How to Playtest a Mouthpiece

Play testing a mouthpiece is very similar to how you playtest a horn. However, because you should be going into a mouthpiece change with a specific goal in mind you should test for that new goal immediately. If it doesn’t help you reach your goal there is no reason to continue testing.

  1. Check for Physical Comfort
    • First and foremost a mouthpiece needs to be physically comfortable. If there is any physical discomfort it should be addressed before going farther.
    • This can be a very quick test of setting your embouchure a few times on the new mouthpiece.
  2. Check for your Specific Goal
    • What was your goal in searching for a new mouthpiece? Does this piece help you achieve it?
    • When testing for your specific goal make sure that you choose testing material that you know well. Swap between your usual mouthpiece and the new mouthpiece repeatedly to see how the sound and ease changes in the place where you are looking for help.
    • If the mouthpiece does help you achieve your specified goal you should still check other elements of playing. This is to make sure that the mouthpiece you are choosing is a good fit for you overall and is useable in regular musical environments.
  3. Check Response
    • See how easy it is for you to make a sound. Are true PPP sounds possible? Does the sound respond quickly and have a “pop” even on soft articulations? How is the resistance and is it comfortable to play against?
    • I tend to use something low and stepwise to test this aspect and incorporate “P” articulations in whatever I use. Clarke technical study 1 or 2 works well as do scales and arpeggios.
  4. Check Evenness through the Registers (including intonation)
    • See if the mouthpiece remains comfortable to play through the range. Does the blow resistance change considerably in any one register? Do notes slot securely through all ranges? Does any one partial feel or sound strange? Is the mouthpiece/horn combination in tune with itself?
    • I tend to use Stamp, Cichowicz, arpeggios, and easy/slow partial slurs to test this aspect. Multi-octave scales can also work.
  5. Check Tone Quality
    • See if the mouthpiece/horn combination’s characteristic sound closely matches your ideal sound. Can you make every tone color you want/need? Can you adjust the sound? Brighter? Darker? Narrower? Wider? How easy is vibrato? Keep in mind that you can adjust the “base” sound with your mouthpiece selection but the adjustability of the sound is more dependent on the horn.
    • I tend to use short excerpts from several pieces of different styles to test this. Long tones (while changing the quality of sound) also work well for this.
  6. Check Flexibility
    • See if you can move quickly and accurately through the instrument. Can you skip partials cleanly? How quickly can you go through your entire range? Do fast finger dexterity passages speak cleanly?
    • I tend to use Irons and Bai Lin partial exercises, multi-octave passages, lip trills, and Clark Technical studies to test this.
  7. Check Articulation
    • See if you can apply a variety of articulations to a note. Do you have a good “pop” on each standard articulation? Can you get rid of the “pop” for a smooth articulation if needed? Can you accent a note cleanly? Do multiple tonguing passages speak cleanly in a variety of styles?
    • I tend to use Arban Exercises, Vizzutti Exercises, and short solo excerpts to test this.
  8. Play a Longer Excerpt
    • See how comfortable the mouthpiece/horn combination is overall. After spot testing each aspect of an instrument make sure that it is comfortable to play overall. Can you create compelling music using this instrument? Is the instrument easy to play as a whole?
    • I tend to use a combination of solo pieces, excerpts, and etudes for this final test.

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