Is a Heavy Mouthpiece Better?

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A blog reader, a high school student, wrote in after reading the recent mellophone mouthpiece series asking about heavy mouthpieces. Are they better? The question was in reference to the IYM heavy mouthpieces, available for a number of brass instruments including horn and mellophone.

I have experimented with weight a good bit. First the obvious; change any aspect of horn/mouthpiece design and there are results that will be heard by the discerning ear and felt by a fine player. A couple years ago I was using a stem weight. Very interesting; on the mouthpiece I was using at that time I perceived a difference in articulation clarity.

The theory behind the heavy mouthpiece is it is like hitting a nail with a bigger hammer. The sound will project more easily and the tonal color holds together longer before it spreads at high dynamics. This is the main “pro” of this type of mouthpiece.

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There is a downside: if too heavy the sound can become on horn for example euphonium-like and impossible to bring down to a very soft dynamic. It may produce a heavy, covering type of sound. This is the main “con” for this type of mouthpiece.

Not only does this trend hold for mouthpieces but also for horns. A light horn may feel very responsive and easy to play but it may lack projection and depth of tone color. A heavy horn may feel very stable and secure but may also produce a sound that “dominates” a bit too much with a dull tone color.

Having more or less tried it all, I feel my current horn, my Paxman model 83 compensating triple, really does well. As a compensating horn with titanium valves it is lighter than most triples and only a little heavier than most double horns. In terms of sound I feel it sounds great in all ranges. Even the low range on the high F side sounds pretty good, not as full as with the “normal” fingerings, but it is certainly bigger sounding to my ear than a mellophone in the same range as the weight of the instrument is a part of what makes the tone color.

Another major component of sound is the tube length of the instrument being played. A descant horn usually has a lighter sound than a double horn or a triple horn; this is a function of having less tubing. On many pitches on descant you will be playing on less tubing than the same pitches on double horn and it is just a lighter instrument. However, descants have been made heavy with a large bell and those models have a sound that more closely mimics that of double horn.

This is the same effect that the extra heavy mellophone mouthpiece is trying to produce as well. So, jumping back a couple posts, the combination of the tube length issue and the weight issue is what makes me perceive the typical B-flat marching horn as having a bigger sound than the typical mellophone.

To finally answer the actual question, a mouthpiece of medium dimensions of good quality will get you far on the horn. I have been very happy recently with my Laskey 80G, and I often suggest the slightly smaller Laskey 75G to students. I would try this model before I would experiment with an exotic, heavy mouthpiece.