Friday, July 16, 2010


A disease that strikes many saxophone players these days.  It is the endless search for the perfect saxophone mouthpiece which doesn't exist.  It leads to spending countless hours in woodwind shops trying every single mouthpiece they carry and still deciding that none of them are as good as the one you have already or even that none of them are any good period!  It is thinking that like a certain saxophone, having that magic mouthpiece will turn you into a different player, maybe the famous one who used the same mouthpiece .

It is important to have the right mouthpiece, that's for sure, and with all the choices out there it may seem like a daunting task to find the right one for you.  It seems that every few months another mouthpiece enters the arena which is supposed to be the next greatest thing and will transform your playing and your sound.  To be sure, there are mouthpieces that are better than others, but sometimes "better" is a relative term.  A $500 mouthpiece will not necessarily play better than an $80 one, especially if your sound and technique are not fully developed yet.

However, let's assume for the moment that you've been playing for years and you have never been happy with the mouthpiece you've been using.  Okay, you go to your local music store and see what they have and want to try them out.  Now, assuming that they have a wide and varied selection of mouthpieces, you try out every mouthpiece that fits your physical and financial criteria.  You even try different tip openings, both hard rubber and metal or even the odd wooden one, and after all that, you still are not satisfied with any of them.

At this point I am going to say that it's most likely you still do not have a clear idea of what you want your sound to be.  It may also be that you simply don't spend enough time practicing and spend way more time trying out horns and accessories.  However let's now assume that you spend plenty of time practicing, and still no matter how many mouthpieces you try, nothing is good.  You may be over-analyzing the whole situation.  I know so many players who do that.  Rather than just playing, they get bogged down worrying or thinking too much about their equipment, their sound, what other people think, etc.  The other day, a customer came into my shop and said to me "I've yet to find a mouthpiece that plays".  I really had to be honest with him and tell him that the problem isn't with the mouthpieces.  Seriously, if he can say that after going through at least a couple of hundred mouthpieces, he really has no idea what his sound is, and spends way too much time analyzing his equipment as opposed to actually playing music. 

So my advice in selecting a mouthpiece and preventing the onset of mouthpiece-itis is to keep it simple.  First and foremost, decide what you want your sound to be like.  A good idea is to model your sound based on your favorite player.  Find out what their set-up is or was and try it.  While that alone will not give you the sound you want, it's a reference point.  In the end, you will still develop your own sound no matter who your influences are and no matter what mouthpiece, ligature or reed you use.  Then decide what you can afford.  No matter what your budget, you're still bound to find a great mouthpiece if you just listen to yourself honestly.

Once you find the mouthpiece that suits you, get down to just playing.  Don't think that another mouthpiece will be better and continue the endless quest.  If you happen upon a better mouthpiece that is more suitable to you, by all means get it, but don't keep looking for it if you already are playing the way you like. Playing music itself is an endless quest, so why throw unnecessary roadblocks in your way?  That would be like the person who runs quickly from one place to another, and completely misses all the beautiful scenery and attractions that are along the way.

I've been playing a Meyer 6M with LaVoz medium reeds and a Rovner ligature for years.  Yeah, I tried a few mouthpieces and some really excellent ones at that.  However, I kept my set-up constant all these years because I know my sound, know what I like, and I know that what I have does what I want it to and there's no need to go on the endless search for the perfect piece of equipment.  I'm too busy trying to play better, and that's enough for me.

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