A brass instrument will usually outlast a woodwind instrument; they are basically a piece of sturdy piece of metal engineering. So when the band is given funding to replace old beat up horns, tuba players in the school band usually look over to the woodwind players and also the trumpet and trombone (they are not woodwind instruments but they are there to motivate the players to play in the higher register!) players with their new shiny instruments, and their eyes glitter with a new colour in their palette.
Well, to motivate the tuba players, band directors will promise them a new mouthpiece. (Compared to a new tuba, it’s a fantastic deal) Here comes the question, which tuba mouthpiece should I get for the tuba players?
Here goes the story…
An established / professional tuba player’s phone starts ringing and here goes the conversation:
“Hello tuba player, you sounded great on the tuba, may I know what mouthpiece you are using? ………”
And so the exact brand and model mouthpiece the established / professional tubist use is bought and given to the student. Now the band director stands on the podium and eagerly awaits the Gene Porkorny sound.
Alright, I’m stereotyping the situation here, but seriously how do we choose a mouthpiece or specifically a tuba mouthpiece?
There are a few parts of the mouthpiece we can analyse so we could choose a tuba mouthpiece wisely.
RIM & RIM DIAMETER
There are usually 2 types of rims, flat or rounded. A flat rim gives the lip better support and feels more comfortable for the lips to rest on, but it does hinder the flexibility. On the other hand, a rounded rim would aid in flexibility but needs a strong player to be able to control and set up the embouchure. The rim diameter determines how much lips are vibrating in the mouthpiece with a bigger rim size allowing more lips to vibrate and vice-versa. The bigger rim diameter also needs one with strong embouchure to be able to control it.
Deep, shallow, funnel and bowl. These are the elements to give your tuba a characteristic sound. A deep cup would produce a much sonorous (“dark”) sound with much overtones and a shallow one would sound clearer and cleaner (“bright”). If your students are using a rotary tuba, I would recommend a bowl shaped cup as it would provide some resistance as rotary tubas often have bigger bore size than piston tubas. If a tuba feels ‘stuffy’, a funnel shaped cup will be appreciated as it can help free up the resistance.
Do note that there are the “American” and “European” shanks. “American” shank is usually found on piston tuba, such as the Yamaha 321s or most C tubas with the exceptions of Besson tubas. To know if the mouthpiece fits the receiver, the shank should sit nicely two-thirds in the receiver.
Above are the few important considerations when getting a tuba mouthpiece. I would like to recommend some mouthpieces for beginners that can be found in the most music stores:
- Yamaha 67C : This model usually come with the 641 tubas and it’s also a good match with the Besson tubas.
- Bach 24/AW : A standard for the longest time.
- Denis Wick 3L : I’ve not tried it, but my students sound great on it.
- Perantucci 84 : A great all-round mouthpiece.
The above are of my own opinions and I am not advertising for any brands.
Last advice on getting a mouthpiece…
Try it, play it on some music you play usually, play it on the tuba you are using, bring a tuner, bring a friend to listen to you, bring your tuba teacher / band director. Hope I have helped you in choosing your GREAT mouthpiece.
Lastly, have fun!
Louis Yeo is currently Associate Conductor of Nanyang Polytechnic Symphony Wind Orchestra. He has conducted the Manhattan Municipal Band (USA) and the Singapore Police Force Band, and had collaborations with the Soka Gloria Wind Orchestra (Japan) and multi-Grammy Award winner Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra (USA). He has also worked with composers Eric Whitacre, Philip Sparke, Frank Ticheli and Grammy award winner Nestor Torres. Yeo earned his Masters of Music (Education) from the Kansas State University where he underwent music education tutelage with Dr. Philip Payne and Dr. Ruth Gurgel. He studied conducting with Frank Tracz, Jacomo Bairos, Donald Linn, Volker Hartung and had masterclasses with Virginia Allen, Allan McMurray, Christopher Hughes, Hardy Martens and Yasuhide Ito.
Beyond his conducting and band directing commitments, Yeo is also an active adjudicator, and guest lecturer at SIM University (UniSim).