Finding the ideal sound for your saxophone is a quest taken by many young performers. By understanding the saxophone mouthpiece much ground can be made on this journey. However, there is not a “cure-all” artifact or “one mouthpiece to rule them all” in saxophone performance.
Our goal, as professionals who seek to continually grow and learn, is to first take the steps in the right direction in our decision making process. Think of it as if we are investing in our knowledge and experiences.
- Differences in the musculature of a musician’s face.
- Differences in the body structure of the musician’s face.
- The shape and structure of a person’s teeth.
- The thickness and size of the players lips.
All of the previously mentioned factors vary the saxophonist’s overall tonal concept. As a result, what the player is capable of playing on any one specific mouthpiece is limited. Knowing the subtle nuances of your particular circumstance can help you clear up any confusion based on these physical principles. By extension, you will be able to select the correct mouthpiece for you and have an educated understanding of what to look out for in saxophone mouthpiece construction.
In The Beginning
In the beginning most standard saxophones are supplied with a stock mouthpiece. This type of mouthpiece will generally suffice until the beginning saxophonist is capable of demonstrating the basic skills required of most beginning band programs.
Typically these stock mouthpieces have a medium facing and chamber which is appropriate for beginning musicians. Obvious issues with saxophonist mouthpieces, at this stage in development, are generally discovered by a student’s instructor or experienced saxophonist.
The sad truth is that some young saxophone players seeking to upgrade their mouthpieces often do the opposite. Thus causing more harm than good. Sometimes certain well known sax celebrities may be seen playing on a certain mouthpiece that inspires motivated players. Unfortunately, they are also quick to find out that one mouthpiece of a celebrity may work great for them with their specialized embouchure characteristics but work out horrible for someone else’s.
Saxophone Mouthpiece Material
Glass saxophone mouthpieces tend to be less common. Despite the popularity for these mouthpieces with clarinet players, the sax glass mouthpiece is larger and prone to chipping. As a result, chips in the facing of the mouthpiece eliminate the advantage of this type material comfort in one’s playing.
Generally one of the most economical and commonly used mouthpiece material is plastic. Plastic has a long history of use and over time has been improved to not crack. The reason that plastic, as a viable material, is considered by the masses because it has high reliability of strength, low cost to purchase and a positive characteristic sound component to it.
Ebonite, a type of rod rubber, is the most universally used material for saxophone mouthpieces. It is easily shaped, tooled and refaced. It is durable, under normal circumstances and does not typically get distorted if taken care of. Note, like other mouthpiece materials ebonite will chip or get damaged if the tip is dropped or not handled with care.
The Saxophone Design
The Mouthpiece Facing
- The Facing. The facing is the shaped curve of the mouthpiece that protrudes the flat “table” of the mouthpiece design. Depending on the extent of the facing, it determines the control a player has between the tip of the reed and the tip of the mouthpiece. This opening is called the “tip opening.” The distance of this curve, between tip and the beginning of the curve, is known as the length of the facing.
Generally, the closer the baffle is to the reed, the more powerful and bright the sound will be. In the case of a straight baffle, the sound will be dark and soft. In contrast a high step baffle will produce a metallic and aggressive tone. For a more balanced sound a circular baffle will provide more flexibility and give players the option to adjust based on the comfort of play and resistance to the mouthpiece preferences.
|source: The saxophone mouthpiece: Large or small chamber|
Generally small chambers lead directly into the mouthpipe which will provide more volume and edge to the sound in contrast to a larger chambers. Chambers with straight side edges assist in the performance of higher partials as opposed to chambers with more curved side walls produce a mellower tone. It is also important to understand that the inner shapes of chambers can add a variety of tonal colors that are hard to generalize.
Other Saxophone Mouthpiece Selection Considerations
The selection of the ideal saxophone mouthpiece will take time and patience. Consider starting with a medium and a standard-based mouthpiece to start from. As your saxophone abilities improve you will start to prefer certain styles and sound characteristics of your instrument. Be sure to take the time to settle on these preferences of style and sound.
- A refaced mouthpiece will not change the tone quality to saxophone mouthpiece. Remember tone quality depends on the mouthpiece chamber and baffle.
- The use of a rubber pad, or patch on the top of the mouthpiece eases the vibration through the teeth. It also opens the mouth more and makes the tone mellower.
- Mouthpieces that are too high can be be carefully cut down with a fine file and repolished. However, it is always recommended to have a professional instrumental technician do this for you.
- When you compare differing mouthpieces, be sure to tune them and note any intonation tendencies. Some mouthpieces are of different lengths and thus require a different placement on the cork.
- Since saxophone mouthpiece construction is the same for the entire saxophone family it is easy to overlook the fact that some mouthpieces are different in size. As a result of this, you do not need to use the same facing and make of mouthpiece if you are doubling on other horns.
- And finally, remember that saxophone mouthpieces will not compensate for poor air support or embouchure shape and control.
The baffle of the saxophone mouthpiece: Inside the saxophone. The baffle of the saxophone mouthpiece | Inside The Saxophone. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2022, from https://www.syos.co/blog/gear/baffle-saxophone-mouthpiece
The chamber of the saxophone mouthpiece: Inside the saxophone. The chamber of the saxophone mouthpiece | Inside The Saxophone. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2022, from https://www.syos.co/blog/gear/saxophone-mouthpiece-chamber?keyword=&utm_source=Googleads&utm_campaign=usadynamique&gclid=Cj0KCQjwzLCVBhD3ARIsAPKYTcQAH05aNKjO9Vt7NduyaqUD1SM5_QmRQlIl4YT0vfC5EVY3y-CTyy4aAkFnEALw_wcB
Mouthpiece information. Windy City Woodwinds. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2022, from https://www.windycitywoodwinds.com/mouthpiece-i
Teal, L. (2000). The art of saxophone playing. Summy-Birchard.