Choosing a clarinet mouthpiece can be a difficult task. The selection process can be different for each player since every person has a different sound conception. Each person’s physical makeup is unique – different teeth and jaw structures, shape of oral cavities, size of mouth, and lips.
There are two design characteristics that affect how a mouthpiece responds and performs – the tip opening and facing length. The tip opening is the space at the end of the mouthpiece between the tip and reed. The facing is the part of the mouthpiece where the reed is placed. Among mouthpieces with the same tip opening, longer facings require a stronger reed, whereas short er facings use a softer reed. If mouthpieces have the same facing, an open tip requires a softer reed and a closed tip uses a stronger reed. These two design features play an important role in mouthpiece selection.
There have been a large number of new mouthpiece models created within recent years. With so many choices, it can be overwhelming to choose a mouthpiece that matches both budget and playing style. The following are factors that can affect the selection process.
Player style and preferred type of music
Mouthpieces are divided into two groups: classical and jazz. Classical mouthpieces tend to have smaller tip openings that allow more a pure tone. Jazz mouthpieces tend to have a more open tip that provides the player flexibility to play jazz glissandos and bends on soft reeds. Choosing a mouthpiece by what kind of playing it will be used for narrows down the selection considerably.
Mouthpiece prices can range from $30 to $800. A person’s budget narrows the field of available models and brands. On a tight budget, one can find something inexpensive that produces a similar sensation to an existing or higher-priced mouthpiece by using its measurements.
Trial and Error
The most concrete way to find the right mouthpiece is often to try out different mouthpiece models. When a player finds a mouthpiece that produces the desired sound, they can take the measurements of the mouthpiece. When it come time to buy another mouthpiece, the model name and measurements will help to find similar options.
Player age and skill level
For younger students, it’s best to choose mouthpieces that have a more closed tip opening. This will help younger students to produce a more focused sound. As young players progress, they may start looking for specific sound characteristics such as warmth, response, tone color, and resistance and will need a new mouthpiece to find them. Making foundational mouthpiece choices for young students provides them an initial perspective, from which they can explore different possibilities.
Teacher or local professional guidance
It is always good to have a professional opinion from someone who listens differently and can provide valuable insight toward finding the perfect mouthpiece.
Local music store selection
Local music stores carry multiple brands of mouthpieces to try in person with a salesperson present.
Online retailers with a return policy.
Choosing the ideal setup takes a great deal of trial and error, but it’s worth it to find a comfortable balance between the mouthpiece, reed, and ligature that achieves the desired musical result!