Klarinet Archive - Posting 000247.txt from 2001/07
Subj: [kl] Re:Mouthpieces recommendations - worth??
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2001 04:27:35 -0400
Ok - so it's a long post. I have time today. My Chevy placed 3rd
nationally last week, the baton cases are in production, the reed cases are
close (hang in there David), and I went swimming this morning and feel
pretty good. Not to mention I shot under 90 last week in my golf game -
and that's good for me. I even adapted the baton case design and made a
yo-yo case for my nephew in Oregon - who is going to the state yo-yo
contest soon. His birthday is this month.
On with it then.........
I am always very much amused by recommendations for which mouthpiece to
purchase. Often such recommendations are not accompanied by much useful
information other than, ".......there are
many excellent mouthpieces to choose from........" followed by a list of
the person's recommended mouthpieces. Frequently there is also the
disclaimer that, "picking a mouthpiece is a very personal thing....."
The fact that the mouthpieces may very well be excellent and that it is a
personal choice have nothing to do with what amuses me.
Having taught undergraduate clarinet students for a long time - and
beginners through adults for even longer - I feel fairly safe in saying
that the variables regarding a student's ability to play successfully on a
given list of mouthpieces is infinite.
Borbeck, Pyne, Smith and Hawkins may very well work best. But then again -
students, without any understanding of why they work, may fail miserably
when trying these recommended mouthpieces.
Why do some students squeak like crazy when playing forte and tonguing very
short, crisp, accented sounds in the lowest range of the clarinet on a
mouthpiece with a close facing and a hollow table - yet they sound very
good on a medium tip opening mouthpiece with a flat table?
Why do some students sound just great on a mouthpiece with a very open and
asymmetrical facing, yet they sound terrible on the hollow table and flat
table mouthpieces described immediately above?
Substitute the word "pros" in place of "students" in both paragraphs above
and I save time typing.
Excellent mouthpieces to consider:
Pyne - I recommed this mouthpiece most often for the well-developed
embouchure - why? Because the student often can't blow against what they
perceive as "stuffiness" when they first try the line. This is a
limitation of the student - not the mouthpiece. How interesting that,
after a year of good study and improvement, their perception of the Pyne
is, "Wow - this is great! What is it?" Imagine their surprise when they
see it is the exact same mouthpiece they tried at the beginning of the
year! Expense is a consideration.
Fobes - I recomend the top of the line because in his approach - Clark is
very, very good in his ability to put out consistent, similar
mouthpieces. I have never played a Fobes I couldn't play in concert. A
straight forward, well made, thoughtfully and carefully produced
mouthpiece. Expense - top of the line is pricey. However - Clark makes
some very affordable mouthpieces that also play just great. Check the
archives - I believe a review was recently posted.
Borbeck - I recommend because they tend to play well without having to go
through a dozen to find one that will work. No funny business with this
mouthpiece design - just a good, middle of the road mouthpiece made
carefully and thoughtfully. Not as expensive as the Pynes, but still a chunk.
Bay - depending on the model and which one is selected - can be very, very
good. Also for the developed embouchure (at least, in my studio). Expense
is off the chart! I recommend this mouthpiece to very rich students who,
rather than buy beanies, pokemon cards, and various other collectibles,
purchase mouthpieces as collectibles (you guys know who you are......).
Smith and Hawkins - recommended for the student who approaches the horn
differently that me or than I teach in terms of air use and style of "grip"
in the embouchure. What the heck does that mean????? I can't speak for
Greg Smith's playing - he has to do that - and I've never seen him teach
nor heard him play soloistically. He sounds great in the orchestra. I
have seen Richard teach (he's very, very good by the way!), and I have not
only heard him soloistically, I have performed with him. So What the heck
does that mean????? Nothing more than some people prefer a closed
mouthpiece with a hollow table - others prefer it to be wide open with a
flat table. Cost - Smith - $150 plus (a chunk), and Hawkins - $105
[Break from the recommendations for a brief note]: before I incur the
wrath of Mr. Smith, Mr. Pyne, or Clark Fobes, let me say that my
philosophy, while sympathetic to the famous saying, "you get what you pay
for," and the other one, "a person should get paid what they are worth," is
that you don't have to pay a lot to get a good mouthpiece that works for
you where you are in your playing. On the other hand, you may very well
have to pay a lot to find a mouthpiece that fits your approach. This is
where the Smith/Fobes/Pyne issue of cost comes into play. They should get
paid what the mouthpiece is worth to the end user. Do I have a problem
with the high cost of Pyne/Smith/Fobes/Bay - nope. If it weren't for those
mouthpieces, there would be a lot of very frustrated clarinets out there -
myself included. But I do worry about the student who shows up with a $195
mouthpiece and can't play on it - and I wonder why they bought the
mouthpiece to begin with. Often - because some pro told them to buy it and
learn to play on it. *sigh* It wasn't what they needed to help them play
Examples to support the "people prefer..........." statement two paragraphs
up.......David Shifrin and Bob Spring both play on very open, flat tabled
mouthpieces - and probably would have difficulty with a hollow table/closed
facing mouthpiece design. On the other hand, people like David Neithamer
(a wonderful player) prefer the Hawkins (I think I got that right didn't I
David?). We had an interesting conversation about mouthpieces and design
at the OK Symposium. But David N. sounded great on a mouthpiece completely
opposite from the design mouthpiece I use (Pyne M - 1.20 tip with an
asymmetrical and long facing). I don't think that fact means I play
incorrectly - or that he does. That David Shifrin plays on a mouthpiece
that plays nothing like a Smith does not mean that either player is
approaching the horn wrong or incorrectly. More likely, all those
mentioned have different approaches to the horn/setup that, while
insignificant in most ways, affect choice of mouthpiece.
Preference is most often based on the way a mouthpiece blows and voices -
and, to a certain extent, the flexibility and strength/grip of the
embouchure. To say - the Hawkins is a great mouthpiece is to give very
little information about what makes the mouthpiece work well. For some
students, it is the completely wrong mouthpiece. For others, it is a
I know a professor who teaches at a major university, well-known for it's
large and successful music program who only allows his students to study
with him if they play a Hawkins mouthpiece. I'm not even sure Richard
would do that to his students! But in his favor, he teaches a particular
approach that, when implemented properly, will encourage the use of that
kind of mouthpiece. No problem here. And people wonder why students play
on their teachers' mouthpiece?
So - when someone asks me what mouthpieces do I recommend, I give them the
range of mouthpieces available and explain how they are designed and what
approach will help them be successful on that particular mouthpiece.
I used to really grit my teeth about the variations in mouthpiece design
and the inconsistency between mouthpieces of the same brand/model. But I
understand better now why both issues exist. The cliche, "In a perfect
world......." is applicable perhaps.............
David Kumpf asked if published results will be available for any findings
or conclusions I may have made regarding the sabbatical work. The answer
is - no - and probably never. Why? I undertook the project to become a
better teacher and one who is in a better position to help students wade
through all the stuff about mouthpieces. It was to help fix a mouthpiece
problem until they could afford a "premium" mouthpiece that fits their
needs, or to fix a new student's horrible choice (wow there are some bad
mouthpieces out there). I never help the students much until the
sabbatical leave. As an aside, my goal was never to make mouthpieces
commercially (and, while it provides a little bit of extra $ for my
obsession with Chevys, it isn't particularly fun to give up a day to fill a
40 mouthpiece order). My goal has been met - and far beyond my original
idea. Now, I can provide mouthpieces or mouthpiece facings to students at
the level that they are at until that time that they are ready for the
"best" one. Sometimes they elect to stay with what they have - and that's
fine if they aren't limited by the mouthpiece. It is all dependent upon
the student and their place in the evolutionary mix of the clarinet world.
A side note - I'm not sure how much longer I can keep up the mouthpiece end
of things - it takes a lot of time. I now know why Kanter quit making them.
Woodworking on the other hand.........now THAT's fun!
Director, Symphonic Winds
Advisor, Recording Services
Illinois Wesleyan University
School of Music
Bloomington, IL 61702-2900
"A man never discloses his own character so clearly as when he describes
Jean Paul Richter (1763-1825)
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