The Advocate

Newsletter for The Music Education Community of Western PA

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Selecting a French Horn Mouthpiece

By Zachary Smith, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Assistant Principle Horn

For a young horn player, selecting a mouthpiece is usually a random, haphazard process. “It came with the horn”, “I found it in the band room”, and “I liked the way it looked” are commonly heard rationales! The mouthpiece is the only physical contact with the lips that the player experiences, and influences the way the horn feels and responds. As such, it is very important to take the time and care to find a good match for the player and the instrument.

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This illustration shows the seven major parts of the horn mouthpiece. I will start with what I think are the two most important aspects, the inner diameter and the rim contour. Your lips and teeth are unique to you, and the rim must allow your lips to vibrate freely and comfortably in all registers of the horn. The inner diameter allows more or less lip to vibrate, based on your own musculature, and the rim contour helps the mouthpiece sit comfortably in the “sweet spot” in your embouchure. Try a range of rim shapes and sizes to find what feels both comfortable and efficient, allowing the lips to buzz the full range and provide good support for endurance.

The cup shape and depth influence the response and overall sound of the horn. There are three basic cup shapes, concave (bowl), straight, and convex. Some cup shapes are better suited for different types of horns, and you should look for a balance of sound. Rich and velvety when you want it, bright and brilliant when you want it- a full palate of colors.

The throat of the mouthpiece transitions the cup into the bore, and the shape effects clarity of articulation and smoothness in slurring. Again, look for balance between sharp and smooth.

The bore is the size of the hole at the bottom of the throat and there is an enormous range of sizes, depending on the horn you are playing and the sound you are trying to make. A large bore can help produce a big sound and lots of volume but can also sound dull and dead. A small bore can sound clear and pure but can also sound tight, and pinched. Look for- you guessed it- balance!

The backbore is a mysterious thing that we can’t see, but influences ease of playing in different registers and intonation. The shape and rate of taper of a backbore has an outsized influence on how a horn plays, and a well-designed mouthpiece has a backbore that matches the cup, throat, and bore well.

The shank and outside shank taper determine how deep the mouthpiece goes into the horn. The shank should allow the mouthpiece to go in approximately 5/8ths of an inch. Too far and not far enough are to be avoided, as the sound will be too fuzzy and vague or too lean and thin.

One word should stand out by now- balance! The ideal mouthpiece is really a compromise that allows you to do everything well enough and the rest is just a matter of practice, practice, practice. Here is a good way to test a mouthpiece.

1. Play from the lowest to highest register.

2. Record or have another musician listen to sound and tone color

3. Check how well notes lock into pitch or if intonation varies widely.

4. Play hard, fast staccato. The notes should start clearly and fast.

5. Check dynamic range. The mouthpiece should allow you to play very softly and very loudly in all registers.

6. Play music- lyrical lines and excerpts.

Finding the right mouthpiece can be a difficult, confusing process, especially if the student tries to do it on their own. Seek guidance from an experienced teacher or if one is not available, find a reputable music store with a well-stocked range of mouthpieces. Some reliable brand names are Bach, Holton, Schilke, and Laskey. There is no such thing as a “perfect” mouthpiece. Find something that does everything well enough, nothing badly, and stick with it!

The Five Things You Need to Know to Become a Better Trumpet Player (Part I)

By Kevin Eisensmith, Ph.D

Young and developing trumpet players have a great deal to learn about themselves, the instrument, and the capabilities and potentials of each. Over the years I have condensed my comments regarding playing the trumpet into five main categories that students need to consider to become better trumpet players. Below is the first area of consideration for any trumpet player who wants to develop and improve their playing.

I. Physical Considerations

Posture is very important for trumpet players because posture affects breathing! Good posture aids in good breathing, and poor posture prevents good breathing. Trumpet players should look the same from the waist (belt) up to the top of the head, whether standing or sitting. When standing, both feet must remain flat on the floor, and should be spread apart approximately shoulder width. Weight should be equally distributed, with no leaning to one side or the other. Knees should not be locked. When sitting, the back should not touch the back of the chair. Feet may be flat on the floor or tucked comfortably under the chair. When standing, the body should “line up;” that is, the shoulders, hips, and feet should align. If a student is slouching or leaning backward or forward, the alignment is not correct, and breathing is adversely affected.

Holding the trumpet can also impact breathing. The left hand should hold the trumpet, while the right hand should play the trumpet (move the valves). It is true that young (small) students will need to place the little finger of their right hand into the leadpipe ring to aid in the holding and stability of the instrument. However, once a student reaches middle school, they should no longer use the leadpipe ring to help support the instrument. This will improve the dexterity of the right hand when pressing valves and will reduce the risk of a student using excessive mouthpiece pressure. The arms should form a "^". This positioning brings the elbows away from the body (allowing the lungs to expand fully) and keeps the wrists straight. As a result, the trumpet will be angled slightly, which allows for ease of finger dexterity and for the valves to be pressed at the “correct” angle.

My definition of embouchure is: “where you put your mouthpiece on your face.” There is no such thing as one “perfect” embouchure. Ideally, the mouthpiece will be centered, both vertically and horizontally. The reason for this formation is that air exits the body at the center of the lips (think blowing out a candle, but without puffing the cheeks). Similarly, the lip muscles “focus” into the center (like spokes in a bike tire). Because the trumpet embouchure is to be centered vertically (1/2 upper lip and 1/2 lower lip), I recommend AGAINST having trumpet players “double” on French horn, as the horn embouchure tends to be 1/3 lower lip and 2/3 upper lip. While it is also best to center the embouchure horizontally, there are many variables to be considered, including dental structure, musculature, braces, and so on. An appropriately placed embouchure will aid in tone quality, flexibility, and endurance.

The remaining four areas for consideration will appear in subsequent issues of The Advocate. I hope that you will consider these ideas and approaches to improving your playing!

Dr. Kevin Eisensmith is a retired Professor of Trumpet at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a position he held for twenty-five years. He was President of the International Trumpet Guild and a solo trumpeter with the U.S. Army Forces Band. Stay tuned as Kevin continues to pass on his musical knowledge in upcoming editions of the Advocate.

What Bow Material is Best for You

By Will Teegarden

Violin, viola, cello, and bass bows these days are constructed either of wood or carbon/ synthetic materials. Understanding what qualities these materials offer will help inform a buyer on what bow might be best suited for them.

Modern wooden bows are usually found to be made of either pernambuco or brazilwood. Pernambuco is a now endangered species of tree from Brazil, and very few bows are newly constructed from such a source due to conservation efforts. The wood is extremely sturdy, flexible, and can be crafted into a bow which offers a player the highest order of sensitivity and agility. As a result, a pernambuco bow typically has the highest price tag of any bow on the market.

A brazilwood bow (now the most commonly found type of wooden bow) is a composite wooden bow that is typically made up of several species of hardwood trees (usually from Brazil). These bows are normally a little heavier than Pernambuco, which lessens the “feel” for a player. (A Pernambuco wood bow is often more responsive to the vibrations of the instrument, which sends those vibrations back through the bow to the player’s hands). Brazilwood bows come in a wide range of construction quality, weight, balance (referring to how much weight the wood is distributed from the bow's frog to the bow's tip) and the resulting price points reflect that range.

There is also a large market of synthetically constructed bows as well. Fiberglass bows are typically the least expensive, and while they may offer the lowest level of craftsmanship and quality, they make up for it in their durability. This might be the best entry level option for the more accident-prone beginner player (parents take note).

Additionally, carbon fiber and carbon composite bows also offer great durability, and there is a continuously growing level of quality in their engineering and construction. One can find a range of price points and quality levels similar to that which exists for brazilwood bows. Typically, a carbon fiber or carbon composite bow might be a little heavier than their wooden counterparts (offering a little less sensitivity for a player).

In conclusion, selecting a bow is a deeply personal decision, as a player's ability to perceive the unique weight and feel of each bow paired with their own instrument is critical. It is generally advised that a beginner looking to purchase a bow should choose one that is generally more durable and less expensive, and then eventually (as their skills develop over time) search for and upgrade their bow to one that is best suited to their unique playing qualities and instrument.

Will is a private instructor for cello at JMC's Allison Park location and has an extensive career as a cellist. Recently, Will has been promoted to principle cello in the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra!

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On Saturday, March 11, Johnstonbaugh's Music Centers will host a lessons open house to meet some of our instructors. Private lessons are one of the best ways to improve one's skill with an instrument.

JMC will be offering 15-minute lessons in trumpet and guitar at Johnstonbaugh's Allison Park store and flute, percussion, and trumpet lessons at Johnstonbaugh's Golden Mile store. Instructors will also be performing for the event. If you are considering lessons for yourself, or someone else, this is a great opportunity to get a feel for what lessons will be like and to meet an instructor. Now is the time to give it a try!

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Saturday, March 25th, 2pm

3200 School Road

Murrysville, PA

The 17th annual Three Rivers Community Band Festival is on Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Franklin Regional High School Auditorium. The festival will include performances from Community Band South, East Winds Symphonic Band, and the Jeannette Community Band. The festival will also feature a performance from the Festival Band, which is comprised of players from community bands throughout the region. This year's guest conductor for the Festival Band is James Gourlay, artistic and general conductor for the River City Brass!

There is no admission to attend.

More information about the festival can be found at the Three Rivers Band Festival website.

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Issued March 2023

Newsletter by Joe Weinzierl and Dennis Emert