How to select a mouthpiece

Please read How does a mouthpiece work and How does a mouthpiece relate to the horn?? before starting to select one for your horn. Once you understand my philosophy of mouthpiece function, you will be ready to match one to your instrument.

If you are trying mouthpieces, you probably have access to a set of 12 that I send out for this purpose. These 12 mouthpieces (A5 thru D7) satisfy 95% instruments – though your trombone may conceivably work better with a power level lower than 5 and higher than 7.

Each mouthpiece in the box will make the instrument play, respond, sound and feel differently! The following exercises are designed to focus your awareness upon the interaction and relationship of  a mouthpiece with a trombone and these instructions will steer you toward the optimal match for your instrument.

Here we go!

Step #1:   

We are going to find out which SERIES works best with your leadpipe.

Start with a Hartman mouthpiece from any SERIES (A, B, C or D)

Play this slur pattern:                                                                                                (click here to open it in another tab – it will be larger)

Notice how it feels to slur – both in first position and when you move back and forth between 1st, 3rd and 4th positions. Keep in mind that when you slur between Bb/C/D, you are switching between the same harmonics (partials) as when you are slurring between Bb/D/F – so ideally, it should feel the same to play both slur patterns.

The affect that each mouthpiece has upon slurring helps demonstrate the parallel relationship between embouchure movement and slide movement. This is important to notice again later, in Step #2, when we will zero in on the proper power level.

Next, do these exercises using B6, then C6 and finally D6. One of these four mouthpieces will be easier and more comfortable to play than the rest. This is because of the venturi effect discussed in How does a mouthpiece work.

There are predictable characteristics that can help you steer towards the best fit for your leadpipe. Here are the four characteristics:

Ideal matching SERIES: The slurs feel the same going both upwards and downwards, and they feel even in leaving the note and arriving at the next note. While moving the slide gracefully from position to position, you feel the same sensations as when you slur.

The one to the right of Ideal matching SERIES: The slurs pop quickly as you go up or down and there is a slight adjustment before you settle into the sustained note. When you move the slide, the partials change just a little too quickly and the notes don’t settle as easily into a comfortable pocket.

Two to the right of Ideal matching SERIES: The slurs are the most unstable and touchy. The sustained notes don’t settle easily. The slide and the slurs aren’t easy to coordinate.

Three to the right of Ideal matching SERIES: The slurs are a little slow to move through the partials and the sustained notes are slow to develop. Everything is a bit mushy. This is especially obvious when you move the slide. After the Ideal matching SERIES, this is the second most comfortable.

These patterns continue as you progress or regress through power levels, as the power levels are related. Like this: (A5, B5, C5, D5, A6, B6, C6, D6, A7, B7, C7, D7) So… if your Ideal matching SERIES is a B, you would notice the above characteristics in this order.  (A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D) If your Ideal matching SERIES is C, you would experience them in this order. (A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D) If your Ideal matching SERIES is D, you would experience them in this order. (A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D)

Now play this tonguing pattern:                                                                                                (click here to open it in another tab – it will be larger)

Go back and play the first four mouthpieces again playing the tonguing patterns. The mouthpiece that is best for these patterns should be the same as for the slurring patterns. but, if you are still not sure, that’s OK, let’s move forward.

Step #2:                                                                                                                               Now that you’ve narrowed down which SERIES (A, B, C or D) matches your trombone, try a mouthpiece in the same SERIES with a power level either more or less than the one you just played, i.e., if you think that C6 is the best so far, then try C5 and C7.

Here are some things to pay attention to as you compare the mouthpieces. You will notice that the note is slower to speak with the lower power mouthpieces and quicker to speak with the higher power mouthpieces. This is true for both tonguing and slurring. Also, as the power level grows, 4, 5, 6, 7… the general sound you produce becomes more focused, directional and colorful. In reverse, as you play mouthpieces of progressively less power, 7, 6, 5, 4 … the tone gets more open and transparent. There is something appealing about all of these timbres! BUT…be wary of both mouthpieces that overdrive or underdrive the horn – they will be harder to play and you will miss more notes as a result!

Just to make sure you are on the right track, go back and try some of the other SERIES mouthpieces. After you done this a bit, you’ll find that it is very clear which is the correct SERIES. Finding the appropriate power level is more subjective but is also relatively straight forward once you are familiar with the process.

Articulation, slurring, tonguing, high and low range are all made easier by having the correct match between your trombone and the mouthpiece.  It’s a Win/Win situation! 

The ideal match is achieved when you can blow comfortably at all times…while slurring, while tonguing, loud/soft and on sustained notes. This condition is obviously the easiest manner of playing, plus it reveals the true characteristics of your instrument. 

Step #3:                                                                                                                                              Go back and play the mouthpiece that you used to play…                    I’ll bet that it is a lot more difficult to play than your new Hartman mouthpiece!

If you find the correct mouthpiece/trombone match but aren’t quite satisfied with the general sound that the instrument produces, then several reasons may be the cause…

  1. you may be trying to get your instrument to do something it isn’t really set up to do.
  2. you may need a power level less then 5 or more than 7
  3. you may need to have me custom fit a mouthpiece to your horn.    I do have some more tricks…

ENJOY!