Mouthpieces and the Descant (and Triple) Horn, part I: Why Standard may be Too Big

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Descant and triple horns are important topics that are a mystery to many players. Besides the different fingerings, another reason why many players are lukewarm to descants and triples when first encountered is they don’t use an optimal mouthpiece on it for their testing.

Trumpet players figured out an important principal a LONG time ago; different mouthpieces for different instruments. No advanced trumpet player would ever think of using their normal mouthpiece they would use on their B-flat trumpet on an E-flat trumpet, not to mention on a piccolo trumpet if it actually fit. A smaller mouthpiece is a better acoustical match to the instrument and produces easier high notes.

The basic principal that instruments of different pitch lengths need different mouthpieces seems to be a mystery to horn players. The typical horn mouthpiece is balanced and set up to work optimally on a double horn in F/B-flat. That mouthpiece is not likely to actually be the best, optimal mouthpiece however for a descant in B-flat/high F and it would also be an item to really consider carefully if you are a triple horn player.

On my descant in particular, put in an “old standard” mouthpiece like a C-8 and it really feels like a dog of a horn, of the sort that if you tried you would put it down in a few seconds as being not a good horn at all in the high range. That experience may also color your entire perspective on a category of instruments to the point that you may always feel that descant horns are overrated, as that one you tried did not help your high range production at all. The problem is the mouthpiece is an acoustical mismatch; it is too big with too much cup volume and too large a throat.

Going back to the trumpet as an example, part of how this works for them is that trumpet players seem content to have a B-flat sound like a B-flat and, for the most part anyway, a standard E-flat trumpet sounds like a different instrument, it is brighter and lighter sounding than a B-flat trumpet. By the same token, while a triple should sound similar to a double, a descant horn really should have a bit lighter sound, like the B-flat and E-flat trumpet comparison. Which I realize is not a perfect comparison, as there are four valve E-flat trumpets where the goal seems to be to make an E-flat sound like a B-flat, and for the same reason some descant models have been made extra heavy to have the weight of sound of a double.

In any case though, a mouthpiece with a shallower cup and smaller bore is a better match acoustically to the high F side of a descant or triple horn. In part two of this article next week we will look at two current production mouthpieces specifically made for use in high horn playing, that on my vintage Paxman descant, seen above, really make the high F side pop.

Continue to Part II

University of Horn Matters