The purpose of this post is to discuss my experience of having used a single mouthpiece for professional playing over a relatively long period of time.
Like many trumpet players I like mouthpieces. I really like them. Over the years I’ve owned a lot of them and my preferences have changed over time from one extreme of design to another. A major shift in my habits and opinions happened when I first began learning from Jerome Callet in 2012. I should also say that a lot of experimentation has been fuelled by other players that share the enjoyment of experimentation with mouthpieces. As a result of what I learned from Jerome, and from Bahb Civiletti, I am quite happy to pick up most mouthpieces without any immediate loss of ability. It tends to be the changing habits over time that come from choice of equipment that would cause me to suffer, but that’s a subject of its own that I could write another post about (in fact, check this one for some of my thoughts about that). There will be more on this subject later on.
When I try to list the mouthpieces that I used exclusively for any period it gets very difficult very fast. I used a Vincent Bach 1-1/2C for nearly five years in my late teens/early twenties and then the next longest period would have been eighteen months that I used the TCE-RC, about eighteen years later. There were six-month periods when I only used a Bach 3C, Jerome Callet’s Superchops 4 (when changing my approach to playing) and I used Bahb Civiletti’s TCE#3 a lot over a four-year period, but not exclusively. I had the Callet Superchops 3 in rotation for five or six years but exclusivity is the key to this discussion.
Despite having owned and used many differing designs, I know with certainty that the times when I stuck with one mouthpiece for a long period were my most consistent and probably most enjoyable. Having said that, the topic isn’t as simple as it sounds. My experience could lead one to believe that my advice should be to choose a mouthpiece and stick with it for a long time. However, as a professional freelancer I need different tools for different jobs. It would not be practical or appropriate to use the same equipment to play lead trumpet in a big band and second trumpet in an orchestra. There have been times when I’ve had to do this on the same day and it’s not at all uncommon to do both over the course of a weekend.
You may know from a previous post (click here) that when I brought out the TCE-RC mouthpiece in January 2019, I then used it exclusively, for better or worse, for a little over a year of professional playing. In my description for that mouthpiece I wrote that it was intended as an 80-90% solution and that you may need to swap for certain extremes of playing. Whether or not this is true must depend completely on the individual, their sound concept, the music they play, and their approach to playing; I made it work, I played a wide variety of music and I learned from the experience.
What I’ve learnt from using one mouthpiece exclusively
The main advantage, and maybe only advantage of using one mouthpiece exclusively is consistency. Consistency is very important for a brass player. Simply put, as your equipment always feels the same you are always going to know what to expect when using it. Even writing this down makes it seem like a stupidly obvious statement. Why would you change the equipment if there is a chance that you wouldn’t know how it is going to feel when you play? Well… maybe consistency is closely related to stagnation. It’s easy to stop learning about yourself and your instrument by imposing limits. It’s a delicate balancing act between pushing yourself to improve and maintaining the standard that is required of you as a performer.
Doc Reinhardt wrote about what he called Sensation Theory in his Encyclopaedia Of The Pivot System.
Sensation Theory is the approach to the instrument whereby the player relies primarily on feeling rather than on sound to produce his notes. Generally speaking, the more completely the dependence on feeling the player can achieve, the more accuracy he will acquire.
When describing the process of warming up he goes on to say that it is simply returning to the point where things feel as you know they should. The quicker a player can return to the correct feeling of playing, or homeostasis, the better. Following this theory, it is logical to assume that keeping the physical equipment the same is the best route to take. An alternative view is that if you are likely to use more than one mouthpiece, or trumpet, then you should do equal amounts of practice on each.
The real question that should be addressed is whether the advantage of a consistent feel outweighs the potential disadvantages.
Put simply, my opinion regarding the disadvantage of using one mouthpiece exclusively is that the player will end up compromising their playing for the sake of consistency. Common knowledge on the subject of mouthpieces says to choose one that gives you a good sound and that everything else will develop over time. Having known a lot people who chose a Bach 1-1/2C because it sounded pleasing and still struggle with range, flexibility and endurance after decades of using it, I would have to suggest that this wisdom is not based in objective reality. Anything as large as a 1-1/2C belongs in the category of specialist orchestral equipment and unless you’re a professional orchestral player there is probably something more suitable for you. I’m not really aiming that statement at professionals who make a large mouthpiece work well but let’s be honest, there aren’t many of those either. That’s a subject that goes much deeper.
For me the TCE-RC seemed ideal in the practice room. It has a centered sound, easy note production and requires that you play in a disciplined way to get the most out of its use. However, because I play a wide variety of music there were always situations where it wasn’t the best tool for the job. Playing second trumpet in a Mahler symphony for example, which I had to do during the time I was using the mouthpiece exclusively. Similarly, although I can play my full range on it, it wasn’t intended as a lead trumpet mouthpiece and playing the lead part in a big band was not as easy as it could have been.
If I were to give some generic advice it would go something like this:
- Have a mouthpiece that you know well so that when trying something new you can make direct comparisons with it.
- Have a mouthpiece that you know well so that you can be consistent in performance.
- The longer you have a mouthpiece the more you will learn about how you can make it work, or not work.
- By all means experiment with mouthpieces but don’t get into the habit of swapping mouthpieces constantly to try and maintain your level of playing.
- Learn what your equipment is good for and use it for that.
Players who specialise in high-note playing tend to recommend that you use a mouthpiece that enables you to do the job and then learn how to play it with a good sound. Those who specialise in classical playing tend to recommend that you choose a mouthpiece for its sound and then learn how to make it work. In my opinion choosing something in the middle will not give the best of both worlds but in fact the disadvantages of both and advantages of neither.
In an attempt to keep this post on-topic I’ve had to stop many trains of thought and delete a lot of opinion – hopefully I’ve left you with something helpful. Please check back for insightful edits!