On Clarinet Mouthpieces Part III by Santy Runyon
A woodwind mouthpiece can be adjusted in such a way as to help or hinder a player’s performance. I hope this article will be of some help to inexperienced players who are attempting to improve.
In playing an instrument using a single-reed mouthpiece, the size of the cavity in the human throat and mouth have a great deal to do with the quality of tone that is produced. Many times, this accounts for one person having a better tone than another, despite the fact that both practice an equal amount and are of equal experience. For example, a person with a small cavity in the throat and mouth will produce a thin, brilliant tone, whereas one with a large cavity will produce a dark tone.
You will then surmise, after having read the following article, that the baffle, when properly designed, can help the player in correcting his tone.
In this issue, I would like to discuss one of the most important parts-if not the most important part-of the mouthpiece, the baffle. The baffle is that section of the mouthpiece which begins immediately inside the tip rail and extends down into the chamber approximately three eights of an inch.
There are three types of baffles in common use: low, medium, and high. There is also another type, more extreme than those just mentioned, but is seldom used.
Type No. 1
The low baffle (concave, or hollow, and curved). (Figure 2)
This type produces what is usually called a dark tone. If low enough, it actually sounds tubby or stuffy in quality. It has very little carrying power or projection or tone. To the player it might sound like a big, fat tone; however, because of its lack of projection, it sounds weak and thin at a distance. It might be ideal for those whose natural tendency is to play with too brilliant a sound, but for the majority it is too hard to blow. This type of baffle creates a backpressure, causing too much resistance and making the reed feel harder than it actually is.
A mouthpiece with this type of baffle demands a perfect reed and perfect breath control. In an attempt to create brilliance, a player using this baffle will find himself taking more of the mouthpiece into his mouth in order to allow more of the reed to vibrate. He will find his throat cavity closing in his attempt to create a brighter sound or produce more volume.
Type No. 2
The high baffle. This is the extreme opposite of Type No. 1, being convex in shape, as illustrated by the sketch. (Figure 3)
This baffle has a noticeable roundness approaching the tip rail of the mouthpiece. One of its outstanding characteristics is the pronounced edginess of the sound. It produces a tone which is thinner in quality, although usually louder; and though it has good projection of sound, the tone qualities are likely to be of the nasal variety.
Unless the tongue action is almost perfect and the reed is “just so,” there is a strong tendency toward squeaking. In visiting school bands throughout the country, I find this to be a common fault with many mass-produced mouthpieces. A reed with a thin tip will squeak almost every time. The tip of the reed should be thicker and the vamp, or “heart,” of the reed should be thinner to get the best results.
A high baffle seems to compress the air near the tip of the mouthpiece immediately under the reed, and in so doing, the reed springs away from the tip of the mouthpiece, making the facing seem more open. On the saxophone especially, the low notes will be difficult to emit.
Provided the rest of the design of the mouthpiece is good, this type would be a great aid to the player who has difficulty in playing loud or one who has a naturally dark quality of tone.
Type No. 3
A moderation of the previous types. This baffle is neither too high nor too low, and is well suited to the majority. (Figure 1)
A very desirable feature of this moderate baffle is that it facilitates a good sound and attack through all the registers. It sounds neither too bright nor too dark, and has good projection of tone. Above all, it releases the player’s concentration from many disturbing details and adjustments, and allows him more scope for good expression and proper phrasing.
It is accepted knowledge that unless one has perfect control of the instrument-and perfect control includes equipment that is right in every detail-one cannot utilize his abilities to best advantage, but must divert his attention from the musical to the mechanical.
Type No. 4
The elongated Baffle. This type of baffle is in use, but has not been universally accepted. We have coined a name for it in calling it an elongated baffle, and it is more easily described by illustration. (Figure 4)
This baffle makes the mouthpiece play extremely loud; but unfortunately, when you gain in one department, you always sacrifice in another, and if this baffle is too extreme, the soft-playing department goes out of business.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Woodwind World for permitting me to explain a few things about mouthpieces. I hope sometime in the future to be able to continue this discussion. New materials may help all of us to improve our playing. Please be receptive to new ideas. There are wonderful new things in store for us if we will only accept them.