What is a Good Tone on a Mellophone?

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Here is a topic that you won’t see often in a horn blog—tone on the mellophone.

I have a very clear idea of what a good horn tone is. A big part of my horn teaching is working with students to develop their best sound. One important element of tone production is mouthpiece selection. The right mouthpiece can make a huge difference.

Practicing on mellophone last night (another sentence you won’t often see in a horn blog) as a part of my mellophone project it was very disconcerting actually to use the UMI Mello 6 mouthpiece. It plays OK, and if I close my ears I can accept it OK, but the sound out the bell…it is not at all what I would think of as a good alto range sound. I know mellophone in a marching context is supposed to project and all but to my ear this mouthpiece, which is a standard one that is pretty widely used on mellophone, produces a sound that is not at all related to a horn tone. It has a very trumpet-like quality, with a harsh, edgy tone that I just don’t associate with an alto range brass sound.

The opposite extreme is the Blessing 5 mellophone mouthpiece, which produces a sound that to me is a lot like a valve trombone. My ears accept this sound a bit more easily, but it still is not a horn tone. Where the Mello 6 produced a low soprano type of sound, the Blessing 5 is more like a high baritone sound. And I doubt that it is one that a band director would pick out as the sound they want to hear a mellophone make out on the marching field in competition, it would blend in with the lower brass too much.

The Mello 6 produces a sound that really cuts while the Blessing 5 is very mellow and more appropriate to 1950s cool jazz. They are polar opposites.

Compared back to back it blows the mind how much tonal difference there is between the Mello 6 and the Blessing 5. For perspective, the difference between these two mouthpieces is greater than the difference between say a Yamaha 30C4 horn mouthpiece and a Giardinelli C-1, the smallest and largest horn mouthpieces commonly available. The Yamaha works fairly well on mellophone; the Giardinelli does not.

Eventually, a good tone is a matter of perspective, a mixture of what you want and where you came from. Thankfully, competitive corps seem to be moving toward larger mouthpieces than the Mello 6. They will never get as big as the Blessing 5 but based on current trends they will edge toward the cup dimensions of smallest of horn mouthpieces (such as the Yamaha 30C4) in the coming years.

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