young players will begin on a 7C mouthpiece, just because many student model trumpets come with a 7C mouthpiece (we will answer why is that and get into sizes later in the article). For now, we need to stay focused on the question at hand: what mouthpiece is best for beginners? In this case, I can answer the question with one sentence.
“The best mouthpiece for a beginner is the one that gives the player the greatest potential for the best sound possible while providing the greatest comfort.”
You might be disappointed to see that I didn’t simply list a mouthpiece make and model.
Finding a good mouthpiece is a journey that is unique to every player. All mouthpieces are a compromise.
Although a mouthpiece may have dazzling high notes, it may fall short in the lower register. Or perhaps the mouthpiece provides a deep dark orchestral tone but requires too much effort on the player to sustain that sound for long periods of time.
In selecting a mouthpiece we are always making compromises. If we keep this in mind we will resist the urge to search out the perfect mouthpiece and begin searching for the mouthpiece that gives us the best balance.
As a player matures, it will become appropriate to have a variety of mouthpieces to choose from depending on the style of music. But for a beginner, having a reliable and consistent mouthpiece will provide the best learning environment.
What Do Trumpet Mouthpiece Numbers Mean?
Before we begin selecting a mouthpiece it’s important to understand the components of a mouthpiece.
The cup, rim, throat, and backbore. I’ll use the figure of the cross-section of a mouthpiece to briefly discuss each part of the mouthpiece.
First, the rim. The rim is the edge of the mouthpiece that actually touches the player’s lips.
When discussing how large a mouthpiece is, we are generally talking about rim size.
This is one of the most important parts of selecting a mouthpiece. Much of how comfortable a player will be on a specific mouthpiece is determined by the rim size.
The rim contour, or the shape of the rim as well as the overall rim thickness can also have a huge effect on comfort. Essentially a small mouthpiece can feel big if it has a very sharp rim contour, and a big mouthpiece can feel small if it has a large rim thickness.
The next part of the mouthpiece is the cup.
It can vary in both size and shape. Generally, a mouthpiece will either have a bowl-shaped cup or a funnel-shaped cup.
The depths of these cups can vary greatly.
In general, a shallow depth will aid the player in the upper register. However, too shallow of a cup can lead to a thin and dead tone in the low register. Conversely, a large cup depth will help produce big strong low notes but may be very difficult to play in the upper register.
You will sometimes hear that the throat is referred to as the drill size. It is the smallest section of the mouthpiece.
The throat size can determine how resistant a mouthpiece feels.
Remember, everything should be in a medium-term when selecting a mouthpiece.
A very open-blowing mouthpiece might feel great in the lower register but may take a lot more effort to play in the upper register.
After the air exits the throat it enters the backbore. This is the last bit of the mouthpiece before the air reaches the trumpet.
Like the cup of the mouthpiece, the backbore can vary in size and shape.
Additionally, it can make a big change in the overall sound characteristics and playability of a mouthpiece.
Where Do I Start? The Best Mouthpieces Sizes to Initiate With
Now that we understand the different parts of a mouthpiece, we can talk about some alphanumeric systems that companies use, and where to start.
Why Do So Many Student Model Trumpets Include a 7C Mouthpiece?
The short answer is: because those mouthpieces land right in the middle of the most popular rim sizes (7) and cup depths (C).
But to explain exactly why a beginner trumpet model comes with a 7C mouthpiece, let’s give some context first by introducing one of the most popular brass mouthpiece producing companies in the world: Vincent Bach, and then identifying the sizes behind it.
Bach Mouthpieces, have a long legacy of making fantastic playing pieces and developed a numbering system that many people use today. I strongly suggest reading through their Bach Brass Mouthpiece Catalogue.
In the Bach catalog, there are rim sizes numbered between 1 and 20, with 1 being the smallest.
Although the rim sizes for the Bach mouthpieces extend all the way to 20, sizes above 12 or 15 are extremely rare. Many other mouthpiece manufactures don’t even produce models that are smaller than a Bach 15.
If you take into consideration that popular sizes for rims fall between 1 and 15, the rim size 7 lands right in the middle.
In the Bach catalog, they have bowl cup depths marked from A to F, with A being the largest and F being the smallest. Once again we find that a C cup would fall right in the middle.
When it comes to standard throat sizes for Bach, the most common are 28, 27, and 26. What size throat do you think the 7C has? If you guessed 27, you’re right!
So what have we learned about the 7C mouthpiece? It is pretty much as in the middle of all the categories as you can possibly find in the Bach lineup. Many other manufacturers copied the design of the 7C mouthpiece and provide it with their student model trumpets as well.
Should a Beginner Start with a 7C Mouthpiece?
The context given above gives you an explanation of why it is common to have a 7C mouthpiece coming with a student trumpet model. But this does not mean that it is the right or wrong mouthpiece for a beginner.
Many young players are able to learn quite quickly on this mouthpiece. And it does in fact provide them with the greatest potential for the best sound possible. It is a great place to start. However, it is not the only place to start.
Although a 7C is a great place to start, it may not be the best fit. A specific player may have problems with range, endurance, dynamic control, articulation, flexibility, or any other component of trumpet playing.
A mouthpiece more suited to that player could make a huge difference. All humans are physically different. Additionally, anyone will go through a variety of major physical changes in their life.
Does everyone wear the same size shoe? Have you worn the same size shoe all of your life? Do you wear the same kind of shoes for every occasion? Have you ever hurt yourself physically and need some extra support in the form of a cast or compression sleeve?
The answers to these questions are blatantly obvious. But yet when it comes to selecting a trumpet mouthpiece, most people don’t think this way. Imagine if you went to the store and before you tried on a pair of shoes, a salesperson came up to you and told you that a size 10 is good for most people and that you should buy that size and just make it work. That seems crazy! But that’s what happens all the time with beginners.
Trying New Mouthpieces – Guideline for Switching to a New Model
So how does a beginner find the right mouthpiece? How does anyone find the correct size shoe? You must try it on. Here are some general guidelines for switching to a new mouthpiece.
- First, stay away from the extremes. At some point, a young player will discover that an extremely shallow cup depth on a mouthpiece can produce satisfying high notes on demand. Although an extremely shallow mouthpiece may be acceptable for a high school marching band or playing lead trumpet in a high school jazz band, it should not be used exclusively. In high school, switching mouthpieces for the demands of the music may be helpful to the progress of an intermediate student. It is not recommended that an absolute beginner play these mouthpieces at all until they have established good fundamentals. Conversely, an extremely deep cup depth should not be used by beginners as it may cause them to strain unnecessarily for the upper register notes and develop bad habits.
- Next, the only true way for a person to tell if a mouthpiece is a right fit for them is to try it. However, unlike the abundance of shoe stores, music stores tend to be more limited. Also, I would encourage you to check out any store that sells used trumpets or equipment on consignment. Grab your trumpet, walk into the store, and ask to play a variety of mouthpieces. Almost every store is happy to assist you in finding something that will fit your needs. What you will notice as you try different brands is that they seem to all use different numbering systems. This is perhaps the most confusing aspect of trumpet mouthpiece selection. To make things easier check this very useful comparison chart of different numbering systems for mouthpieces, by Patric Mouthpieces.
- You might find yourself surrounded by a huge selection of new and used mouthpieces of various styles. So, talk to a professional to helping you to choose what could be the right fit for you. Many years ago the only people making mouthpieces were the large companies. Currently, there are dozens of great mouthpiece makers. Often you can message the owner and developer of these companies directly and they can provide guidance on which mouthpiece may be right for you. They may charge a small consulting fee but it will be well worth it.
- To complement your research or if you don’t have a professional or experienced player that can guide you, research online through the available information about the different mouthpiece manufacturers. I would encourage you to go to their website, see what they have to offer, and send them an email asking about what they think will work best for your needs. Here is a list of some of the most famous ones:
Trumpet Mouthpiece Brands
- Bach Brass
- Steve Patrick Mouthpieces
- Yamaha Brass
- Mouthpiece Express
Alternatively, marketplaces like reverb.com that sell band instruments and accessories might be a go-to resource if you already have some experience and knowledge on how to choose a mouthpiece.
Remember, Nothing Beats Practice
I would be mistaken if I did not mention the importance of practice.
To extend the earlier analogy, new shoes won’t make you run any faster. They can help the muscles, they can make it more comfortable, and they can provide support but they cannot move your legs for you. The same is true for mouthpieces.
The best mouthpiece in the world will not help you if you don’t dedicate yourself to regular, intensive, daily practice.
Hopefully, with this knowledge, you’ll be prepared to find the best fit for your face and enjoy the pleasure of making music on the trumpet, with the right mouthpiece, a very important accessory and component for this instrument.