Nobody likes missing notes. Unfortunately, no one thing will improve your accuracy, as it is a combination of many small (often very small!) factors that ultimately bring improvement. I’ve been working on categorizing these many factors further as a summer project (for possible future publication), and these two tips I believe deserve special highlighting.
There are a lot of great players and teachers out there that know next to nothing about mouthpieces. One can be such a strong player you can make almost anything work to a point. The great player thinks they have the great mouthpiece and it should work for any other potential great player! But then, they only have expertise in relation to their mouthpiece and horn. Will that same mouthpiece work as well on a different brand of horn for a different player? Probably not.
Horns are different than any other brass instrument in that the mouthpiece sits in a tapered receiver with no specific bottom. How far in your mouthpiece should fit is a function of how the mouthpiece was made (size of shank) and also how the receiver was made, it can be relatively shallow or deeper.
I can offer two important generalizations to consider:
- If the mouthpiece fits in too little the horn will feel skittery and hard to control. It may, oddly, feel really responsive and sound good with crisp articulations, but at the same time notes won’t slot in well and will be easier to miss. But,
- If the mouthpiece fits in too far the grooves feel foggy and soggy, the sound is probably a bit unfocused too. This also will create a problem for accuracy.
Try missing the same note again
So let’s say (horrors!) that you missed a note in a passage. Go back and play it again and TRY to miss the same note. Most likely you won’t miss it, and if you try bending it around until the note breaks you will be shocked. For the grooves are much bigger than you think they are. You had to be how far off to miss that note?
Or at least that should be the case, you should have solid and wide grooves to slot the notes in if you are using a mouthpiece that really matches your horn. If the groves are fuzzy or unstable, mouthpiece choice could help. Or maybe a new horn.
Bottom line of this being when one finally gets a good horn set with the right mouthpiece you will find it much easier to play with consistent accuracy. It’s not cheap either, but if you are serious about the horn you will need to buy a few to figure out what works the best.
Personally, myself I’ve made a lot of use of the new Houghton line of mouthpieces (made by Houser), with the H-1 in brass being my current personal favorite on my main horn. But there are many other fine options out there, I especially like for example the Houser San Francisco cup and how it can be obtained with many subtly different shank sizes.
If you reflect on this article and think that your horn feels either foggy or skittery or that you miss way too many easy notes, give the secrets above some real consideration.