The mouthpiece of a woodwind instrument is that part of the instrument which is placed partly in the player's mouth. Single-reed instruments, capped double-reed instruments, and fipple flutes have mouthpieces while exposed double-reed instruments (apart from those using pirouettes) and open flutes do not.
On single-reed instruments, such as the clarinet and saxophone, the mouthpiece is that part of the instrument to which the reed is attached. Its function is to provide an opening through which air enters the instrument and one end of an air chamber to be set into vibration by the interaction between the air stream and the reed.
Single-reed instrument mouthpieces are basically wedge shaped, with the reed placed against the surface closest to the player's lower lip (the table). The player's breath causes the reed to vibrate, which in turn causes the column of air inside the instrument to vibrate. The top half to three-quarters of the table is open to the inside of the mouthpiece.
As with the brass instruments, the shape of the interior of the mouthpiece can greatly affect the sound of the instrument. Mouthpieces with a large, rounded chamber will produce a quite different sound from one with a small or square chamber.
The distance between the tip of the mouthpiece and the tip of the reed is known as the tip opening. The tip opening has little effect on tone, which is more affected by the design of the mouthpiece's chamber (interior space).
The facing (or lay) is a curved section that leaves the flat table and continues to the tip of the mouthpiece. The length of a facing — defined as the distance from the tip of the mouthpiece to the point where the reed and mouthpiece meet — can vary. Different facing lengths have different response properties.
The single reed is held tightly against the mouthpiece by a ligature. Anything that can hold the reed on the mouthpiece may serve as a ligature. Commercial ligatures are commonly made of metal or plastic. Some players (including many German clarinetists) prefer string or a shoelace, which is wrapped around the reed and the mouthpiece, to commercially manufactured ligatures.
The clarinet mouthpiece is narrow inside and typically has a square or rectangular cross section from the baffle through the throat. The bottom of the mouthpiece is formed with a tenon that is ringed with cork.
Today, as with the saxophone mouthpiece, the reed is placed against the surface (the table) closest to the player's bottom lip. However, this was not always so: The earliest clarinetists would often place the reed on top of the mouthpiece.
Bernhard Henrik Crusell was one of the first clarinetists of note to consistently place the reed against the bottom lip.
Of particular note is Reginald Kell who was known for using a "double embouchure". This is a technique popular in the UK up to the 1960s, whereby the reed is placed against the lower lip, which covers the lower teeth —as in the single embouchure— and additionally, the upper lip is tucked in between the top of the mouthpiece and the upper teeth. This technique has been revived lately both in the UK and the US.
Interestingly, some clarinetists in Madagascar today still play with the reed on top as can be heard on the CD Bémiray: Polyphonies des Hauts-plateaux.
Clarinet mouthpieces are available in hundreds of styles from dozens of manufacturers around the world. Mouthpieces are often named after famous performers who contribute to their designs. Popular mouthpiece makers include Selmer, Vandoren, and the Woodwind Company (presently owned by Leblanc).
Differently sized clarinets (sopranino, soprano, alto, bass, and contrabass), each require a different size of mouthpiece. One exception is B♭ and A soprano clarinets, and in some cases C soprano clarinets; as they are so close in size that players typically use the same mouthpiece on all three.
The saxophone mouthpiece is outwardly similar to that of the clarinet, but it has no tenon. Instead, the saxophone's neck has a ring of cork glued to it, and the mouthpiece fits firmly onto the neck cork.
Saxophone mouthpieces are available in hundreds of styles from dozens of manufacturers around the world. Mouthpieces are often named after famous performers who contribute to their designs.
When Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone, he specified the shape of the interior of the instrument's mouthpiece as being large and round. All saxophone mouthpieces were made in this style until the 1930s, when the advent of big-band jazz made saxophonists experiment with different shapes of mouthpieces to get a louder and edgier sound.
Between 1940 and 1960, it became common for classical saxophonists to use narrow-chamber mouthpieces, based on those designed for jazz use. These mouthpieces give the instrument a brighter and edgier sound (more high partials) than the traditional shape as designed by Sax.
One saxophone player and teacher, Sigurd Raschèr, spoke out against this change in mouthpiece design. He believed that when used in classical music, the saxophone should sound as its inventor, Adolphe Sax, had intended, and that the gradual change to narrower and "brighter" sounding mouthpieces was a distortion of Sax's tonal concept. His students and other disciples felt that the desirable tone for a classical saxophone was a softer, rounder sound - a sound that can only be produced by a mouthpiece with a large, rounded interior (often referred to as an "excavated chamber"). By 1970, narrow-chambered mouthpieces had become nearly universally popular, and mouthpiece manufacturers largely ceased production of large-chambered mouthpieces, though some are still available, including one designed by Rascher.
Clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces have been made out of hard (vulcanized) rubber, brass or other metal, crystal, glass, plastic, and wood. Today, the most common material for professional clarinet and (classical) saxophone mouthpieces is hard rubber. Jazz saxophone mouthpieces are made out of hard rubber, metal, or (rarely) wood. There is some debate over whether the material affects the tone, or whether tone is shaped only by the internal shape and dimensions of the mouthpiece. According to Larry Teal, the mouthpiece material has little, if any, effect on the sound, and the physical dimensions give a mouthpiece its tone colour.
Capped double-reed instruments
On a capped double-reed instrument the function of the mouthpiece is simply to provide a chamber within which the reed can vibrate, with a hole through which air can be blown.
A pirouette is a wooden mouthpiece assembly or lip rest used in some European double-reed instruments, including the piffero, shawm and rackett. In band shawms, it is carried on the staple on which the reed is mounted On the European shawm, the pirouette replaces the loose disc of the oriental surna, presumably to secure lip-control over the cane reed. The player presses his lips against the pirouette while holding the reed in his mouth. This permits control of the reed by the lips without appreciably affecting the amplitude of its vibration.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Mouthpiece.|
- "CyberSax Tech Topics". Retrieved 2007-02-13.
- Larry Teal, The Art of Saxophone Playing. Miami: Summy-Birchard, 1963. ISBN 0-87487-057-7.
- Albert R. Rice, The Baroque Clarinet (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992): 64–68. ISBN 0-19-816188-3.
- Bémiray: Polyphonies des Hauts-plateaux, Silex Mosaique Y225209, © 1992
- Teal, Larry (1963). The Art of Saxophone Playing. Miami: Summy-Birchard. p. 17. ISBN 0-87487-057-7.
A preference as to material used is up to the individual, and the advantages of each are a matter of controversy. Mouthpieces of various materials with exactly the same dimensions, including the chamber and outside measurements as well as the facing, play very nearly the same.
- "pirouette, n3". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.); Anthony C. Baines, Woodwind Instruments and Their History, third edition, with a foreword by Sir Adrian Boult (London: Faber and Faber, 1967): 370. Reprinted with corrections, 1977. This edition reissued, Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991, and reprinted again in 2012. ISBN 978-0-486-26885-9.
- Anthony C. Baines, Woodwind Instruments and Their History, third edition, with a foreword by Sir Adrian Boult (London: Faber and Faber, 1967): 230, 233.