Contribution #1 to Comeback Players Guide
By Nick Drozdoff

Subject: Equipment - Mouthpieces

There are many ideas out there about what one should use for a mouthpiece depending on the idiom in which a given trumpeter is working. I will begin this brief piece with this immediate qualification. Anything that I would say, or for that matter anyone else as well, must be taken as a generality, not universal truth. Every player is different, whether a "comeback player" or not. Everyone has his or her own mental structure about what it takes to play trumpet. All any teacher can do is help an individual adjust his or her own "focus," so to speak. As a result, everyone will have slightly different needs with respect to mouthpieces for conceptual reasons as well as physical. This makes mouthpiece choice even more uniquely individual than picking a trumpet. Therefore, please consider the following remarks a general guide. You will need to fold them into your own way of thinking.

Big versus Small:

The general rule of thumb is that a larger mouthpiece is better for classical or technical playing requiring lots of flexibility and tonguing as well as a full "legit" tone. Conversely, a smaller mouthpiece is better for commercial/jazz/lead playing that might require more volume (loudness), a brighter tone and use of upper register. This makes good sense, but there are some things to think about.

Is it possible to play good classical trumpet on a small mouthpiece (a Bach 7E for example)? Certainly. One can train themselves to do this to great advantage. I believe that, at one time, Timofei Dokshizer actually played a Bach 7E. I am aware of at least one major symphony orchestra player who recorded the Plog concerto using a Bach 10&1/2 C. Another major orchestra player has been known to use a 7E for tougher works such as the Bartok concerto.

Is it possible to play screaming lead on a big mouthpiece (a Bach 1C, for example)? Again, yes. Here in Chicago I know a fine jazz player with lethal high chops playing a mouthpiece bigger than a Schilke 20. He can paste double C's on this thing. Recently I became aware of an East Coast lead player using a Bach 1B!

However, I do feel that these are more extreme cases. In all things, moderation would seem to make sense. I can play double C's on my Bach 1&1/4 C megatone, but they don't come out with a lead player's fire without a lot of effort. I can also play an acceptable rendition of Charlier's second etude on my Laskey 40S* with some concentration on backing away from the mouthpiece and focusing the aperture a bit. I would not choose to handle things this way on a gig, though. I use the tool for the job.

By learning to expect of a mouthpiece setup what it was intended to achieve has helped me immensely. This may seem very logical, but it is surprisingly easy to find oneself letting other considerations cloud one's thinking. I use a Bach 1&1/4 C in my C trumpet for normal legit gigs and chamber performances. However, I look over the music I'm expected to play first. If am expected to play some music that is more of a strident characteristic - the mambo trumpet solo in West Side Story, for example -I'd use my lead set up. To me, nothing sounds more "hokey" than hearing a legit player struggling to do this on a big orchestral setup. It wasn't supposed to sound like that. It was supposed to sound like a fiery trumpet solo in a NY salsa band. When I play lead on a big band, I use my new setup with my Shew horn with a Laskey 40S* in it. However, if I am handed a solo that is supposed to sound like Freddie Hubbard or Chet Baker, I'll switch to the 1&1/4 C or a Laskey 40MC to achieve a more mellow sound (fewer upper partials). If I feel like it, I can pop out some high notes, but I wouldn't linger there.

I used to get into trouble by trying to work with the "one mouthpiece fits all" method of trumpet playing. That just didn't work FOR ME! It works for many folks quite nicely, and I don't mean to imply that my way of doing things is the only way. However, I feel that it is wisdom to feel free to switch mouthpieces depending on the gig.

It would seem to me that one thing a comeback player can do is to develop the ability to switch mouthpieces comfortably. Many of the methods outlined in this forum as a natural for doing this. I make it a part of my daily routine in the following fashion.

Big Mouthpiece:

I do an extensive routine of lip buzzing (no mouthpiece), ring buzzing (using a Bach 1&1/4 C rim) and BERP work every day. On this stuff, I use a Bach 1&1/4 C.

Small Mouthpiece:

After the BERP routine I work out on the lead pipe, full trumpet with false scales, extreme Clarke's studies and soft ballads. During this portion I switch to either my Laskey 40S* or my Monette BL3.

I have found that doing things this way has kept me flexible for mouthpiece switching when necessary. Often, I do legit gigs requiring that I play C trumpet with a big mouthpiece and then pick up my piccolo with a small mouthpiece for some baroque work. By practicing in this way, I feel that I am always ready.

Horn Cycle:

In addition to playing trumpet, I also play lower brasswinds. I like to do what I called my horn cycle. I prefer to do this after my basic routine. I play scales and etudes in different keys and cover all of the horns in the following order: didjeridu, trombone, alto horn, flugel horn, cornet, C-trumpet, B-flat trumpet, E-flat trumpet, natural trumpet, piccolo trumpet, cornetto. I have found that this really helps my chops feel ready for anything that I might have to face in the evening. It is also a lot of fun. As a word of caution, I would admonish anyone contemplating doing a horn cycle to plan on resting a few minutes between horns. You should not feel exhausted after this. Your chops should feel exhilarated.

Much of this is outlined in my book, but perhaps this thumbnail sketch may be of some use to the CTG readers. There are many wonderful ideas thoroughly covered in this web site. You can easily find everything you need to make a truly remarkable and fast comeback right here in the "Comeback Trumpeters Guide."

Thanks for reading.

Nick Drozdoff