Hornmasters: Farkas on Mouthpieces

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Philip Farkas chose to begin The Art of French Horn Playing with a discussion of mouthpieces and horns. As this was his starting point we will also begin here an extended series of quotations and comments on a variety of topics from master horn teachers.

After a review of the elements of mouthpieces (bore, cup, rim, etc.) Farkas, with a photo similar to this of five cut away mouthpieces, relates,

The best advice about mouthpieces, stated in capsule form, would be this: get a mouthpiece which is generally accepted as “normal” …. It takes experience to know what “normal” is, but study two dozen different models and you will soon recognize moderation. Be sure the one you choose has no obviously bad qualities; make certain it is comfortable on the lips; then stick with it until it is mastered.

If the truth be told, no one mouthpiece or change of mouthpiece is going to revolutionize anyone’s playing ability.

First we should step back and look at the state of mouthpiece design in the United States in 1956. While the inner diameter of most commercial mouthpieces of the period was around 17 mm, there were two major schools of thought. For Farkas “normal” was a somewhat shallow mouthpiece with a somewhat wide rim and a bore around #16. However, for players that came out of the east coast tradition of the time typical mouthpieces were fairly deep, had a narrow rim, and a much larger bore in the neighborhood of #4 using numbered drills for measurement. [A number 1 drill produces a bore that would be a very large size for a horn mouthpiece and number 24 would be quite small. The system of numbered drills is explained further in this article.] So for those players that considered a large bore mouthpiece to be normal a Farkas-Model mouthpiece was rather small while for players oriented around the type of normal mouthpiece of Farkas the large mouthpieces were rather large.

Of the mouthpieces specifically mentioned in The Art of French Horn Playing, the view of all of these from the rim end is revealing; all are by east coast standards medium wide or wider. The most notable of the group is the The Farkas-Model, which was made by Schilke before Farkas became associated with Holton and is generally similar to a Holton MC or a Schilke 30. I have a review of this mouthpiece here, and the Houghton H-3 is a very close copy.

When you get down to it his comments at the time were somewhat slanted and at this point are very dated. Of the other mouthpieces in the Farkas book, one common thread is if you play on all of them they are not as good as the Farkas-Model! So maybe there was some marketing plan there. From that time and forward into the 1980s the most widely used line of mouthpieces was actually that made by Giardinelli. I have an extended review of the classic Giardinelli mouthpieces here; they are no longer in production, and late production examples were not very good generally.

Going back to the last point in the quote above from Farkas, I really have to strongly disagree, sometimes a change of mouthpiece can make a HUGE difference for a student! The experienced teacher knows that someone using a very generic, old school mouthpiece from a line with low quality control is really going to benefit from switching to a modern mouthpiece from one of the most recently introduced lines. Beyond the CNC lathe, high quality production we now also have a variety of inner diameter sizes that can totally open up the playing of certain players. One size does not fit all and thousandths of an inch really do matter. If you have been using the same generic mouthpiece for years, it is time to look for something better.

Finally, a general note on these readings. As this series continues the topic areas follow in the order found in the Farkas book, with often several articles on the same general topics but with quotes from other publications.

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